Digest>Archives> March 2004

Women of the Light

Bridgeport’s Keeper Kate Moore: The Sea is a Treacherous Friend

By Jeremy D'Entremont

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Kate Moore at the age of 94. Courtesy of ...

On a quiet little island attached by a narrow strip of land to Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Connecticut, stands the Black Rock Harbor Lighthouse, established in 1808. The most remarkable personality of the lighthouse’s long history is Catherine “Kate” Moore, who lived for over 60 years at the light station. An 1889 article in the New York Sunday World described Moore as “hale and hearty” at the age of 94, with bright hazel eyes and “an intellect as quick as if she were thirty.” Her faced was lined with “ten thousand curious wrinkles,” although she still had delicate, brown hair.

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Black Rock Harbor (Fayerweather Island) ...
Photo by: Jeremy D'Entremont

Kate’s father had become keeper at Fayerweather Island in 1817. Stephen Moore’s health increasingly failed, and Kate performed all the duties of keeper from a young age. She never had the official title, however, until after her father died at 98 in 1871.

Over the years Kate Moore maintained a garden and cared for a number of animals, including a flock of sheep. She also carved and sold duck decoys and had a thriving oyster business. When an outsider trespassed on her oyster beds, Moore would grab her shotgun and tell them, “I represent the United States Government and you’ve got to go.” She was matter-of-fact about her unique life:

“You see, I had done all this for so many years, and I knew no other life, so I was sort of fitted for it. I never had much of a childhood, as other children have it. That is, I never knew playmates. Mine were the chickens, ducks and lambs and my two Newfoundland dogs.”

“Sometimes there were more than two hundred sailing vessels in here at night,” said Kate, “and some nights there were as many as three or four wrecks, so you may judge how essential it was that they should see our light.” Kate was considered an expert rower and often went to the aid of boaters in the worst conditions.

Kate had many visitors at her island home, around a thousand in 1877 by her own count. She never went to school, but during her years at Fayerweather Island she kept a library of around 100 books and many paintings, including an original Reubens. An 1878 article reported that hundreds of rules and regulations for lighthouse keepers and the lifesaving service hung about the home, and Kate “learned them all by heart.”

Keeper Kate was credited with 21 lives saved during her years on the island, but said she wished it could have been twice that many as so many others died in wrecks nearby. After she retired in 1878 Kate summed up her life by the ocean, saying, “The sea is a treacherous friend.”

The present (1823) octagonal stone lighthouse on Fayerweather Island has been recently restored, and the Bridgeport Regional Vocational Aquacultural School’s 56-foot research vessel is named the Catherine Moore in honor of their local heroine, who died in 1900 at the age of 105.

This story appeared in the March 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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