Lawrence, 1848

Feb. 6, 2021

C. W. Lawrence, 1848

The C. W. Lawrence was named for the Collector of Customs at the Port of New York, Cornelius W. Lawrence, who served in New York during the 1840s.

Type/Rig/Class: Brig-rigged Baltimore-style clipper

Builder: William Easby, Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.

Launched: 20 August 1848

Commissioned: 11 October 1848

Dates of Service: 1848 - 1851

Disposition: Lost off San Francisco, 1851

Displacement: 144 tons

Length: 96' 6"

Beam: 24'


Propulsion: Sail

Machinery: None

Complement: 43 for the voyage around the Horn: commanding officer, executive officer, two second lieutenants, two third lieutenants, a surgeon, and 35 crewmen.

Armament: Pierced for 10 guns and carried 2 x 32-pounders; 1 x long 18-pounder; 2 x 6-pounders; carbines, percussion pistols, Colt revolvers, boarding pikes & cutlasses.

Cutter History:

The Revenue Cutter C. W. Lawrence was built as one of seven replacements for cutters lost during the Mexican War.  She was built by William Easby at Foggy Bottom in Washington, D.C.  She was a brig-rigged Baltimore clipper with raked masts.  She was 96 1/2-feet in length and displaced 144 tons.  She was "staunchly built of white and live oak, yellow pine, cedar, locust, and mahogany and was copper fastened and sheathed."  She was launched at Foggy Bottom on 20 August 1848.  Her first commanding officer, who oversaw her construction, was Revenue Captain Alexander Fraser, and he attended her launching.  The 30 October 1848 issue of Washington's Daily National Intelligencer wrote of her launching:

"Scarcely had some of her blocks been knocked away, when she began, at first imperceptibly, to slide down her slippery ways, and Capt. Fraser and his lady, to whom was assigned the honor of christening the vessel, could scarcely, with all his exertion, find time to leap upon her deck before she plunged to the bosom of the Potomac. . . .She was launched with all her masts and rigging on board, and with colors flying. . ."

She was christened Cornelius W. Lawrence, after the collector of the Port of New York.  She spent the next few weeks fitting out and her hull was painted black.  The Revenue Marine accepted her for service on 11 October 1848.  She was assigned to the west coast, with Captain Fraser's orders being to secure the revenue, enforce U.S. laws on the seas, aid distressed vessels, and to sound and chart the new territory's harbors and inlets.

With a crew of 43 aboard, with most of Fraser's officers being political appointees with no sea-going experience, Lawrence set sail for the Pacific on 1 November 1848 around Cape Horn.  After an arduous voyage of over 11 months, including five weeks spent attempting to sail around the Horn, she arrived in San Francisco on 31 October 1849.  Difficulties soon visited the cutter though when the crew learned of the vast fortunes being made by those hunting gold inland and Fraser soon found himself without a crew.  Even his officers resigned to join the gold rush.  The Collector had to charter a small schooner, the Argus, and purchased another, Catherine, to carry out the Revenue patrols while the Lawrence remained tied up.

For a hectic year, with only a few loyal men, Fraser did his best to secure the revenue, enforce the shipping laws, and prevented mutinies on the merchant craft at anchor in San Francisco Bay when gold fever swept aboard the newly arrived ships.  His efforts were summed up in a letter to him from the Customs Collector, J. Collier: 

"Few men have had more difficult or responsible duties to perform.  You have been in a harbor from four to five hundred vessels were riding at anchor, in the midst of a great excitement, with crews insubordinate and lawless, without the aid of civil tribunals or civil process, and when day and night you have been called upon to render assistance and aid masters of vessels in suppressing mutiny and violence."

In late 1850 Lawrence was fitted out for a cruise down the coast to San Diego once the cutter Polk arrived to patrol San Francisco.    She cleared the Farallon Islands on the night of 26 December 1850.  She cruised the coast, charting the coastline and the inlets as she sailed.  She arrived in San Diego on 19 January 1851 and then sailed for the Hawaiian Islands, arriving at Hilo on 7 March 1851.  After visiting Honolulu she set sail for San Francisco, arriving there on the evening of 4 May 1851.  Fraser requested a leave of absence, which was granted, and he was relieved by Revenue Captain Douglas Ottinger on 7 June of that same year.   

Ottinger and some of his crew participated in the Challenge affair, when the crew of that vessel attempted to mutiny.  He and the Revenue sailors helped quell the mutiny and Ottinger later was called to testify at the trial of the ring leaders.

Lawrence's career, unlike Ottinger's, was over shortly after this.  She ran aground and was lost at the entrance to San Francisco Bay on the night of 25 November 1851.  All hand were saved.


Donald Canney.  U.S. Coast Guard and Revenue Cutters, 1790-1935.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995, p. 22.

James P. Delgado. "In the Midst of a Great Excitement: The Argosy of the Revenue Cutter C. W. Lawrence." The American Neptune XLV, No. 2 (Spring, 1985), pp. 119-131.

James P. Delgado, Larry Murphy & Roger E. Kelly. Shipwreck Survey of a Portion of Ocean Beach Golden Gate National Recreation Area San Francisco, California To Locate the Remains of the United States Revenue Cutter C. W. Lawrence. San Francisco: United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service Golden Gate National Recreation Area, February 1984.

Stephen H. Evans. The United States Coast Guard, 1790-1915: A Definitive History. Annapolis: The United States Naval Institute, 1949, pp. 66-72.

Irving H. King. The Coast Guard Under Sail: The U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, 1789-1865. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1989, pp. 137-144.

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), pp. 1848-1851.