Scientiæ cedit mare (the sea yields to knowledge) – U.S. Coast Guard Academy motto since 1902
Responding to a proposal by Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first secretary of the treasury, the first U.S. Congress created the Revenue Cutter Service in 1790 as a “seagoing military service that would cruise the coasts, enforcing customs and navigation laws.” The legislation provided for the commissioning and support of 10 cutters and a professional corps of 40 commissioned officers.
President George Washington appointed the first of those officers, Capt. Hopley Yeaton, as master of a cutter in the newly created service, forerunner to the Coast Guard. As with Yeaton, the Revenue Cutter Service initially found its officers within the U.S. Merchant Marine and Navy, but it was not long before it became clear the Revenue Cutter Service’s needs differed from both of those. Yeaton was the first to propose formal training for future officers, who then were being trained at sea for the distinct needs of the new service.
In 1848, Capt. Alexander Fraser, the first officer promoted to commandant of the new service, took command of a new cutter, Lawrence, with orders to sail to San Francisco and the new frontier customs district. Finding most of his officers were political appointees with no experience at sea, Fraser realized the need for a formal course of instruction for future Revenue Cutter Service officers. To that end, he created an 11-month cruise as a school-at-sea, teaching newly minted Navy and Merchant Marine lieutenants the unique skills and disciplines required by the service.
“During times of challenge, the Coast Guard Academy remains an ‘anchor to windward’ – helping us point the way forward and keeping our leaders grounded when the gusts and gales of adversity stir up the seas of our times.” – President George H.W. Bush
Based on his experiences, Fraser also recommended establishment of a formal academy to prepare junior officers for service in the Revenue Cutter Service. But it would be another three decades before Capt. John Henriques was named to lead the first full-time, dedicated cadet training ship, the topsail schooner Dobbin, which had been rebuilt for use as a training vessel. That appointment in 1876 also earned Henriques recognition as the first superintendent of the Revenue Cutter School of Instruction, a position he held until 1883.
Training on Land and Sea
The Dobbin was homeported in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where the Revenue Cutter Service’s first land-based school also was established in leased buildings at the north end of Fish Island. Professor Edwin Emery assumed primary responsibility for the cadets’ formal academic training in mathematics, astronomy, English composition, French, physics, theoretical steam engineering, history, and constitutional and revenue law – among other subjects. Cadets also went through a significant physical fitness regimen, including rowing boats several miles before breakfast.
In May 1877, the new school’s first class of eight Revenue Cutter Service cadets reported to Baltimore, Maryland, to set sail on their initial two-year training cruise, during which the “swabs” (a term still used for first-year academy cadets) were immersed in the duties of a deck watch officer, with an emphasis on seamanship and celestial navigation. Henriques, believing cadets should at all times be dignified, courteous, and respectful, also banned gambling, drinking, and profanity.
In writing of his training experiences, Cadet Worth G. Ross, the school’s first graduate in 1879 and eventual Revenue Cutter Service commandant, wrote:
… the strictest obedience to every detail was enforced. … The cadets are given constant practice in raising shears, stepping masts, reefing, furling, shifting sails, and in sending yards up and down. Each takes his trick at the wheel and acquaints himself with the mysteries of the compass and steering gear. The marlin spike, slush and tar pots are the insignia of a thorough-going salt, and the young man who has never before encountered these things finds ample opportunity to do so on a practice cruise. At the end of an arduous cruise the cadet knows whether he is suited to the calling of the sailor, physically and otherwise.
In 1887, the new 115-foot barque-rigged clipper Chase, the first ship specifically built for the Revenue Cutter Service Corps of Cadets, replaced the Dobbin in New Bedford. Also serving as home to the cadets, the Chase had six staterooms, each with two berths, a wash stand, and lockers, often simultaneously housing two cadet classes, senior and junior. It also was equipped with a battery of four broadside guns.
During a subsequent expansion of the School of Instruction, the Chase was moved to Curtis Bay, Maryland, for what was intended to be a brief relocation, but was to become far more. In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison sided with members of Congress who argued there was needless duplication in running two maritime academies – the Navy at Annapolis, Maryland, and the Revenue Cutter Service at New Bedford – and issued an executive order closing the Revenue Cutter School of Instruction, despite pleas from the Revenue Cutter Service that two academies were justified by the significant differences in training and purpose of the two maritime services.