The ship was named for Peter G. Washington, a native of Virginia. He came to Washington, D.C., in his youth and spent the remainder of his life there. He served in the positions of clerk in the Treasury, chief clerk to the 6th Auditor, 1st Assistant Postmaster General, and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. Peter G. Washington and Charles M. Willard began the U.S. Postal Guide and Official Advertiser as a monthly in June of 1850. He was Vice President of the Oldest Inhabitant’s Association of Washington, D. C. He was referred to as Colonel in his obituary but it is unclear how he earned this title. He died 10 February 1872. He is interred in the Congressional Cemetery.
Builder: McCully, Baltimore, Maryland
Length: 91' 2"
Beam: 21' 2"
Displacement: 190 tons
Rig: Topsail schooner; re-rigged as a brig in 1838
Performance & Endurance:
Armament: 1 x 42-pound pivot (1860)
The Collector at Baltimore received authorization to build a cutter in Baltimore, Maryland, on 6 July 1837 and Revenue Captain H. D. Hunter was ordered to superintend her construction. Officially assigned the name Washington, on 1 August 1837, the cutter was built by "McCully.” She was apparently built quickly, as orders were issued on 11 November for the ship to conduct winter cruising off the eastern seaboard between New York and the Virginia capes. She sailed on 18 December on her first cruise.
In ensuing years, the ship cruised that stretch of sea in the winters and was transferred to the Coast Survey during the summers where she conducted sounding and surveying operations off the coast in the summers of 1838 and 1839, returning to revenue control in November of each year. Sometime during this period Washington was re-rigged from a schooner to a brig, apparently at Baltimore.
While sounding between Gardiner's Point and Montauk Point, New York, in the summer of 1839 in service with the Coast Survey, the former cutter encountered evidence of a grim event at sea. On 26 August, Washington sighted a "suspicious-looking vessel" at anchor. The brig's commander, Lieutenant Thomas R. Gedney, USN, sent an armed party to board the craft. The men found the suspicious ship to be the schooner Armistad, of and from Havana, Cuba. She had set sail from the coast of Africa two months or so before, carrying two white passengers and 54 slaves, bound for Guanaja, Cuba. Four days out of port, the slaves rose and murdered the captain and his crew, saving the two passengers to navigate the ship back to Africa. During the next two months, in which Armistad had drifted at sea, nine of the slaves had died.
Washington apparently never encountered a similar event again. She was permanently transferred to the Coast Survey on 23 April 1840. For the next 12 years, the brig operated under the aegis of the Navy, off the eastern seaboard of the United States on surveying and sounding duties. All was not entirely tranquil, however, for there were storms to be contended with. While stationed in Chesapeake Bay in 1846, Washington was dismasted in a severe gale. Battered and worn but still afloat, the cutter limped to port. She had lost 11 men overboard in the tempest, including Lieutenant George M. Bache, USN, the ship's commanding officer.
When the United States went to war in Mexico, Washington served with Commodore Matthew C. Perry's forces. Under the command of Lieutenant Commander S. P. Lee, USN, Washington took part in the capture of Tobasco on 16 June 1847 and contributed six officers and 30 men to a force under the command of Captain S. L. Breese, USN that formed part of the 1,173-man landing force that attacked and captured the Mexican stronghold at Tuxpan.
Returned to the Treasury Department on 18 May 1852 in exchange for the former cutter Crawford on 21 June 1852, Washington underwent “thorough and extensive repairs” at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York which lasted into the early winter. Alterations were completed on 9 December 1852, but Washington remained in the New York area where she operated locally for the next six years. The cutter participated in the search for the foundering steamer San Francisco in the second week of January 1854. Washington, along with five other revenue cutters, sailed almost simultaneously from their home ports—ranging from New London, Connecticut, to Wilmington, Delaware, and from Norfolk to New York; but, unfortunately, none of the ships fell in with San Francisco.
Ordered to the Gulf of Mexico in the spring of 1859 to relieve Robert McClelland, Washington apparently arrived at Southwest Pass, Louisiana, soon thereafter. She apparently remained there into 1861; and—although slated to be relieved, in turn, by Robert McClelland—the outbreak of the Civil War caught the brig at New Orleans undergoing repairs. At that time she was under the command of Revenue Captain Robert K. Hudgins. She was taken over by state authorities of Louisiana soon after that state seceded from the Union on 31 January 1861 and commissioned in the Confederate Navy as CSS Washington. Little is known of the ship thereafter. In June 1861, Commander David Dixon Porter reported that the ship was being fitted out at New Orleans and was almost ready for sea, but no clues to the ship's subsequent career thereafter have been found.
Cutter History File. USCG Historian's Office, USCG HQ, Washington, D.C.
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Washington, DC: USGPO.
Donald Canney. U.S. Coast Guard and Revenue Cutters, 1790-1935. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995.
NOAA: Coast & Geodetic Survey Ships: Peter G. Washington [Web history document from website: www.history.noaa.gov/ships/washington.html]
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).
U. S. Navy, Naval History Division. Civil War Naval Chronology, 1861-1865. Washington: USGPO, 1971.