George Washington gave this Portland Head Light keeper his job

Captain Joseph Greenleaf
Died 1795 at age 59

Greetings from Portland. Sweater weather is here. Every day this month I’m telling a story that bridges the gap between this world, and the next. I’m resurrecting the memory of Portlanders who’ve crossed over to the other side by posting one video each day, relating the tale of one, interesting “permanent Portlander.”

Captain Joseph Greenleaf was appointed the first keeper of Portland Headlight by George Washington. That must have been awesome, but the government stiffed Greenleaf for the first two years. It did let him live in the lighthouse, rent-free, though. I guess that was pretty cool. It’s a great view, after all.

Greenleaf died after four years on the job. He suffered a stroke while aboard his own boat on the Fore River on October 3, 1795. He’s buried with his wife at the Eastern Cemetery.

I never did find out if the feds paid the money they owed him.

Today’s story is brought to you with the help of Spirits Alive — the volunteer group that looks after the Eastern Cemetery and leads guided tours.

Disclaimer: I’m not a historian. I owe everything I know to the dedicated research of those who have come before me. These character sketches are assembled from multiple (often antique) sources and sprinkled with my own conjecture. I’m happy to be set straight or to learn more.

Capt. Joseph Greenleaf, buried in the Eastern Cemetery in Portland, was appointed the first keeper of Portland Head Light by George Washington. But Greenleaf wasn't paid for the first two years of service.

Capt. Joseph Greenleaf, buried in the Eastern Cemetery in Portland, was appointed the first keeper of Portland Head Light by George Washington. But Greenleaf wasn’t paid for the first two years of service.

 

Troy R. Bennett

About Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.