The United States Coast Guard in the late 18th century was called the Revenue Service. This was the established on August 4th 1790 by an act of congress at the urging of Alexander Hamilton. Since there was no income tax customs and duty were a large income source for the US Government. Smuggling was rampant and the borders of the fledgeling United States needed to be protected. That where the first 10 ships or cutters came into action.
The first commissioned U.S. Revenue cutters
The North Carolina, purchased in 1792 for use as a revenue cutter, was not one of the first ten cutters asked for by Hamilton and is therefore not included in this list. There were a number of vessels, however, that served as revenue boats in the period prior to Congress’ authorization to build the ten cutters. Some were operated by the various states during the Confederation Period while others were operated by the federally appointed customs collectors in the ports after the formation of the federal government in 1789. These “federal” revenue boats and craft varied in type and size, such as Philadelphia collector Sharp Delany’s “barge with sails,” that served before, during, and well after the General Greenentered service in the waters around Philadelphia. But such craft were not “sea-going” vessels capable of sailing well away from protected harbors as the cutters were specifically designed to do. Therefore, the following list contains the “first” cutters as recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard. Although the Revenue Cutter Vigilant was the first cutter to be launched records concerning when she actually entered service were lost in the fire at the Treasury Department in 1833. Tradition has it that the cutter Massachusetts, launched in July 1791, was the first to actually enter service as a commissioned vessel of the U.S. government.
Launched in March of 1791, Vigilant may have been the first cutter hull to enter the water. She was built at New York for service in New York waters. Her first master was Patrick Dennis. She was sold in November, 1798.
Active launched on 9 April 1791 at Baltimore, Maryland. She patrolled the waters of the Chesapeake under the command of Master Simon Gross. She was sold in 1800.
3) General Green
General Green was launched on 7 July 1791 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was assigned to the Pennsylvania station under the command of Master James Montegomery. She was sold in December, 1797.
Massachusetts was launched on 15 July 1791. She was built at Newburyport, Massachusetts. Her first master was John Foster Williams. She was sold on 9 October 1792.
Scammel was launched on 24 August 1791. She was built at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Her first master was Hopley Yeaton. She was sold on 16 August 1798.
Argus was launched sometime in 1791. She was built at New London, Connecticut. Her first master was Jonathan Maltbie. She was sold in 1804.
Virginia was launched sometime in 1791. She was built at Norfolk, Virginia. Her first master was Richard Taylor. She was sold in 1798.
Diligence was launched sometime in June or July of 1792. She was built at Washington, North Carolina. Her first master was William Cook. She was sold in 1798..
9) South Carolina
South Carolina was launched in 1792. She was built at Charleston, South Carolina for service in South Carolina and nearby waters. Her first master was Robert Cochrane. She was sold on 5 June 1798.
The first Eagle was launched sometime in 1793. She was built in Savannah, Georgia for service in Georgia’s waters. Her first master was John Howell. She was sold on 14 September 1799.