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Report Relative to a Lighthouse on Cape Hatteras, [20 February 1794]

Report Relative to a Lighthouse on Cape Hatteras

[Philadelphia, February 20, 1794
Communicated on February 22, 1794]1

[To the President of the Senate]

The Secretary of the Treasury pursuant to the order of the Senate of the 28th of March 1792 “directing the Secy of the Treasury to inquire into the expediency & report to Congress at their next session, the expediency of erecting a light house at Occracock island, or elsewhere, near the entrances of Occracock Inlet, & an estimate of the probable expense,”2 respectfully makes the following Report.

Upon receipt of that order, he instructed the Commissioner of the Revenue (who is charged with the immediate care of that branch of the Treasury business which respects Light House Establishments) to make the proper inquiries concerning the subject of it. But having for a long time entertained an opinion that a Light House on some part of Cape Hatteras would be an establishment of very general utility to the navigation of the united States, he judged it a fit occasion to unite with an examination of the scene indicated by the order an examination of the situations on the Cape adapted to a Light House and of such other circumstances as were necessary to be attended to in forming a judgment of the practicability and expediency of erecting and maintaining a light House on the Cape. And accordingly he charged the Commissioner with the collateral inquiry likewise.3

The result of the Investigation on both points is herewith presented in a letter from the commissioner dated the 27th of January last, accompanied with an estimate of the expence of such an Erection as appears eligible within the scene designated by the order.4

It is submitted as the opinion of the Secretary that it would be adviseable as well to erect a Light House of the first rate on Cape Hatteras (the requisite cession being previously obtained for the purpose) as to establish a beacon of the kind described in the Estimate on the land ceded by the State of North Carolina for the site of a Light House.5

All of which is respectfully submitted

Alexander Hamilton
Secy of the Treasy

LS, RG 46, Reports from the Secretary of the Treasury, National Archives.

1Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , IV, 54.

2Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , III, 114.

3On September 18, 1792, Tench Coxe wrote to North Carolina revenue officers Thomas Benbury, John Daves, and Nathan Keais requesting information on “the expediency of erecting a light House on Occacock Island or elsewhere near the Entrance of Occacock inlet, and an Estimate of the probable expence.… The same ideas may direct an enquiry in regard to the Head land or Cape of Hatteras” (LC, RG 58, Letters of Commissioner of Revenue, 1792–1793, National Archives). On September 21, 1792, he wrote to Thomas Benbury and requested that Benbury’s assistant, Samuel Tredwell, be sent to inspect the area and make inquiries of the local residents (LC, RG 58, Letters of Commissioner of Revenue, 1792–1793, National Archives).

4“Estimate of the cost of Building a lighted Beacon &ca” (D, RG 46, Reports from the Secretary of the Treasury, National Archives).

5During its November, 1790, session the North Carolina legislature had passed “An Act to Cede and Vest in the United States of America the Lands Therein Mentioned, for the Purpose of Building Light-Houses,” which ceded to the United States “to erect a light-house thereon, one acre of land in Ocacock Island” (North Carolina Laws, November, 1790, Sess., Ch. II). H’s report was submitted to a committee of the Senate which brought in a bill on March 10, 1794 (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , IV, 54, 65). On May 13, 1794, “An Act to erect a Lighthouse on the headland of Cape Hatteras; and a lighted Beacon on Shell Castle Island in the harbor of Occacock in the state of North Carolina” was passed. This act authorized the erection of both beacons provided that a suitable cession of land should be made by the North Carolina legislature (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 368). At its July, 1794, session the North Carolina legislature passed “An Act to cede to the United States of America certain lands, upon condition therein mentioned,” which granted to the United States exclusive jurisdiction over Beacon Island in the harbor of Ocracoke Inlet and four acres of land at the headland of Cape Hatteras. The act, however, stipulated that the cession should not “debar or hinder any of the officers of this state from serving any process or levying executions within the limits ceded by this act” (North Carolina Laws, July, 1794, Sess., Ch. I). For similar cases of jurisdiction retained by states, see Coxe to H, January 3, 19, 1793; Edmund Randolph to H, January 7, 1793; “Outline for George Washington’s Fifth Annual Address to Congress,” November, 1793, note 19.

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