Throwback Thursday: The Battles Over Boston Light

On July 31, 1775, Little Brewster Island was the tiny site of Revolutionary War conflict.

On July 31, 1775, Little Brewster Island, the home of Boston Light, became the unlikely site of a Revolutionary War conflict. A lighthouse wouldn’t seem to be very strategically important during a war in which traffic into and out of Boston Harbor had been cut off. In fact, the colonists wanted to ensure that the lighthouse served no purpose to the British who occupied it. They raided Little Brewster Island in early June of 1775, removed its lamps and oil, and lit the wooden parts of the structure on fire. Leaving the island, they escaped a British schooner and made it to land. From there, according to an eyewitness, they might have looked back to see their handiwork: “the flames of the lighthouse ascending up to Heaven, like grateful incense, and the ships wasting their powder.”

The British quickly began repair on the lighthouse and guarded Little Brewster Island with soldiers, but General George Washington ordered Major Tupper to take 300 men back to Boston Light. According to the Edward Rowe Snow’s  The Islands of Boston Harbor, Tupper’s men left from Dorchester and Squantum with a fleet of whaleboats on July 31, 1775. Once on the island, they overwhelmed the British guard and destroyed the repair work being done on the lighthouse. By then, the tide had reversed, stranding the whaleboats boats long enough to give British reinforcements time to attack. In the ensuing confrontation, the colonists bested the British. Tupper’s men sustained just one death. The British took heavier casualties when one of their boats was sunk. When the colonists returned to safety, Gen. Washington commended Tupper and his men for their “gallant and soldier-like behavior.”

The British would repay the Americans for their troubles, though. In 1776, the British fleet left Boston, but not before her soldiers blew up the lighthouse to make sure the Americans would get as little use out of it as the British had. It remained out of commission until after the war when John Hancock, then governor of Massachusetts, convinced the Commonwealth to fund its reconstruction.

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