USRC Massachusetts

Feb 25, 2014, 7:00AM EST
USRC Massachusetts
The first operational commissioned vessel of the United States

 The Revenue Cutter Massachusetts was one of the first ten authorized by the US Congress in legislation enacted on 4 August 1790.  It was not the first revenue cutter to be launched (on 15 July 1791), but is believed to be the first to become operational.  This was due in large part to the energy and aggressiveness of its first (and only) master, John Foster Williams.  While the vessel was under construction in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Williams order the shipwright to increase its size, without first seeking approval from Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury.  Williams must have had a good relationship with Hamilton, because the Secretary paid the increased cost without objection.  The vessel was 61 feet in length, had a beam of almost 17 feet, and was fitted as a topsail schooner – in fact, all the original revenue cutters were actually schooners.  Williams also had the Massachusetts fitted with quarter badges (carved ornamental work on the quarters of the ship) and an Indian’s head for a figurehead, which was certainly unusual for a government vessel being built for a parsimonious Hamilton.  It carried seven sails: mainsail, foresail, jib, flying jib, fore topsail, main topsail, and squaresail.  The crew consisted of four officers, four crewmen, and two boys.  It was armed with four swivel guns.  Its primary duties at its homeport of Boston were to board incoming and outgoing ships, checking their papers and ensuring that all cargoes were properly manifested, sealing the holds of incoming vessels, and seizing those in violation of the laws.  The Massachusetts turned out to be too expensive to operate to please former Revolutionary War General Benjamin Lincoln, the Collector of Customs in Boston, and too slow to please Williams.  It was sold on 9 October 1792 and replaced by the smaller and faster Massachusetts II.  With only fifteen months of government service, the Massachusetts had the shortest career on any of the original revenue cutters.

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