One of the most memorable events that has happened at Maine’s Portland Head Light involved the Annie C Maguire, which shipwrecked next to the beacon on Christmas Eve, in 1886. Joshua Strout was lighthouse keeper at the time.
The Annie C Maguire was originally built as an extremely fast clipper ship, named the Golden State with a 30-year career involved in trade with China. In later life, it was converted as a three-masted bark sailing vessel for carrying heavy cargo. By 1886, its owners had run into financial difficulties and owed money to their creditors. Because of this, a sheriff’s officer stopped by the Strout’s a few days prior to Christmas that year and asked Joshua notify him if the Annie C Maguire was sighted along Casco Bay.
Christmas Eve started quietly as members of the Strout family were gathered together for the holiday at the keeper’s house. As the evening wore on, the winds started to blow and a mixture of rain and snow began falling over the area from a heavy storm raging off shore.
Around 11:00 p.m. that night, the Annie C. Maguire was attempting to get to the safety of Portland Harbor during a trip from Buenos Aires to Quebec. On board were two mates, thirteen crewmen, and Captain Thomas O’Neil’s family, including himself, his wife, and teenage son. The waves started to get rough as the Annie C Maguire started up the coast, with rain mixing in with occasional snow squalls. When visibility dropped around 11:30 p.m., the vessel ran aground on the rocks roughly 100 feet from Portland Head Light. Captain O’Neil most likely could not see the lighthouse due to the weather and misjudged his location. Now realizing where he had landed, he kept the vessel lodged on the rocks by quickly ordering the crew take down the sails and lower the anchors in an effort to be rescued quickly.
Joshua saw the wreck from the lighthouse tower and ran into the keeper’s house yelling, “All hands turn out! There’s a ship ashore in the dooryard!” The family had already felt the ground shake and heard the noise from the impact of the vessel slamming into the nearby rocks. Keeper Strout’s wife Mary grabbed a blanket, cut it into strips, and soaked them in kerosene using them as torches to light the area for rescuing the crew. Joshua and his son Joseph rigged an ordinary ladder as a gangplank between the waves and rocky ledges that separated them from the wreck. One by one, they helped each survivor over the makeshift plank to the warm safety of the keeper’s house. They were able to rescue all eighteen people safely while the ship remained wedged on the rocks.
The following morning, the deputy sheriff, notified of the wreck, came to claim the ship and put Strout in charge of salvaging anything from the wreck for the creditors. Because the ship was so beaten up, the creditors received only $177 at auction. In trying to serve the angry creditors, the sheriff searched the ship’s sea chest for special papers and cash, but came up with nothing.
Just over a week later, on New Year’s Day of 1887, another storm came along and destroyed what was left of the Annie C. Maguire. The crew had been discharged a few days earlier and sent home by the British Vice Counsel. Years later it was discovered that the captain and his wife had ransacked the chest and carried the cash, papers, and other items of value in her hatbox during the rescue.
The Strout family combination of father and son were keepers of Portland Head Lighthouse for a total of 59 years from 1869-1928. When Joseph’s son John became the third generation Strout to serve in a government position at Portland Head Light in 1912, he decided to paint an inscription to commemorate the location of where the Annie C Maguire had wrecked. He had to chip a large portion of the rock away to create a flat surface on which to paint. After mixing mortar, sand, and some paint together, he painted the words “In Memory of the Ship Annie C. Maguire, Wrecked on this Point Christmas Eve, 1886.” He had a wooden cross, placed on top of the rock, which has long since washed away along with the original painting. The inscription has been periodically renewed and repainted over the years, evolving into a simpler inscription reading “Annie C Maguire, Shipwrecked Here, Christmas Eve 1886” which displays today for residents and tourists alike.
Excerpted from New England Lighthouse Stories.
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