National Hispanic Heritage Month: Alfonso Sanchez Bermudez, Lighthouse Keeper

Alfonso Sanchez Bermudez, head keeper of the Isla Caja de Muertos Lighthouse (located just off the coast of southern Puerto Rico), performed a lifesaving action in September 1916 that would earn him a formal commendation. This action involved rescuing a man who, while sailing in the vicinity of the lighthouse, found himself in danger of drowning there in the Caribbean Sea due to turbulent weather conditions.

After bringing the man safely to shore on Caja de Muertos Island, Bermudez had him remain at the lighthouse station for three days until the weather improved. Bermudez’s rescue did not escape the attention of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which at that time had jurisdiction over the nation’s lighthouses.

Commerce Secretary William C. Redfield wrote in a letter to Bermudez, “Referring to report of assistance rendered by you in connection with the rescue of a sailor from the sailboat Juanita, the department takes pleasure in commending you for the valuable service thus rendered, which will be noted on the records as part of your official history.” As head keeper of the Isla Caja de Muertos Lighthouse (pictured above) from sometime around 1907 to 1926, Bermudez undertook numerous other rescues that have likewise been documented and for which he was also officially commended. 

Bermudez’s longtime service is also noteworthy because, as a native Puerto Rican, he reflected an ever-growing trend for Hispanic-Americans during the early 20th century. After its defeat in the Spanish-American War in 1898, Spain ceded to the United States the territory of Puerto Rico; this relinquishment included the island’s system of approximately 15 lighthouses either already built or under construction.

As far back as 1824, there had been Hispanic-Americans operating lighthouses in the United States and its territories. However, the acquisition of Puerto Rico’s network of lighthouses and the appointment of several island residents (including Bermudez) to take charge of those facilities for the United States helped increase that number significantly.

Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard

Additional information on Alfonso Sanchez Bermudez and his longtime tenure at the Isla Caja de Muertos Lighthouse is available at https://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=1174

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