Cape Lookout Lighthouse & The Fulford Keepers

Oil painting by Clearwater, Florida artist Roger Bansemer

The Beaufort, Carteret County Fulford family acquired land and played a prominent role in the early days of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. An entry in the records at the Carteret County Courthouse shows the gift of land by John Fulford's grandson Joseph Fulford and Elijah Pigott for the erection of a lighthouse on Cape Lookout

"We, Joseph Fulford and Elijah Pigott of the County of Carteret and State of North Carolina, in consideration of the sum of $1 paid to us by the United States of America, the receipt whereof we do hereby acknowledge, do hereby, give, grant, bargain, sell . . . to the said United States of America four acres of land on Cape Lookout so-called in the State aforesaid for the accommodation of a lighthouse to be erected in pursuance of the Act of Congress pased on the 20th day of March 1804." Fulford also specified that he retain the fishing rights around Cape Lookout in perpetuity for his descendants.

Built on a sand dune, at a cost of $20, 678.54, the 96-foot brick tower was encircled by a hexagonal wooden tower covered in cedar shingles and painted with wide, horizontal red and white stripes. It began service in 1812.

The first known keeper of the light was Joseph Fulford’s son, James Fulford (1755-1839), who was appointed by President James Madison on June 2, 1812, with a yearly salary of $300. James, married to Rebecca Harker, served as keeper for 16 years. In 1828, James’ son, William Fulford (1796-1864) became keeper and served until 1854. [In 1848, William's daughter, Julia Ann Fulford, married Dr. James Lente Manney of Beaufort.]

In 1850, keeper William Fulford described the lighthouse as having 13 oil lamps. Oil was stored in a small oil shed. At that time, William had to continually remove sand from the front side of the keeper’s house. “The sand banks are now higher than the tops of the windows, and only a few feet from them, at high water mark. On the sea side, it has washed away about 100 feet last year by abrasion and sea flows.” In serious disrepair, the need for a new lighthouse was apparent not only due to erosion, but also due to the fact that the tower was too low. In 1856 a fresnel lens was installed, but it wasn’t until 1857 that Congress appropriated $45,000 for a new lighthouse.

First lit on November 1, 1859, the second Cape Lookout Lighthouse proved to be a model for the other lighthouses that would be built along the Outer Banks. It was made of red brick, displayed the Fresnel lens from the old tower and could be seen for 19 miles.

Painting by Roger Bansemer
Josiah Fisher Bell, Beaufort Collector of Customs, served as an agent in the Confederate Secret Service during the Civil War. Appointed Superintendent of Lights for the Beaufort District of the Confederate Lighthouse Bureau, Bell had the lenses removed, from Cape Lookout Lighthouse and Bogue Banks Lighthouse, and placed in storage in a warehouse in Beaufort. In the spring of 1862, Bell was responsible for blowing up the lighthouses on Cape Lookout; the old lighthouse destroyed, the new one only damaged. (Josiah Fisher Bell (1820‒1890), son of Josiah Bell and Mary Fisher, married Susan Benjamin Leecraft in 1841; Susan was daughter of Benjamin Leecraft who lived across Turner Street from the Josiah Bell House on the Restoration Grounds.) 

After the Civil War, Congress appropriated $20,000 for repairs and updating. Wooden stairs were replaced with cast iron and a new lens was installed. In 1871, an additional $5000 was appropriated for a new keeper’s dwelling, complete with summer kitchen and woodshed.

In 1873, the keeper's cottage - large enough to house two keepers and their families - was completed, and the tower painted. Because the four lights on the Outer Banks were so similar, the Lighthouse Board designed striking patterns for each to make them easily distinguishable. Cape Lookout Lighthouse was painted with large checkers that appear as alternating black and white diamonds. Following the traditional day-mark aids to navigation, the black checkers are oriented north and south toward the shallow waters of the shoals and around the headlands, while the white checkers are oriented east and west facing the deeper waters.

After two world wars, in 1950, the light was completely automated—a keeper no longer needed. Today the tower is closed to the public. Grounds are owned by the National Park Service and many ferries operate in the area - from Beaufort and Harkers Island.
Above document was provided by a Fulford descendant.
Other information for this post was gathered from the following sites:
Down East Tour

Lighthouse Friends
Fulford Family