Rescue Services That Evolved Into the Coast Guard:
This piece involves a little historical education in understanding the importance of the three rescue services that started at the beginning of our Nation’s history and eventually evolved into our current Coast Guard. The Lighthouse, Revenue Cutter, and Life Saving Services were these three early services. After all, if it wasn’t for these services in place, many of our ancestors might not have been able to immigrate to this country safely, and shipping and trade would have been challenging to navigate through the many storms along the coast. Although under different organizations, these same types of services became prevalent in many other countries, and expansion through trade and shipping continued from the late 18th century into the twentieth century.
The Lighthouse Service
New England has arguably the most dangerous coastline in the world. The first lighthouse, Boston Harbor lighthouse, in Massachusetts, was built in 1716. By the time the Constitution had become the law of the land in 1789, twelve lighthouses were already built in the United States. At this time, lighthouse control passed from the states to the federal government’s Treasury Department as the US Lighthouse Service.
As more lighthouses were established along the eastern coast, they were strategically placed to provide guidance and warn mariners of dangerous reefs, ledges, and shoals. They were used to guide mariners into harbors and ports. Keepers and their assistants’ primary duties were maintaining the lights at all costs. Their daily tasks involved tending the wicks, fueling the tanks, polishing the brass, cleaning the soot of the lenses and prisms, and maintaining the rest of the tower and surrounding buildings. They would also become involved in many rescues at or near the lighthouse. Their rescue equipment consisted of a rowboat or lifeboat, depending on the number of assistants the keeper had, and various lines and preservers for hauling survivors into the boat. There always had to be someone to keep an eye out at the lighthouse, especially during a storm, to ensure the light did not go out, and to guide mariners to safety.
Lightships were also used in the late 1800s as mobile floating lighthouses at dangerous locations or in busy shipping channels where building a lighthouse was impossible.
The Revenue Cutter Service
New England is known as the birthplace of our current Coast Guard. Shortly after the Revolution, President Washington established the beginning of the Revenue Marine Service of ships in Newburyport, Massachusetts, where the first revenue cutter was built. Today Newburyport is recognized as the birthplace of the Coast Guard. The Revenue Marine Service used its revenue cutters in times of war and for law enforcement to protect our shores. It wasn’t until the 1830s that these fast vessels would be used for rescue purposes, mainly in open waters offshore where lighthouse keepers could not help reach those wrecks. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, New England became a central commerce region for the shipping, fishing, and whaling trades. More lighthouses were built along the east coast to accommodate the needs of these industries in providing guidance to warn mariners of dangerous reefs, ledges, and shoals. However, many shipwrecks still occurred with New England’s surprising and often fierce storms.
The Revenue Marine Service was officially designated as the Revenue Cutter Service during the Civil War. After the Civil War, smaller cutters were also built to patrol more closely to the coastline. They were responsible for saving many lives from wrecks within harbors or later as part of rescue coordination efforts with personnel from lighthouses and lifesaving stations. As traffic dramatically increased, including tourism after the Civil War, there came the need for lifesaving stations to be built along the shores within a few miles of lighthouses and from one another.
The Life Saving Service
Where the lighthouse keepers and their assistants made rescues near the lighthouse where they were stationed, lifesaving stations covered a much more vast area. They could assist a larger number of distressed survivors on a wreck near the shore. They were more mobile and were specifically trained in their ability to rescue survivors. This idea of having shore-based stations began with trained volunteer services set up by the Massachusetts Humane Society and spread to each state’s Humane Society.
Combining Lighthouse, Life Saving, and Revenue Cutter Services Into Our Current Coast Guard
The Revenue Cutter Service was initially involved in rescue efforts on those wrecks out in open waters and then as part of coordinated rescue efforts with the Lighthouse and Life Saving Services. After the Civil War, three branches of marine rescue service were established to aid those in distress. They were the Lighthouse Service, the Life Saving Service, and the Revenue Cutter Service. Both personnel of lighthouses and lifesaving stations were funded by and reported to the US Lighthouse Service. Many events involving maritime rescues occurred near our lighthouses, which is how most of us remember. What is essential is to understand is that the three branches were all involved in saving lives along the coast. By the late 1800s, they began coordinated rescue efforts together in helping to increase the chances of saving more lives. As they continued to aid stranded survivors individually and sometimes alongside one another, Congress finally combined the services into what we now know as the Coast Guard in 1915.
Thank you to those who serve or have served to protect our country!
The Rise and Demise of the Largest Sailing Ships: Stories of the Six and Seven-Masted Coal Schooners of New England. In the early 1900s, New England shipbuilders constructed the world’s largest sailing ships amid social and political reforms. These giants were the ten original six-masted coal schooners and one colossal seven-masted vessel, built to carry massive quantities of coal and building supplies and measured longer than a football field! This book, balanced with plenty of color and vintage images, showcases the historical accounts that followed these mighty ships. Stories involve competitions, accidents, battling destructive storms, acts of heroism, and their final voyages.
My 300-page book, Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Southern New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, provides special human interest stories from each of the 92 lighthouses, along with plenty of indoor and outdoor coastal attractions you can explore, along with some historical information like described above. These include whale watching excursions, lighthouse tours, windjammer sailing tours, and adventures, special parks and museums, and even lighthouses you can stay overnight. You’ll also find plenty of stories of shipwrecks and rescues. Lighthouses and their nearby attractions are divided into regions for weekly and weekend explorers. You’ll also find plenty of stories of hauntings around lighthouses.
My 300-page book, Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Northern New England: New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont provides special human interest stories from each of the 76 lighthouses, along with plenty of indoor and outdoor coastal attractions you can explore and tours. Lighthouses and their nearby attractions are divided into regions for weekly and weekend explorers. Attractions and tours also include whale watching tours, lighthouse tours, windjammer sailing tours and adventures, special parks and museums, and lighthouses you can stay overnight. There are also stories of haunted lighthouses in these regions.
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