A Historic Image Gallery
Cutters of the Revenue Marine and Revenue Cutter Service: 1790-1900
The "system of cutters," the Revenue Marine, and the Revenue Cutter Service, as it was known variously throughout the nineteenth century, referred to its vessels as cutters. The term, English in origin, refers to a specific type of sailing vessel, namely, "a small, decked ship with one mast and bowsprit, with a gaff mainsail on a boom, a square yard and topsail, and two jibs or a jib and a staysail." (Peter Kemp, editor, The Oxford Companion to Ships & the Sea; London: Oxford University Press, 1976; pp. 221-222.) By general usage, however, that term came to define any vessel of Great Britain's Royal Customs Service. The U.S. Treasury Department adopted that term at the creation of its "system of cutters." Since that time, no matter what the vessel type, the Coast Guard and its illustrious predecessor have referred to their largest vessels as cutters (today a cutter is any Coast Guard vessel over 65 feet in length). During the period covered by this gallery, the cutters were named primarily for secretaries of the Treasury Department and other contemporary political personalities.
This is not meant to be a complete history of every eighteenth and nineteenth century revenue cutter. Rather, this page is a visual history of the differing types of vessels that served as cutters in the "system of cutters," Revenue Marine and Revenue Cutter Service from 1790 through 1900. Note how many different types of vessels have carried the name "revenue cutter." We hope you enjoy this look into the past of the nation's oldest continuous sea-going service.
Unless otherwise noted, the following are official U.S. Coast Guard images.
This painting purports to illustrate the first cutter named Massachusetts but it incorrectly shows the cutter flying the Revenue ensign and commission pennant, which were not adopted until 1799, well after the first Massachusetts had left service. Nevertheless, the illustration does show those characteristics typical of most of the first few generations of Revenue cutters: a small sailing vessel steered by a tiller, with low freeboard, light draft, lightly armed, and usually rigged as a topsail schooner.
The first Massachusetts was a 60-foot schooner that displaced 70 43/95 tons. She was launched on 23 July 1791 and sold out of service on 9 October 1792.
The cutter Pickering was a brig-rigged vessel of about 135 tons and measured 58 feet along her keel. She entered Revenue service in July, 1798, and ably served during the Quasi-War with France, capturing five French vessels, including the privateer L'Egypte Conquise after a nine-hour battle! She was lost with all hands (US Navy officers and crew) to unknown causes after her permanent transfer to the Navy on 20 May 1799.
McLane, a 73-foot topsail schooner that displaced 112 tons, was in service from 1832 through 1840. She was built by Webb and Allen of New York. Her commanding officer, Josiah Sturgis, gained considerable notoriety along the coast for his rescue of hundreds of people and dozens of ships. After assuming command of the cutter Hamilton, a piano piece was written about him and his ship entitled the "Hamilton Quick Step."
McLane capsized and was sunk by a tornado off Hadleys Harbor on 30 August 1837. She was raised, repaired and returned to service. She was sold on 21 October 1840 in Baltimore, MD.
Gallatin was a 73-foot topsail schooner that displaced 112 tons. She was built by the New York Navy Yard and entered Revenue service in 1830. She was ordered to Charleston, SC, on 16 November 1832 to enforce federal tariff law and suppress the "nullification proceedings" adopted by the State of South Carolina.
She was transferred to the Coast Survey in 1840 and returned to Revenue service between 1848 to 1849 and then returned to the Coast Survey. She was captured by Confederate forces early in the Civil War and served the South as a privateer.
This is the earliest known photo of a Revenue cutter although by the time this photo was taken she had already transferred permanently to the Coast Survey.
The Revenue cutter Jefferson Davis was named for the man who would become the first and only president of the Confederacy although at the time of the cutter's launch in 1853, and the reason for this singular honor, he was President Franklin Pierce's Secretary of War. In fact all vessels of this class were named for members of President Pierce's cabinet. She was a 90-plus foot topsail schooner that displaced about 150 tons. She was built by J.M. Hood of Bristol, RI. She survived a hurricane in 1853 with slight damage and put into Charleston for repairs. After reentering service, she sailed to San Francisco around Cape Horn to serve on the west coast, arriving in July, 1854. She participated in the suppression of a Native American uprising in Olympia, WA in 1855. She was converted to a "Marine Hospital Boat" in 1862.
Pressure from public and private sources from New York persuaded Congress that New York Harbor needed a modern, fast Revenue steamer. Of particular concern were the slave vessels illegally outfitting in New York. The result of this pressure and subsequent Congressional action was Harriet Lane, an elegant, 180-foot brigantine-rigged, 674-ton side paddlewheel steamer. She was designed by Samuel Pook and built by William Webb of New York for $140,000. She was named for bachelor-President James Buchanan's niece, who served as the "First Lady" of his administration.
Harriet Lane had a remarkable career. She participated in the punitive expedition to Paraguay in 1858, transported dignitaries, including the young Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in 1860, and sailed with the expedition to resupply Fort Sumter in 1861. She is credited with firing the first "naval" shot of the Civil War. She was permanently transferred to the Navy in September, 1861, and was eventually captured by Confederate forces, converted into a blockade runner and renamed Lavinia. After the war, Revenue Captain John Faunce, her first commanding officer, found her in Cuba and returned her to New York. Here her engines were removed and she was converted to a barque-rigged sailing vessel. She was sold to a lumber merchant, Elliot Ritchie, who named her after himself. She was abandoned off Pernambuco, Brazil, "water-logged," in the spring of 1884.*
Probably the most unique cutter to have sailed under the Revenue Service ensign, Naugatuck, also known as the E.A. Stevens, was a gun battery that could partially submerge for protection. She displaced 120 tons, was steam-driven, and mounted a 100-pounder Parrott rifle and two 12-pounders. She was originally built in 1844 and entered Revenue service in 1862, apparently as something of a gift by her builder who hoped to generate interest in his novel design.
She took part in the famous battle between the CSS Virginia and USS Monitor in Hampton Roads and in the attack on Drewry's Bluff, VA, in 1862. She also served as a guard vessel in New York Harbor later in the war. She was removed from service in 1872.
Stereoscopic image of the USRC
Dobbin in Castine, Maine, in the
late 1860s or early 1870s. Image courtesy of Ken Thompson.
Dobbin served in the waters off North Carolina, George, New York and finally Maine before being pressed into service off Baltimore, MD, as a practice vessel for the Revenue Cutter School of Instruction.
Grant, a rare three-masted cutter, was built by Pusey and Jones Corporation of Wilmington, DE. She was a barque-rigged, iron-hulled, 163-foot steamer that displaced 350 tons. She entered service in 1871 and served on both coasts during her career, including sailing with the Bering Sea Fleet. She assisted vessels in distress, protected the seal rookeries, patrolled during the salmon fishing season, transported dignitaries, was ordered to search for the British man-of-war HMS Condor in 1902, participated in regional celebrations, and recovered bodies after the sinking of the Valencia near Cape Beale in 1906.
Colfax, commissioned in 1871, was a 140-foot, 250-ton, side paddlewheel steamer. She was built with a composite hull (iron frames planked with wood) by Dialogue and Wood of Camden, NJ.
She spent her career in the waters of the southeast coast, from Baltimore to Savannah. She enforced quarantine restrictions at Fort Monroe in 1893, operated with the USS Vesuvius, the Navy's unique dynamite gun cruiser, in April, 1897, assisted the disabled cutter Morrill in 1898, and hosted President William McKinley in 1899 and was decommissioned in September of that year. She was then used as a station ship in the Coast Guard Depot at Curtis Bay, MD until she was sold in 1924 to Mr. Charles A. Jording of Baltimore, MD, for $1,440.
Retaining the powerplant machinery of the original Fessenden constructed in 1865, this cutter entered service in 1883. She was a 192-foot, 330-ton iron-hulled side paddlewheel steamer that served on the Great Lakes. Her cruising grounds were from "the mouth of the Detroit River through Lakes St. Clair and Huron to Straits of Mackinac." Her area of responsibility increased to include Lake Superior and then through Lake Erie to the Niagara River.
She would go to "winter quarters," i.e. lay up, usually in late-November when the lakes and waterways became icebound, and then return to duty in early May. While in service on the Great Lakes, she participated in numerous civic events, including Milwaukee's 1899 "Carnival Week," Chicago's 1900 "Naval Parade of G. A. R.," and Cleveland's 1901 celebration of Commodore Oliver Hazzard Perry's victory on Lake Erie over a British fleet in 1813.
She sailed to Baltimore for repairs in 1903 and returned to service in 1905. She was then stationed at Key West, FL. Here she assisted vessels in distress, inspected sponge fishing vessels, conferred "with State officers. . .and assist them in protection of sponge industry" in 1905, was detained at Mullet Key Quarantine Station when smallpox broke out among some of the crew in 1906, towed a disinfecting barge from Key West to Boca Grande Quarantine Station in Charlotte Harbor, FL that same year, among other duties. She was decommissioned in 1907 and sold to the Craig Shipbuilding Company of Toledo, OH, for $9,100 in 1908.
Boutwell, commissioned in 1873, was an iron-hulled, twin-screw 138-foot steamer built by David Bell of Buffalo at a cost of $70,000. She was 138 feet in length and displaced 198 tons. Her primary cruising ground was between Charleston, SC to Jacksonville, FL, and her homeport was Savannah, GA.
She was sold in 1907.
Note differing paint scheme from above photo. She was forced hard aground on McQueens Island in the Savannah River by a hurricane in 1881 but was refloated and repaired. She was ordered to cooperate with the USS Vesuvius, the Navy's unique dynamite gun cruiser, in April, 1897. She protected New Bern, NC, during the Spanish American War and was ordered to render aid to the Sapito Quarantine Station. She also transported the Governor of North Carolina and his entourage "to such points as they may desire to visit" in 1906, typical of the political patronage and public relations-type duties assigned to most cutters during this period. She was sold to a Mr. Leo Kimball of Mobile, AL for $2,010 on 23 October 1907 after a 34-year career.
Dexter was one of three cutters of the Dexter Class, all of which entered service in 1874. Typical of cutters of this period, they were schooner-rigged steamers of shallow draft, less than 150-feet in length and displacing less than 200 tons. They were capable of sailing in most coastal waters under either sail, steam, or both modes of propulsion. Dexter, constructed by the Atlantic Works Company of East Boston for $71,000, was commissioned on 18 June 1874. She served out of Newport, RI, Boston and New Bedford, MA, during her Revenue career.
She conducted winter cruises along the coast of New England each winter, usually from late November or early December through April. During the Spanish-American War she was assigned the protection of the port of Narragansett Bay. In 1906 she was ordered to support efforts to intercept vessels attempting to smuggle Chinese immigrants. She also transported dignitaries, patrolled regattas, attended local celebrations, and assisted vessels in distress. She was sold in 1908 to Mr. Lee Kimball of Mobile, AL for $2,775.
Note the lightship tied up to the pier on the right of the photograph.
Perry, a 165-foot, 282-ton, iron-hulled, single-screw, steam-powered brigantine entered service in 1884. She was built by the Union Drydock Company of Buffalo for $83,000. Her original station was on Lake Erie where she was laid up during the winter months but she sailed for San Francisco, around Cape Horn, in 1894. There she served off the west coast and in Alaskan waters for the remainder of her career. She was lost on Tonki Point off St. Paul Island in 1910, although all hands on board were saved.
The second revenue cutter named for Treasury Secretary Richard Rush was originally launched as a 140-foot, 180-ton, steam-powered topsail schooner. She was built by the Atlantic Works of East Boston for $79,800 and entered service in July, 1874 and set sail for California soon thereafter. She arrived at San Francisco after a nearly four month voyage around Cape Horn. She cruised the waters off California, Oregon, and Washington and made three cruises to Alaskan waters before undergoing a major refit in 1885 when her original hull was sold and replaced with a new and lengthened 175-foot hull.
This "new" Rush also served in the Pacific for her entire career, including one cruise to the Hawaiian Islands in 1893. She continued cruising to Alaskan waters, as depicted in the photo here, where she is celebrating Independence Day in 1901. She was detached for duty with the Navy during the Spanish-American War but saw no action. She too carried the "floating federal district courts," as did most Revenue cutters that sailed to Alaska since there were no federal courts in place in Alaska at that time, searched for survivors of wrecked ships, assisted vessels in distress, enforced fisheries laws, participated in local celebrations, and transported dignitaries (local, federal, and international).
She was decommissioned in 1912 and sold to the Alaskan Junk Company for $8,500.
Probably the most famous cutter of all, the Bear was originally built by Alexander Stephen & Son in Scotland for sailing in northern waters as a whaler and sealer. She was a 198-foot, 703-ton barquentine-rigged steamer. Although she was not a true icebreaker, her hull was reinforced for operations in light ice and is therefore a forebear of today's icebreakers. She was purchased by the U.S. Navy for the Greely Arctic rescue mission in 1884 and was turned over to the Revenue Cutter Service in 1885. Here she served valiantly in Alaskan waters for over 40 years under the command of many famous captains, including the indomitable Michael Healy. She was taken back into naval service during World War II and served on the Greenland Patrol. Ultimately she sank while under tow in 1963.
Winona, a 149-foot, 321-ton, iron-hulled, twin-screw steamer, was built by Pusey & Jones of Wilmington, DE for $60,740. She entered service in 1890 and served her entire career along the southern coast. During the Spanish-American War she patrolled in defense of Mobile, AL. After the war she participated in numerous local events, including annual Mardi Gras celebrations, patrolled yacht club regattas, transported dignitaries and politicians, searched for derelicts, boarded foreign merchant vessels, established quarantines, and assisted with flood relief efforts.
She was decommissioned in 1915 and sold to Mr. W. M. Evans of Mobile for $12,697.
Apache, originally launched as Galveston but renamed in 1904, was a 190-foot, 416-ton, iron-hulled, twin screw steamer built by Reeder & Sons of Baltimore for $95,650. She entered service in 1891 and was decommissioned in 1937. The photo depicts her after extensive modifications carried out in 1904. Prior to this time she served along the gulf coast out of Galveston and patrolled in defense of New Orleans during the Spanish American War. Afterwards, she assisted in flood relief efforts, was placed at the disposal of the governor of Texas, participated in Mardi Gras celebrations, transported local students "for educational purposes to study Galveston Harbor," patrolled regattas, sailed on winter cruises on the Chesapeake Bay, participated in fleet drills with the Navy, transported politicians and dignitaries, and investigated the conditions of local oyster beds.
As of 1914 she was stationed at the mouth of the Chesapeake, boarding all departing foreign vessels for compliance with US neutrality laws. She continued for the rest of her Coast Guard career on the Chesapeake and surrounding waters and continued to carry out "VIP" duties, transporting various government officials on cruises around the Bay. The Army acquired her during World War II where she was outfitted as a radio transmitting vessel that later broadcasted General Douglas MacArthur's "I have returned" speech.**
Hudson, a 95-foot, 128-ton steel hulled steamer, was built by John H. Dialogue of Camden, NJ, for $36,500. She entered service in 1893 and was decommissioned in 1935. She served out of New York and during the Spanish-American war was transferred to naval service. She subsequently was sent to Cuban waters to serve as a dispatch vessel. On 12 May 1898, she towed a disabled Navy gunboat, the Winslow, to safety while under fire. She returned to New York where she served until once again being pressed into naval service during World War I. After the war, she again returned to duty in New York.
Here she is being outfitted for service in the Spanish-American War, which included adding additional armament, armor plating, and a new coat of "war paint."
Considered to be the Revenue Cutter Service's "first attempt at modern ship construction," this 171-foot, 670-ton, twin screw steamer was the first cutter to be powered by a triple-expansion steam engine and have a fully watertight hull. Her top speed was 13 knots.** She was built by the Iowa Iron Works of Dubuque, IA, for $98,500. She was taken, partially finished, to Cairo, IL, and then on to New Orleans, LA where she was accepted by the Treasury Department. She then sailed to Baltimore where she was "finished by the Government" and entered service in 1896.*
Windom served along the mid-Atlantic coast, saw service during the Spanish-American War in the waters off Cuba, and then transferred to Galveston, TX, in 1906. She enforced neutrality laws after the start of World War I, was renamed Comanche in December, 1915, underwent a year-long refit during 1916, and then was transferred to the Navy on 6 April 1917. She continued to patrol the waters of the Gulf of Mexico out of Key West and Galveston during the war and for the remainder of her Coast Guard service. She was decommissioned and sold to Weiss Motor Lines in Baltimore in 1930 for $4,501.
Here she is being outfitted for service in the Spanish American War; note the armor plating over her bridge windows and the various types of uniforms worn by her crew.
See Windom gallery above for details of her Revenue Cutter Service and Coast Guard career.
Woodbury, formerly Mahoning (her name was changed in 1873), was a 130-foot, 350-ton steamer rigged as a topsail schooner. She was built by J. W. Lynn and Son of Philadelphia, PA, for $92,000. She entered service in 1863 and served until 1915, a span of 52 years! She underwent some modifications during her career, including having her hull lengthened and machinery replaced. Here she is outfitted for naval service during the Spanish-American War. She rendered assistance to the British schooner Effie May in 1905, for which she and her crew received the thanks of the Canadian Government, enforced neutrality laws in 1914, and sailed on winter cruises along the northeast coast.
She was sold in 1915 to Thomas Butler and Company of Boston for $4,286.
McCulloch, originally a barquentine-rigged, composite-hulled, 219-foot, 1,280-ton steamer built by William Cramp and Sons of Philadelphia for $196,000. She was the largest cutter acquired by the service to date and she entered service in 1897. This photo shows her after her main mast was removed. In recognition of the cutters' increasing important role as a naval auxiliary, she was built with a bow torpedo tube and carried four 3-inch guns.
She served with Commodore George Dewey's squadron during the Spanish American War and took part in the assault on Manila after being the first cutter to transit the Suez Canal. After the war she was stationed at San Francisco and patrolled the coast of California. McCulloch also sailed on the Bering Sea Patrol. She sailed to the assistance of numerous vessels, participated in local celebrations, transported officials, sailed with a "floating court" through Alaskan waters, enforced immigration laws, among other tasks. She was transferred to naval control on 6 April 1917 and was lost that June when she collided with the Pacific Steamship Company's SS Governor northwest of Point Conception, CA. All hands were saved.
See the painting of McCulloch in the final gallery.
Gresham, shown here at her launching on 12 September 1896, was a brigantine-rigged 206-foot, 1,090-ton steel-hulled steamer built by the Globe Iron Works Company of Cleveland, OH for $147,800. She was commissioned the following year and was stationed at Milwaukee. Her cruising grounds included Lake Michigan and adjacent waters although her rather heavy armament for a cutter, in particular her torpedo tube, caught the attention of the Canadian government as that armament violated the 1817 Rush-Bagot Convention. The Convention limited, on the Great Lakes, the number of naval vessels and the armament those vessels were permitted to carry. Perhaps in part to meet the Convention's requirements and to calm Canadian concerns, the Revenue Cutter Service decided, during the Spanish American War, to transfer Gresham away from the Great Lakes. The only problem to overcome, however, was how to get her there. It was decided to sail her to Ogdensburg, NY, where she was cut in half for transport to the Atlantic.
By the time she was "reconnected" the war had ended. Gresham then remained along the Atlantic coast, patrolling regattas, including the annual Harvard-Yale races, cruised the waters off Newfoundland under the direction of the Bureau of Fisheries, destroyed derelicts, transported dignitaries and government officials, conducted winter cruises, assisted vessels in distress, enforced neutrality laws before the US entered World War I, served as a convoy escort after the US entered the war, and returned to cruise the Atlantic seaboard after 1919.
Gresham after commissioning. As is apparent in their photos, Gresham, McCulloch, and Manning were designed as naval auxiliaries. As such they were built with a rather significant armament that included bow mounted torpedo tubes, a first for any cutter.
Interestingly, in 1933 Gresham was again assigned to the Navy and was sent to Cuban waters to monitor the situation there. She was then decommissioned in 1935. The Coast Guard reacquired her in 1943 due to a shortage of available escort vessels for coastal convoys. She was in such poor condition, however, that she saw little service and was again decommissioned, this time in 1945, and sold. Gresham was still active as a barge on the Chesapeake Bay, according to some reports, as late as 1980.**
Manning, a brigantine-rigged 205-foot, 1,150-ton steamer, was built by the Atlantic Works Company of East Boston, MA, for a cost of $159,951. She was commissioned in 1898 and saw immediate service during the Spanish American War as a blockader and escort vessel. She then transferred to the Pacific coast where she was assigned to the Bering Sea fleet.
During World War I she served under the Navy as a convoy escort based out of Gibraltar and then returned to duty out of Norfolk, VA after the war.
She was decommissioned in May, 1930 and sold in December of that same year to Mr. Charles A. Jording of Baltimore for the princely sum of $2,200.02.
Thetis, a 189-foot, 1,250-ton barquentine-rigged sealer and whaler constructed with a reinforced hull for operations in ice, was purchased by the Navy for the Greeley relief expedition. Transferred to the Revenue Cutter Service in 1899, she served out of Seattle where she sailed on the Bering Sea Patrol along with Bear. While stationed there, she transported reindeer from the coast of Siberia to Alaska, cruised the Bering Sea for the "protection of seal fisheries," assisted vessels in distress, and carried officials from a U.S. District Court to become a "floating court."
She transferred to Hawaiian waters in 1909 where she investigated poaching by Japanese fishermen and transported officials of the Department of Agriculture who were studying bird populations. For the remainder of her career she transferred between Hawaii and Alaska, continuing duty as a floating court and investigating bird reservations throughout the Pacific, including making voyages to Midway Island.
She was decommissioned and sold in 1916. Note the location of her stack.
Seminole, a 188-foot, 845-ton steamer, was constructed by the Columbian Iron Works in Baltimore, MD for $141,000. She was commissioned in 1900 and saw service through 1934, when she was transferred to the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.
She was first based out of Boston and transferred to Wilmington, NC, in late 1904. She then patrolled along the southeastern coast, including winter cruises from Cape Hatteras, NC to Charleston, SC and even down through Key West, FL. Her duties included derelict destruction, attending local ceremonies, patrolling regattas, and rendering assistance when needed. With the outbreak of World War I, she enforced the neutrality laws of the US until the US entered the war. She then served under the Navy and patrolled off the Carolinas. In 1923 she was detached to Puerto Rico where she served as an independent unit and returned to her permanent station of Wilmington later that year. In 1929 transferred for service on the Great Lakes where she was stationed at Sault Ste. Marie, MI until she was decommissioned in 1934.
Onward to a new century. . .the elegant lines of a turn of the century cutter made a fitting nautical subject for this painter. Here McCulloch, with her while hull and buff superstructure and stack, makes way under steam and full sail. In the first years of the twentieth century the masts and sails (with a few exceptions), coal-fired boilers, and iron hulls gave way to steel, oil and diesel fuels, and turbine propulsion, closely emulating the maritime technological advancement of the US Navy. Nevertheless, the cutters remained distinctive vessels, easily recognizable from their Navy counterparts due to their "form following function" designs as well as the colors adorning their hulls.