Virginia, 1791

Jan. 10, 2020

A state of the eastern United States on Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.  It was admitted as one of the original Thirteen Colonies in 1788.  Early colonizing attempts (1584–1587) by Sir Walter Raleigh failed, but in 1607 colonists dispatched by the London Company established the first permanent settlement at Jamestown (May 13).  Virginia was a prime force in the move for independence and was the site of Lord Cornwallis's surrender in 1781.  






LENGTH: 56' 2"

BEAM: 17’ 6"

DRAFT: 6’6"

COMPLEMENT: 4 officers, 4 enlisted, 2 boys


Although little documentation exists regarding any of the first ten cutters' activities these government vessels undoubtedly carried out a myriad of tasks.  Many of these duties were spelled out in letters from the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, to the various collectors of customs, who were in direct charge of the cutters and their crews.  The duties specifically assigned to the cutters and their crews as legislated by Congress and expounded by Hamilton included:

  • boarding incoming and outgoing vessels and checking their papers (ownership, registration, admeasurement, manifests, etc.) 

  • ensuring that all vessels & cargoes were properly documented

  • sealing the cargo holds of incoming vessels

  • seizing those vessels in violation of the law 

They were also tasked with a number of other duties that were not related to protecting the revenue.  These included:

  • enforcing quarantine restrictions established by the federal, state or local governments

  • charting the local coastline

  • enforcing the neutrality and embargo acts

  • carrying official (and unofficial) passengers

  • carrying supplies to lighthouse stations

  • other duties as assigned by the collector

Their primary purpose, however, was to deter smuggling and ensure the collection of tariffs.  That meant sailing out of the port to which they were assigned and intercepting vessels before they came too close to shore.  It was here, well out of the harbor but within sight of the coast, that smugglers unloaded part or all of their cargoes into smaller "coaster" vessels or directly onshore to avoid customs duties.  The collectors usually had smaller boats that could check vessels as they sailed into port.  Therefore these ten cutters were not harbor vessels; they were designed to sail out to sea, survive in heavy weather, and sail swiftly so that they might overtake most merchant vessels.  

Ultimately, then, they were the nation's first line of defense against attempts to circumvent the new nation's duties, the country's major source of income during this period.  They were a critical part of the attempt by the newly formed United States to establish a sound economic footing, the key to the successful establishment and continuance of any government. 


Virginia was one of the first ten revenue cutters.  Interestingly, she was proceeded by two state revenue vessels, Liberty and Patriot, that had active careers on the Chesapeake well before the establishment of a federal revenue fleet.  President George Washington appointed Richard Taylor, a veteran of the navy of the state of Virginia who was twice wounded during the Revolution, as master of Virginia.  

As with her sister cutters, little documentation has survived regarding Virginia's service.  We do know that she was ordered to prevent all vessels hailing from Philadelphia, Tobago, or the Grenadines from sailing into the Chesapeake during an outbreak of yellow fever at those locations in 1793. 

She probably also enforced the Embargo instituted by President Washington in 1794.  Enforcing the Embargo included preventing the arming and fitting out of privateers, either French or British, in American ports.  The Virginia was involved in one such enforcement action when she attempted to seize the French-flagged privateer Unicorn.  By this time, the Virginia's master, Richard Taylor, had resigned his commission due to his failing physical condition brought on by his war injuries.  First Mate John Lurty had taken command of the cutter although for unknown reasons he never received a promotion to the position of master. 

Commanding Officers:

Richard Taylor of Caroline County, VA; Master; commission dated 21 March 1791.


John Lurty of King George County, VA, First Mate, 21 March 1791-
John Parker, Second Mate; left service in August 1791.
William Ham, Second Mate (replaced John Parker), commission dated 13 August 1791.
Bathhurst Daingerfield, Third Mate, commission dated 13 August 1791.


Donald Canney.  U.S. Coast Guard and Revenue Cutters, 1790-1935.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995.

Stephen H. Evans.  The United States Coast Guard, 1790-1915: A Definitive History (With a Postscript: 1915-1950).  Annapolis: The United States Naval Institute, 1949.

Florence Kern.  "Swiftness of Sailing": Richard Taylor's U.S. Revenue Cutter Virginia, 1791-1797.  Washington, DC: Alised Enterprises, 1977.

U.S. Coast Guard.  Record of Movements: Vessels of the United States Coast Guard: 1790 - December 31, 1933.  Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1934; 1989 (reprint).