Bowditch Ledge Daybeacon, Massachusetts

Thanks to Jeremy D'Entremont, webmaster of New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide, for this photo of the former Bowditch Ledge Daybeacon at Salem, Massachusetts. The photo was taken July 13, 2003. The historic beacon collapsed overnight in late November 2018.

In maritime parlance, a "beacon" is not necessarily lighted; it is simply a fixed navigational aid as opposed to a buoy that floats on the water. Unlighted beacons are called daybeacons. This beacon was one of about a dozen or so stone daybeacons surviving from the nineteenth century in New England waters. Built of hand-cut granite blocks, it stood about 30 feet high and was topped, somewhat incongruously, by a modern diamond-shaped daymarker. The red-and-white checkerboard pattern on the marker warned of an underwater obstruction; it means "go either way you like, but stay away from here." The whitecaps seen behind the tower are probably caused by the underwater ledge.

The Bowditch Ledge Daybeacon is often associated with Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838), Salem's famous sailor, navigator, and mathematician. He was the author of The New American Practical Navigator (1802), which taught navigation to U.S. seamen for generations. I have seen it said that Bowditch Ledge is named for him because he wrecked one of his ships there. No doubt he would be horrified by this story, because he was much too skilled as a navigator to run a ship on the rocks anywhere, certainly not in his own home port. In fact, Bowditch Ledge is named for Nathaniel's great-grandfather William Bowditch, who did wreck the ship Essex Galley on this ledge in 1700.

photo copyright 2003 Jeremy D'Entremont; used by permission

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Posted July 15, 2003. Checked and revised April 22, 2020. Site copyright 2020 Russ Rowlett and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.