United States Coast Guard - 200th Anniversary
During the final years of the Napoleonic Wars, Americans using the Atlantic Ocean for commercial purposes increasingly became embroiled in the European conflict. Neither Great Britain nor France adhered to neutral rights as both countries struggled to win the war.
As commercial warfare became increasingly harsh, Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison tried various methods to protect Americans and to keep the United States out of the European war Several embargoes were passed to keep Americans from trading with Europe. In order to enforce these commercial restrictions, Congress in 1809, authorized the acquisition of twelve new revenue vessels. The revenue cutters attempted the impossible job of enforcing the provisions of the embargoes. Tensions, however, continued to increase over the impressment of American seamen. The British Navy impressed or seized men on board American ships. Some were British deserters, others British citizens and some were native born Americans who could not produce sufficient evidence of citizenship.
War was declared on England in 1812, and the United States' small maritime services faced a powerful navy of 600 warships. At the outbreak of the war, the United States could only muster sixteen naval vessels and about a dozen cutters for coastal defense. These vessels were forced to stay in port most of the war because the British main- tamed a squadron of ten ships of the line and a large number of frigates and sloops off the Eastern Seaboard. This virtually swept all American commercial vessels from the Atlantic Ocean and allowed British privateers, for the most part, free access to not only the entire coast but also some of the sounds and inland channels.
All the revenue cutters were small and lightly armed ships and could not risk an engagement with the larger British warships during the war. They did, however, seize a number of the enemy's smaller ships and protected American merchantmen from privateers.
The capture of the Dart was one of the most impressive captures by a revenue cutter. The British privateer Dart, formerly an American vessel out of New Haven, Connecticut had successfully cruised along the coast and captured between twenty and thirty small American merchant ships. Late on October 4, the captain of the privateer mistakenly appeared at Newport with two prizes. To put an end to this foray, Captain John Cahoone offered the services of the revenue cutter Vigilatit. Placing extra men on board, Cahoone immediately set sail after sunset and located the sloop off the east end of Block Island. The Vigilant fired one broadside and then boarded Dart. During the hght the first officer of Dart was killed and two crewmen were wounded.
Actions such as the Vigilant's capture carried on the cutter service's military activities throughout the War of 1812 and helped establish the traditions of today's Coast Guard.
Artist: Dean Ellis
Painting presented to The Coast Guard by the United States Coast Guard Academy Class of 1958