As one might expect, there was a sharing of resources between the various Lighthouse districts. Throughout Captain Dave’s logs, there are references to voyages to ports outside the jurisdiction of the Seventh District. There was a noticeable blending of the Seventh District and the Eighth District which encompassed from the Perdido River, Florida to the Rio Grande, Texas. All districts had an engineer from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, who was responsible for overseeing repairs and construction on the lighthouses. Captain William H. Heuer was assigned to the Seventh District on 17 November 1876. A commission he held until 1 February 1884. However, he was also the engineer for the Eighth District from 29 January 1880 until 1 February 1884.1 It appears that Captain Dave transferred to New Orleans with Captain Heuer in 1880.2 Captain Dave continued to work in both districts.

It is encouraging to note that all was not hard labor on the tenders.

“Tuesday February 21, 1882. Str. Geranium lay at lamp shop. All the crew on shore enjoying their liberty of Mardi Gras.

Wednesday February 22, 1882. Str. Geranium lay at lamp shop New Orleans at 6 a.m. Started down the river for Port Eads at 1 p.m. Got down to wharf and filled water and other things in storehouse. At 3 p.m. L. H. Tender Joseph Henry came down with Capt. Heuer and party from lighthouse board. We took them outside the jetties for a sail and came back to dock and laid till 2 a.m.”3

It appears the Lighthouse Board scheduled their inspection of the Eighth District during Mardi Gras, a practice that government agencies and businesses continue to this day. Mardi Gras that year blended politics with humor. Most parades used mythical or historical themes. But in the early 1800s two parading organizations formed who usually chose satirical themes. In the 1882 Mardi Gras,

“. . . the Independent Order of the Moon poked good-nature fun at the first Shakspeare administration (he was the mayor of New Orleans.- author) One of the most popular floats depicted the City Hall’s war against loose goats in the city streets and squares. It showed Mayor Shakspeare walking up the steps of City hall as a goat nimbly pulled a handkerchief out of his back pocket.”4

The Geranium, the tender Captain Dave commanded at this time, was built in 1863 as a private steaming tug. Later that year it was purchased by the U. S. Navy and commissioned the USS Geranium, the name it kept. It was sold to the Lighthouse Service in 1865 where it was assigned to the Eighth District until 1884 when it was transferred elsewhere. It was a single beam steam engine with side paddle wheels.5


Captain Dave’s last tender was the Arbutus.6 Built at a cost of $49,769.16, it was commissioned 1 July 1879. It was a coal-fired, twin propeller steam engine. With a wooden hull, it measured 153’ x 25’ by 107’.7 The last year that I have a report to the Secretary of the Treasury was 1891. This is what the Arbutus did that year.

“This steamer was actively employed during the year in making repairs to the light-houses in the seventh and eighth districts. During the year the tender was docked and the old metal was taken off and replaced with new where required. Calking was done where necessary and other minor repairs were made. A new starboard crank pin shaft was put in, the machinery was thoroughly repaired, and a new pair of composition propeller wheels was put on. During the year she ran 15,168 miles and consumed 639 tons of coal. (Emphasis added by author.) The tender is in excellent condition.”8

Captain Dave was nearing the end of his career. For 25 years he worked tirelessly navigating the Southern coast line and up into New England. In all degrees of weather, in vessels of varying stages of sea-worthiness, from sailing schooners to single steam engines to double steam engines, side paddle wheels and twin propellers, he and his crews had maintained and sustained the lighthouses. They had been the backbone of a system of lights and navigational aids at a time in our country when the shipping lanes were as heavily traveled as the interstates today. It was not a glamorous job. These men were workaholics. They were jacks-of-all-trades. They did their jobs so well – that no one noticed.

On 31 October 1893 Captain David Ellis died at home.


Yesterday morning David Ellis, master of the United States lighthouse tender Arbutus, died after an illness of about one month. Capt. Ellis had been in the lighthouse service since 1868, and previous to that date he had served the United States government in capacities appertaining to his calling for twenty-five years.9

1Annual Report of the Light-House Board to the Secretary of the Treasury for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1884. (Washington: Government Printing Office. 1884): 138.
2“Ellis” undated clipping from unidentified newspaper, in family papers of Flora Jones of Jefferson, La. inherited by Flora Ellis Jones, her niece, then by David John Ellis, then Susan Ellis Berghan. Obituary states “a resident . . . of this city thirteen years.” David’s Certificate of Burial, previously cited, gives his date of burial as 1 November 1893. From this, I conclude that he arrived in New Orleans in 1880.
3“Log book of Capt. David Ellis,” (MS February 1881 – May 1882) owned 1994 by his great-granddaughter, Susan Ellis Berghan.
4Jackson, Joy J. New Orleans in the Gilded Age, Politics and Urban Progress 1880 – 1896. (Louisiana State University Press, 1969) reprint by UMI Books On Demand 1995. 305.
5Peterson. op cit. 21.
6“Death of a Veteran.” Newspaper article cited early.
7Peterson. op cit. 46.
8Annual Report of the Light-house Board of the Secretary of the Treasure for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1891. (Washington: Government Printing Office: 1891): 112-113
9Death of a Veteran, previously cited.

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