John O’Neil was born in Ireland on November 23, 1768, and came to America at the age of eighteen. He was a gunsmith and served in the military under General Harry Lee during the Whisky Insurrection in 1794. Lt. O’Neill also served in the Navy in 1798 against the French. He married and moved to Havre de Grace, Maryland, where he ran a nail factory.
As stated before, the British attacked Havre de Grace on May 3, 1813. Because the citizens knew the attack was eminent, they all fled. As a member of the militia, O’Neill was manning the Potato Battery cannons at Concord Point when the British ships appeared. He commenced firing, but his fellow militiamen ran away. Firing the cannon alone, he was injured by the gun’s recoil and fled into town. British forces landed at Concord Point and eventually captured O’Neill who had continued to resist with musket fire. Word reached the town that he was to be hung as a traitor the next day. His 16 year old daughter, Matilda, rowed out to the British vessel bringing evidence of his commission in the militia, and pled for his release, which was granted.
His courage earned O’Neill a presidential appointment as first keeper of the Concord Point Lighthouse on November 3, 1827 for a salary of $350 a year. Lt. O’Neill served as keeper until his death in 1838. Four generations of the O’Neills would serve as keepers at the Concord Point Lighthouse until it’s automation in 1920.
The Concord Point Lighthouse was built in 1827 by local contractor John Donahoo, who built 13 of the earliest lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay. It only measures 26 feet tall with a lantern on top, bringing the total height to 36 feet. The walls at the base are 3’1” thick and narrow to 18” at the top. It has 27 steps and a six rung latter to the lantern.
The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1975. We could not go into the lighthouse because it is now closed. I guess they couldn’t find a keeper.