Keeper Bio: Williams, James Garnett

James Garnett Williams-photo courtesy Kemp Parrish

Date of Service: 1875 – 1919

1855:  Born on April 15 in Mathews County, VA

1875:  Serves as Second Assistant Keeper at Windmill Point Lighthouse (VA).   Annual salary – $400.   

1875-1876: Serves as First Assistant Keeper at Windmill Point Lighthouse (VA). Annual Salary – $440.

1876-1907:  Serves as Keeper at Windmill Point Lighthouse (VA).  Annual salary $660.   

1877:  Marries Sarah E. Brooks. The couple raises four children –– Sadie, Joseph, Lilley, and Boyd.

1898: Keeper Williams serving at Windmill Point Lighthouse on June 28 when lighting strikes the lighthouse, knocking a hole in it.                    

1907-1908: Serves as Keeper at Wolf Trap Lighthouse (VA). Annual salary – $700.

1908-1911: Serves as Keeper at Hog Island Lighthouse (VA).  Annual salary – $720.

1911-at least 1917: Serves as Keeper at Cape Charles Lighthouse (VA).  Starting annual salary -$720; ending- $744.

At least 1919:  Serves as Keeper at Great Wicomico River Lighthouse (VA). Annual salary –$960.

Circa 1919: Retires from U.S. Lighthouse Service with at least 44 years of service including 32 years of service at Windmill Point Lighthouse, which is one of the longest tenures of service at a single lighthouse on the The Chesapeake Bay.                                       

1937: Keeper Williams and wife Sarah (“Miss Sally”) celebrate 60 years of marriage. The couple had 8 grandchildren at that time.

1941: Passed away on February 20 at age 85 and buried at Smither Cemetery at Hudgins, VA. Survived by wife Sarah who passed away in 1945.

Keeper James Garnett Williams Anecdote

Keeper Williams served at five different light stations during his long career with the US Lighthouse Service. Two of these stations are still standing today. On June 28, 1898, during his tenure at Windmill Point Lighthouse, lighting struck the lighthouse tower knocking a hole in it.  Keeper Williams reported to lighthouse inspector Commander Hutchins: “the rain was so heavy that the hole could not be stopped, and he could not keep any light in the tower, except by hand lanterns.”  Williams reported that the tower was badly in need of repair. And when servicing the lantern at the Cape Charles Lighthouse (2nd tallest in the US), Keeper Williams climbed a spiral staircase with 216 treads housed inside a central iron tube, with an additional 17 steps leading to the watch room.

Two of the 1st Order Fresnel lenses that Keeper Williams polished are on public display.  The Cape Charles Lighthouse lens can be seen at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, VA, and the Hog Island Lighthouse lens is on display at the Portsmouth, VA waterfront. 

Sources – Lighthouse Friends –; Dede and Kemp Parrish; The Mathews Journal –October 7, 1937; Chapter data base; Chapter Historian, Jennifer Jones; and The Baltimore Sun – July 12, 1898.



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