New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide
Sassafras Point Light
Providence River, Rhode Island
Sassafras Point Light main page / History / Bibliography / Postcards

History
Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.

Sassafras Point, on the west side of the Providence River, received its name from the trees that grew in abundance there. Sassafras Point Light, built in 1872, was a twin of Fuller Rock Light about a mile to the southeast. The small hexagonal tower had a sixth-order Fresnel lens and exhibited a fixed red light 25 feet above sea level.

There were plans to erect a single keeper's dwelling for both lights, and $5,000 was appropriated for that purpose on June 23, 1874. But the Lighthouse Board reported that it proved "impracticable to effect the purchase of the site," and the dwelling was never built. Thus the keepers hired to care for both lights had to commute from their own homes and travel by boat to both sites, a formidable task in rough weather.

From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell

John J. "Jack" Mullen became keeper in April 1886, and he would keep the position for more than 25 years. A Providence Journal article by Wilfred E. Stone in 1936 described "Captain Jack" Mullen, then 85 years old, as a "character of the old school." At social gatherings, he was a master of clog dancing, "keeping hop to the pick of the banjo when he was scores of years older than most dancers."

The article described a harrowing accident that befell Captain Jack in the 1890s. It was brutally cold and windy on New Year's Eve one year as Mullen sailed in his yawl from one light to the other. Luckily, he was dressed warmly in many layers. "It was tough pulling," wrote Stone, "but his lights were burning at sunset as his orders called for."

On his way home after "lighting up," Mullen's small boat overturned near Kettle Point on the east side of the river and he found himself "struggling to gain a toehold on the bottom." Fortunately, nearby resident Ed Grogan saw the keeper's plight. Grogan launched his own boat and soon rescued the cold and soggy -- but no doubt grateful -- Mullen.

The day after his near-death experience, Mullen had a conversation with a devout female acquaintance. "Surely the Lord was with you when you were in the water," said the woman. "He certainly was on my side," replied Jack. When asked if he was thinking of the Lord throughout the experience, Mullen surprised the woman by answering in the negative. "Why, what else could you have been thinking of?" she asked. "How in blazes I was going to get ashore," said the always-practical Captain Jack.

In July 1912, Sassafras Point Light was removed to make way for the widening of the channel.

You can read more about this lighthouse in the book The Lighthouses of Rhode Island by Jeremy D'Entremont.


Keepers: (This list is a work in progress. If you have any information on the keepers of this lighthouse, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at nelights@gmail.com. Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)

Lorenzo Clarke (1872-1873); Samuel Heard (1873-1882), Edward Hoxsie (1882), William Dunwell (1882-1886); Patrick Fitzpatrick (1886), John Mullen (1886-1911)

Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.

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