Bois Blanc Lighthouse, photo courtesy

Bois Blanc Lighthouse, photo courtesy

He was called “Sky Pilot* of the Great Lakes,” “The Bishop of Out There,” “The Laughing Doctor.” Reverend William H. Law was all of these identities to the lighthouse keepers, life-savers and mariners throughout the United States from the mid-1880’s until his death in 1928.

Born in Canada, Reverend Law became the first Protestant missionary to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, serving lumberjacks, settlers and Native Americans. However, an incident occurred in October 1900 that changed his focus and his life mission.

While returning from the island of Bois Blanc in Lake Huron, his sailboat encountered a storm. Rough seas threatened to swamp the boat while he struggled to steer it to safe harbor. A bell sounded in the distance, alerting the men of the U.S. Lifesaving Service of his plight. In moments, the lifesavers came to his rescue. For several days the storm raged, and while the station crew made repairs to his boat, Reverend Law became acquainted with the men and their families who lived at the isolated location.

Spectacle Reef Lighthouse, photo courtesy US Coast Guard

Spectacle Reef Lighthouse, photo courtesy US Coast Guard

Awakened to the challenges of these people, Reverend Law dedicated the rest of his life to improving their lives any way he could by carrying the “Gospel of Humanity” to every life-saving station and lighthouse on the Great Lakes.


From delivering books and magazines to writing letters, Reverend Law brought communication from the outside world to help alleviate their loneliness. When the US Coast Guard adopted radio technology in the 1920’s, Reverend Law communicated through radio messages. To help them financially, he petitioned Congress and was instrumental in passing a pension law, the Coast Guard Act of 1915.


Eventually, Reverend Law expanded his scope to all the lighthouses of the United States, visiting as many as possible. Connie Small, wife of lightkeeper Elson Small at Avery Rock, Maine, mentioned Reverend Law in her book, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife. In a letter to him, she said that sometimes while she listened to the radio, “waves are breaking over the rocks 40-50 feet high. It makes me wonder about the mighty power of God, listening as we do… to one of his preachers while His works are manifested before us.”

Reverend Law realized one of the most important services he provided was mental first aid. “I have come to understand with my experiences with these people, that loneliness is not only a terrible thing, but it shocks the finer sensibilities of a man. A little cheer with a smile works in all countries among people of different languages…If this funny old world is ever to make friends with itself, it will be the face with the sincere smile that wins, associated with kindly service that will make people feel a little bit better satisfied with themselves and take a little strain off their hearts and minds.” As such, he often sprinkled his messages with funny stories.

newspaper clipper about Willliam Law

Reverend Law ministered to the soul, spirit and body, demonstrating the proverb

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22 NIV

Can you cheer anyone up today?


*Sky pilot is sailors’ slang for slang for a preacher.

Information for this story is from Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes by John Kotzian, great, great grandson of Reverend Law.