Coast Guard Heroes: Kathleen Moore

This Compass series chronicles the first 14 heroes the Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters have been named for. These men and women, who stood the watch before us, lived extraordinary lives as they lit the way for sailors in times past, braved gunfire in times of war and rescued those in peril at sea. As Coast Guard heroes, their stories are a constant reminder of our service’s legacy. As the namesake of the Coast Guard’s newest patrol boats, they will inspire the next generation of Coast Guard heroes.

With contributions from LTJG Ryan White

Kathleen "Kate" Moore

Kathleen Moore served as keeper of the Black Rock Harbor Light on Fayerweather Island and was officially credited with saving 21 lives. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Kathleen “Kate” Moore devoted her entire life to those at sea as the keeper of the Black Rock Harbor Light on Fayerweather Island, a small seaside community south of Bridgeport, Conn.

Moore first stood the watch at the age of 12, when her father began tending the light in 1817 after a shipboard injury prevented him from going to sea. As Moore grew older, and her father’s health worsened, she took on most of the duties herself, although she was not officially appointed as head keeper until 1871.

She served at the station for an astounding 72 years where she continually braved the harsh storms of Long Island Sound to save those in peril. As keeper, her light was literally the difference between a successful journey or catastrophe for the more than two hundred vessels sailing the sound nightly.

On one particular night, Moore heard cries of distress coming from the harbor. She went out in her rowboat with her brother and cousin searching for the sailor, and after an hour’s search they found two men clinging to a capsized boat.

In her later years, Moore was interviewed by a reporter who asked her about the dangers she encountered at Black Rock Harbor. “You see, I had done all this for so many years, and I knew no other life, so I was sort of fitted for it.,” Moore replied.

Moore’s career was filled with ardent determination and she is officially credited with saving 21 lives. When she retired from service in 1878 at the age of 84 and was asked about her saves, Moore said, “I wish it had been double that number.”

A special place in the Coast Guard’s history

Black Rock Harbor Light

Black Rock Harbor Light was established in 1808 and rises above the sea wall on the south end of Fayerweather Island, Conn. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Despite the seclusion of the many locations where keepers served, they were true pillars of their maritime communities. The Black Rock Harbor Lighthouse, originally built in 1808, was built on an island in Long Island Sound at the mouth of Black Rock Harbor. The isolated lighthouse served as an important beacon on the busy seaports along Long Island Sound as it was the only light between Eaton Neck, New York and New Haven, Connecticut.

Daily work at a lighthouse included many repetitive and routine tasks but the men and women who stood the watch for those at sea required dedication and self-sufficiency to ensure their vital labors were accomplished.

“It was a lifetime of service,” remarked Vice Admiral Brice-O’Hara of Lighthouse Keeper Kathleen Moore’s career as Keeper of Black Rock Light. “Though not named the official Keeper until her late seventies, Moore had been assisting her injured father with lighthouse duties since the age of 12. She ran both the lighthouse and the family homestead from an early age, and didn’t retire from her post until 1878 – when she was 84 years old.”

Credited with saving over 21 lives, Keeper Kathleen Moore slept in her work-clothes, facing the window to make sure her light stayed burning. “She proved that women performed with distinction – whether the job at hand was harrowing or dutifully and diligently routine,” admired Vice Admiral Brice-O’Hara, “The crew of the Kathleen Moore will have high standards to uphold in honoring the legacy of this remarkable Keeper.”

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  • ROBERT P. PANISH

    Every day (in my youth) I could see Black Rock Harbor light. We lived across the harbor from it. One of my teachers at Black Rock School Was the daughter of the lighthouse keeper. I often heard stories about Kate Moore and I found them fascinating. Now, at 90 years of age,I cherish the memories. Bob Panish, Warrant Machinist U.S.Coast Guard (WW 2).

  • Deshawn Kimbrell

    Well done for posting such an amazing piece. It’s well thought of and very well written.