Diligence, 1792

Jan. 10, 2020

Diligence: persistent application to one's work: assiduous effort.


LAUNCHED: June / July 1792 ??

DECOMMISSIONED: Sold 5 November 1798




BEAM:  ??

DRAFT:  ??

ARMAMENT: ??, probably ten muskets with bayonets; twenty pistols; two chisels; one broad axe.

COMPLEMENT: 4 officers, 4 enlisted, 2 boys


Although little documentation exists regarding any of the first ten cutters' activities--most of the correspondence and logbooks from the era were destroyed by fire when the British Army burned Washington, DC (including the Treasury Department building in which these records were stored) during the War of 1812 and another fire at the Treasury Department in 1833 (through no fault of the British this time)--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 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 supplies to lighthouse stations

  • carrying official (and unofficial) passengers

  • other duties as assigned by the collector

Their primary purpose, however, was to protect the revenue of the new nation by deterring smuggling.  That meant sailing out of the port to which they were assigned and intercepting vessels before they came too close to the shore.  It was here, well out of the harbor but within sight of the coast, that smugglers unloaded part 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.  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.

Cutter History:

Diligence was built at Washington, North Carolina and was based out of New Bern after entering service sometime during the summer of 1792.  She transferred to Wilmington in October that same year.  Her first commanding officer was William Cooke.  In 1793, Benjamin Gardner was appointed as the first mate and James Sandy was appointed as the cutter's second mate.  Little is known about her history during this time other than the fact that she was involved in the San Jose affair of 1793.  The San Jose was a Spanish vessel with some gold on board as cargo; she was captured illegally by the French privateer Amiable Margaretta.  Cooke and his crew seized the San Jose from the Amiable Margaretta.

In 1796 Cooke disappeared and was replaced by John Brown, who served as her commanding officer until the cutter was sold in 1798 for $310.

Commanding Officers:

William Cooke, Master; 1792-1796.

John Brown, Master; 1796-1798.


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. William Cooke's U.S. Revenue Cutter Diligence, 1792-1798: "One in North Carolina." Washington, DC: Alised Enterprises, 1979.

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).