South Carolina, 1793

Nov. 9, 2021

South Carolina, 1793

A state of the southeast United States bordering on the Atlantic Ocean.  It was admitted as one of the original Thirteen Colonies in 1788.  First visited by Spanish explorers in the early 1500s, the region was granted by Charles II of England to eight of his principal supporters in 1663.  The territory was divided into the colonies of North Carolina and South Carolina in 1729. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union (1860), thus precipitating the Civil War.  Columbia is the capital.



DECOMMISSIONED: Sold 5 June 1798






COMPLEMENT: 4 officers, 4 enlisted, 2 boys

ARMAMENT:  4 swivel cannons


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:

South Carolina was one of the original ten revenue cutters.  She was not launched until 1793, however, due to the recalcitrance of state officials who were loath to support or enforce Federal customs and navigation laws.  Nevertheless, Cochran drew his pay during the time of her construction and so therefore probably chartered a private vessel to conduct patrols until the South Carolina entered service.

Little is know about this cutter other than that she was a schooner that displaced 38 tons.  Her journals and official correspondence have not survived and there is little mention of her in local papers.  The only incident that garnered published notice was when the governor ordered the cutter to transport a company of soldiers (artillerists from Fort Johnson) down the waterway to protect a stranded British merchant vessel, the Aracabessa, from another vessel that may have been a French privateer.  By the time the cutter got underway and arrived at the scene, the Aracabessa was burning from stem to stern.  The privateer was nowhere to be seen and later captured two American vessels further out to sea.

The South Carolina State Gazette noted:

"On Tuesday, the 17th inst. [1797] when the Revenue Cutter was ordered by the governor to go down to five fathom hole to protect the English ship Oracabessa from the French pirate who burned her, a detachment of 20 of Capt. Kaldensen's corps of Artillerists was put on board.  By the time they got to Cumming's Point only five of the 20, and the commanding officer, Lieut. Robertson, were able to keep their feet, all the remainder were thrown down with sea sickness -- a clear proof that we stand in need of other marines for our celebrated cutter than the artillerists of a fort."

It would be a few years before the Marine Corps and the Revenue cutters cooperated but the suggestion was prescient.  Such depredations as what befell the Oracabessa and the American merchant ships, among others, did motivate the government to begin building a navy.

The South Carolina was sold on 5 June 1798 to Captain Oliver Pendleton for $630.00.

Commanding Officers:

Robert Cochran, Master, 1791-

Hugh George Campbell, First Mate, 1791-
William Barker, Second Mate, 1793-
Matthew Cozzens, Third Mate, 1793-


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

Florence Kern. Robert Cochran's U.S. Revenue Cutter South Carolina, 1793-1798: A 38-Ton Schooner.  Washington, D.C.: Alised Enterprises, 1978.

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).