The Brewsters: Great & Little Brewster Island and Boston Light

The Brewsters, comprising Great Brewster and Little Brewster Island, are ideally visited in the early spring and late summer/fall months when the massive flocks aggressive gulls are not nesting. Logistically, the islands are challenging to visit due to their limited public access points and far distance from downtown Boston. 

Named for William Brewster, the preacher of the Plymouth Colony and an original Mayflower passenger, these islands are some of the outermost in the Boston Harbor. They are also some of the most rocky and dangerous. As mentioned in previous posts, Boston Light, which is located here on Little Brewster, is the only fully manned lighthouse in operation on the East Coast. The light was originally created in the year 1716 to warn sailors of the treacherous waters near the Harbor’s entrance. The  original structure was burned down by the British out of spite as they evacuated Boston Harbor in March 1776. Today, equipped with its original fresnel lens, the light is one of the most powerful in New England, easily visible from East of Cape Ann.

boston harbor

Positioned at the end of the rocky outcrop of Little Brewster Island, you can visit the lighthouse and the nearby Coast Guard Station, and take a guided tour- check out this link for more information about how to get involved:

boston light

 One can see how this location was chosen for a lighthouse given its proximity to the Nantasket Roads Channel, and the treacherous nearby rocks. Below is a view of the lighthouse looking East on a bright blue autumn day:

boston harbor

Just East of Little Brewster Island are some rock outcrops called the Shag Rocks, named for the Shag- a species of bird which inhabits the rocks. Below is a view of the Shag Rocks looking west:


Great Brewster Island: Nearby Great Brewster Island is a much larger island with a large sand dune on its northeastern shore. This island is not accessible by public transportation, but can be accessed by private boat. The walk to the crest of the dune provides a stunning view to the East of Boston light and the Atlantic Ocean.

boston harbor

I like to call Great Brewster the “Wild Island” due to its undisturbed natural state of windswept dunes, overgrowth of wildflowers and sumac, and inhabiting creatures not used to seeing humans. I have accessed this island by throwing an anchor just west of Great Brewster and swimming to shore. If you decide to visit this island, beware of the Seagulls. They use this island to nest and are tend to become quite aggressive toward humans in spring and early summer!

Great Brewster and Little Brewster, as seen from Deer Island on a windy winter day:

boston harbor islands

A great mistake mariners make around these Islands is to cut across the Brewster spit, which extends probably a quarter mile at least to the west of Great Brewster Island, to a rocky outcrop of a ledge, pictured below. In what is a deceptively calm and open stretch of water, the sandbar is fully submerged near high tide and most any boat trying to cross it will run aground. As previously mentioned, I have seen boats stranded on the Brewster Island Spit, and it is not a fun experience for those involved given the high visibility and rough nearby waters of Nantasket Roads. This spit makes our list of the dangers of Boston Harbor, which I would encourage boaters to use caution around.

A section of the spit at low tide, looking north, with Salem visible in the background:

boston harbor

The Brewster Islands as seen from the top of Fort Standish on Lovells Island:


Below is a photo of the waters near the spit (between the rocks and the lighthouse) at high tide. Notice the spit is not visible, but it is there- right below the water!


Sailing out by the Brewsters:


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