Keeper Bio: Wesley Foster Ripley

Keepers

Date of Service: 1881 – 1916

1835: Born on June 18 in Mathews County, VA.
1858: Marries Laberta F. Jarvis on November 11. Couple raises ten children: Martha, Louisa, Mary Ellen, Wesley, Mary E., Tommie, Robert, Delena, Maria, and Luther.
1860s: Ripley serves during the Civil War for the Confederacy on the Giles Light Artillery – CSA and as a soldier for the State of Virginia in the 61st Regiment – Virginia Militia.
Ripley becomes a Merchant Seaman and sails around Cape Horn (per Family).
1881: Ripley serves as 1st Assistant at Wolf Trap Lighthouse, Virginia from November 4 to December 30, where he earned $440/year.
1881 to 1883: Serves as Acting Keeper at New Point Comfort Lighthouse; December 30 to January 8, 1883. He earned $540/year.
1883 to 1886: Serves as 1st Assistant at York Spit Lighthouse (Virginia); January 8 to April 20, 1886. Salary – $440 per year.
1886 to 1888: Serves as Keeper at Stingray Point Lighthouse, Virginia. Salary – $540 per year.
1888: Ripley begins service as Keeper at Thimble Shoal Lighthouse, Virginia. Salary – $640 per year.
1891: The lighthouse is rammed by hit-and-run steamer and damaged.
1898: Tragedy – While serving at Thimble Shoal Lighthouse, Keeper Ripley’s 14-year old son Tommie passes away on July 30.
1900: Keeper Ripley’s 29-year old son, Luther passes away on July 30.

1904: Keeper Ripley leaves Thimble Shoal LH and begins service as Keeper at Newport News Middle Ground Lighthouse (NNMG), Virginia on January 12. His salary was $600/year.
1906: Keeper Ripley departs Newport News Middle Ground Lighthouse on September 1. He begins service at New Point Comfort Lighthouse as Keeper on the same day, where he made $560/year.
1916: Passed away on January 2 at age 80 while still serving at New Point Comfort Lighthouse. He served a total of 35 years with the Lighthouse Service. He is buried at Ripley Family Cemetery, Bavon, VA.

Wesley Foster Ripley Anecdotes:

Prior to his Lighthouse Service, Keeper Ripley served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War and in the Virginia Militia. He was also a Merchant seaman who sailed around Cape Horn. Cape Horn is at the southern tip of South America and marks where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet.

Keeper Ripley began serving at Thimble Shoal Lighthouse in 1888 when it was a screwpile. Three years later, the lighthouse was rammed by a hit-and-run steamer and damaged. In 1898, the lighthouse was rammed by a coal barge which caused considerable damage and required extensive repairs. Also, in that same year, Keeper Ripley’s 14-year old son, Tommie passed away on July 30.

A tragic coincidence – Ripley’s 29-year old son, Luther, passed away on July 30, 1900 – two years to the day that his younger brother, Tommie died.

In November 1906 while in service at the New Point Comfort Lighthouse, Keeper Ripley white-washed the lighthouse, hiring a worker for $2.00 to assist him.

Also, of interest, Thimble Shoal Lighthouse where Keeper Ripley served from 1888 to 1904, is in the heavily trafficked Hampton Roads and was often in “harm’s way” and hit by several vessels. It was one of the most accident-prone lights on the Bay. When it was a screwpile, the lighthouse was struck by a steamer in 1891, by a coal barge in 1898, and a schooner in 1909. The last accident ignited a fire which destroyed the superstructure and the lens. The keepers evacuated safely by boat. This disaster prompted the Lighthouse Service to build the present-day caisson in 1914. One year later, however, the new light was struck by a schooner.

Sources: Captain Wesley Ripley “New Point Comfort Lighthouse – Its History and Preservation” by Mary Louise Clifford and J. Candace Clifford; Lighthouse Friends web site: www.lighthousefriends.com; Chesapeake Chapter Database and web site – www.cheslights.org and see “Our Heritage” heading.

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