Little Bits of History

August 4

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 4, 2017

1790: The United States Revenue Cutter Service is established. Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, suggested a service be created as an armed customs enforcement agency. Called the Revenue-Marine until 1894 when the name changed to the Revenue Cutter Service, it was under the auspices of the Department of the Treasury until 1915. It then merged with the United States Life-Saving Service and the combined entity was called the United States Coast Guard. The service began when the new country was having trouble financing itself. Most income was obtained by tariff and smuggling became a way to avoid paying those taxes. The new law gave the US authority to police her shores and collect unpaid tariffs.

The original order was to build ten vessels. A “System of Cutters” gave the ships different areas to patrol. Two were assigned to the coasts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, one for Long Island Sound, one each for New York, the Bay of Delaware, North Carolina, and Georgia and the last two were for the Chesapeake. In the spring of the following year, President George Washington commissioned the masters in charge of these ships and it was under his suggestion that each master would supervise the construction of his own ship. They had to keep their budgets under the funds appropriated by Hamilton and three of the cutters ran over their $1,000 budget. The most expensive ship, the Massachusetts cost $2,050 while the Scammel cost $1,255, and the General Green cost over $1,500.

Each ship was staffed by the master who received $30 per month and three mates who were paid $20, $16, and $14 respectively. Also aboard each cutter were four mariners who each made $8 and two boys paid $4 per month. The $120 per month per ship wages were also part of the original legislation creating the Service. Between 1790 and 1798 the Revenue-Marine was the only armed maritime service of the US because the Navy was disbanded after the end of the Revolutionary War. Masters received orders from and answered to the Collector of Customs of the port where his ship was assigned. Supplies and repairs, along with crew pay and mission specific orders came directly from the port’s Customs House.

With the Slave Trade Act of 1794, the ships also started intercepting slave ships illegally importing slaves to the US. They continued this practice until well after the Civil War except for a few years when it was handled by a different division of the Federal Government. The ships were given a set of standing orders to follow when not on a specific mission and their captains were given great latitude in seizing ships that could be in violation of Revenue laws. Even when the US Navy was reestablished, the Cutters would help out in time of war, although they were placed under the command of the Navy for some engagements. Their mission changed with the times and by 1915, under President Woodrow Wilson, their name was changed to what it remains to this day, the US Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard has long been known as the armed service that gets more done for less. – Howard Coble

Our ports are owned by local governments who are responsible for the ports. It is the Coast Guard and Customs that provide security. The federal government will never outsource our security. – Kit Bond

First at the outset, let me commend the great men and women of the United States Coast Guard for what they do. – Vito Fossella

The favorite thing I like to do is nothing. I’m such an expert at doing nothing. I have a boat. I make training films for the Coast Guard. I listen to a great deal of opera. – Charles Nelson Reilly