Bibb, 1845 (George M. Bibb)

Nov. 5, 2020

Bibb (George M. Bibb), 1845

George Motier Bibb, born 30 October 1776 in Prince Edward County, Virginia, was a prominent lawyer and jurist in Kentucky.  He served in the United States Senate from 1811 to 1814 and from 1829 to 1835.  He later served as Secretary of the Treasury under President John Tyler from 4 July 1844 until 3 March 1845.  He died in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., on 14 April 1859.

TYPE/RIG/CLASS: Three-masted barquentine

BUILDER: Charles Knapp, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

DATES OF SERVICE: 1845-1847, 1861

DISPOSITION: To Coast Survey in 1847; decommissioned 1879


LENGTH: 160 feet

BEAM: 24 feet

DRAFT: 9 feet, 3 inches to 9 feet, 9 inches

PROPULSION: Hunter’s wheel, altered to side wheel

MACHINERY: 2 high-pressure horizontal, 24-inch diameter x 36-inch stroke


ARMAMENT: 1 x long 18-pounder, 4 x 32-pounders


In the 1830s and 1840s the sea services were searching for an alternative to the cumbersome and highly exposed side paddle wheels.  John Ericsson and Richard Loper had patented screw propellers, and Navy Lieutenant William Hunter proposed horizontally mounted paddle wheels, which rotated merry-go-round style within the hull, below the waterline.  Apertures in the hull sides allowed the paddles to act on the surrounding waters. Hunter had succeeded in interesting the Navy in his idea, and the Revenue Service followed suit.  In all, eight steamers were begun for the Revenue Service, four with Hunter’s system (Bibb, Dallas, McLane, and Spencer), two with Ericsson’s (Jefferson, Legare), and two paddle-wheel vessels (Polk, Walker).  All eight were also built of iron – a very early use of that metal.  Steam vessels were thought to be of particular use in the narrow waterways of the southern coasts, in pursuit of smugglers.

All eight vessels provided unmitigated failures.  Lieutenant Hunter had not taken into full account the waste of power when the paddles encountered and worked against water entering the paddle-wheel casings. In addition, the vessels were coal hungry (the Navy’s three Hunter’s wheel vessels had the same problem).

The machinery of Ericsson’s vessels proved overly complicated, and the side-wheel ships suffered from delays, lack of iron, faulty plans, and bad weather. Originally slated to cost $50,000 each, over $2 million was eventually spent in original construction and the massive modifications required subsequently in attempts to rectify the problems.

The eight vessels had extremely short service lives.  Only the Coast Survey seemed to profit from the debacle, receiving five of the ships when they were cast off by the Revenue Service.  Two became lightships and one was converted into a barque.

Built with Hunter’s wheels, the George M Bibb was first named the Tyler and was 409 38/95 tons. She was launched 10 April 1845 and had to be beached to prevent her sinking on trials. She leaked severely in the wheel casings. She was altered to side wheels at Cincinnati, Ohio, and was stationed at New Orleans, Louisiana, in late 1846 under the command of Captain Winslow Foster, USRCS.  She operated out of New Orleans until 18 May 1846 when she sailed with 10 other cutters for duty in the Gulf of Mexico during the Mexican War. Ordered to cooperate with the Navy and Army, during the next several months she supported the blockade, scouted coastal waters, carried mail and supplies, and convoyed and towed ships. 

After returning to New Orleans later in the year, she departed South West Pass, Louisiana, for Boston on 31 May 1847.  She arrived 11 July and was transferred to the U.S. Coast Survey.  She was apparently extensively rebuilt in 1861 and served for a short time in Revenue service before returning to the Coast Survey. 


Browning, Robert M., Jr. "The Lasting Injury: The Revenue Marine's First Steam Cutters." The American Neptune (Winter 1992), pp. 25-37.

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

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Vol. III, p. 78.

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).