Keeper Bio: Steinhise, Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson Steinhise

Date of Service: 1918 – 1941

1879: Born on September 29 in Leonardtown, Maryland.
Marries wife, Ada Viola Wible.  The couple raises sixteen children.
Works as a waterman and blacksmith.
1918: Joins U.S. Lighthouse Service. Serves as Assistant Keeper at Tangier Sound Lighthouse (Virginia) with brother-in-law.
1919: Serves as Keeper at Lower Cedar Point Lighthouse (Maryland). Resigns for an unknown reason where he earns $720/year.
1927: Rejoins U.S. Lighthouse Service. Stationed at Ragged Point Lighthouse (Maryland).

1928: Serves as Assistant at Cobb Point Bar Lighthouse (Maryland)
1929: Serves as Keeper at Upper Cedar Point Lighthouse (Maryland).
1930: Rescues owner and family of motorboat Verdoma which went aground near the lighthouse on April 12.
1930: Begins service as Keeper at Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse (Maryland).  His beginning salary was $1,620 per year.
1933: Rescues six-man crew from sinking tugboat Point Breeze on August 20th, with assistance from his son Thomas Earl.  Five crew members survive.
1936: On January 4, Keeper Steinhise receives the Silver Lifesaving Medal and letter of citation for rescue at Seven Foot Knoll at Lighthouse District in Baltimore from the Secretary of Commerce.  The Lighthouse Service was in the Dept of Commerce at the time.         His wife Ada passes away on February 20th.
1941: Retires from U.S. Lighthouse Service.
1949: Passed away on July 22 at age 70 and buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, Glen Burnie, MD.

Keeper Thomas Jefferson Steinhise Anecdote
Thomas Steinhise has loved all things maritime since his teens when he went with the fishing fleet on the Chesapeake Bay. He was a fisherman and captain of oyster boats, as well as being a blacksmith for twelve years.

Known as the August storm, the night of August 20, 1933, would be a night not long forgotten by Keeper Thomas Steinhise. On that night, Keeper Steinhise launched his 21-foot boat and braved the rough seas to a sunken tugboat to pull six members of the crew out of the water and save another eight from the boat’s superstructure. Keeper Steinhise describes the rescue in his own words:

“I was up looking at the light when I saw a light out on the water. I listened and heard a distress signal—four horn blasts in a row. My son, Earl, was substituting for my assistant and he was asleep below. I roused him and had him help me get the launch into the water.” After lowering the boat into the water, “Voices seemed to come from all around. I picked up one man out of the water, and then five more. One of them later died from exposure. Then I got to the tug and took off the rest of the crew and went back to the light.”

Keeper Steinhise had a difficult time getting back to the lighthouse because of the rising tide and wind, as well as the extra weight of the men. It took just about an hour to reach the safety of the lighthouse.   On January 4, 1936, Keeper Steinhise received the Silver Lifesaving Medal for heroism during the rescue of the tugs crew in 1933.  This award was authorized by Congress in 1874 for heroism by a person who rescues or endeavors to rescue any other person from drowning, shipwreck, or other perils of the water.  The Gold and Silver Lifesaving Medals are federal awards and awarded by the cabinet Secretary over the service the rescuer was a member of.

When Keeper Steinhise died sixteen years later in 1949 at the age of 71, all of the surviving crew members showed up at his wake to pay their respects and appreciation to the man who risked his life to save theirs.

Most of the extensive Steinhise family still reside in Maryland.  Some family members spell the name as Steinhice.

Sources – Lighthouse Friends –, Chapter data base, Historic Ships in Baltimore web site, The Evening Sun, January 4, 1936, the Steinhise family.

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