Only one lightship ever marked this location and it was also the first U.S. Lightship. Lightship “C” (lightships were designated by a single letter prior to the LV or “Light Vessel system) was stationed from 1820-1859. Serving as a guide to vessels approaching the Norfolk & Portsmouth Harbors, it was stationed in the lower Chesapeake Bay on the west side of the channel near the mouth of the Elizabeth River off Craney Island. It was originally stationed at Willoughby Spit but was unable to endure the bad sea conditions, so it was moved to the Craney Island location.
Congress appropriated funds in 1819 and the contract was awarded to James Poole of Hampton, Virginia on September 2, 1819. He built a small 70-ton wood schooner with the hull covered in copper. There were bunks for four men, a galley and one fixed light at the top of the mast and a large hand-struck fog bell. The name was painted on both sides of the hull in large black letters.
In an 1852 Lighthouse Board report it was noted to have only one keeper and three assistant keepers. The assistant keepers earned $18, $15 and $10 per month. It was also reported that the ship was “broken adrift” and in very bad condition. From the Report of Finances, it was noted that head keeper Elijah Knox earned $450 per year. The lightship was later replaced by the Craney Island Lighthouse in 1859.
Keepers: William Tee (1821 – 1849, John Tee (1849 – 1853), John Hicks (1853 – 1855), William Spady (1854 – 1855), Elijah Knox (1855 – 1856), William Risley (1856 – 1858), George Cross (1858 – 1859)
1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years
2. Annual Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the State of Finances, various years
3. Lightships-Floating Lighthouses of the Mid-Atlantic, Wayne Kirklin, 2007.
4. Bowlers Rock Lightship Station History. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2018, from http://www.uscglightshipsailors.org/craney_island_lightship_station.htm