Survey Brig PETER G. WASHINGTON. In service 1838 - 1861. Served
as Coast Survey vessel, revenue cutter, and as naval vessel.
Captured Cinque and schooner AMISTAD in Long Island Sound. Destroyed
in Mississippi by Confederates in 1862.
built in 1837 for the Revenue Service. The former Revenue Cutter PETER
G. WASHINGTON was originally schooner-rigged but when acquired for
Coast Survey use it was square-rigged and designated a brig. No dimensions
for this vessel have been found. It was probably less than 100 feet
in length and less than 25 feet in beam with about an 8 foot draft.
Even the name is in dispute as the Dictionary of American Fighting
Ships lists it only as the WASHINGTON. It deserves a better record
than this as it occupies a special place in the annals of United States
History for a number of reasons.
It took the schooner AMISTAD into custody on August 26, 1839, which
led to the famous trial of Cinque resulting in his freedom and the
freedom of all the African slaves who had been the cargo of the AMISTAD.
The PETER G. WASHINGTON was the first ship in history to begin conducting
systematic oceanographic observations, as under Lieutenant Commanding
Charles Henry Davis, USN, and Assistant in the Coast Survey, it began
systematic Gulf Stream observations in 1845. The ship served in the
Mexican War and upon return while under the command of Lieutenant
George Miflin Bache, brother of Superintendent Bache, it was wrecked
while conducting Gulf Stream studies by a hurricane on September 8,
1846, killing Lieutenant Bache and 10 crewmembers. These men were
among the first American martyrs to science. A monument of a broken
ship’s mast in white marble stands at the Congressional Cemetery
in Washington, D.C., with the inscription: “The gulf stream
which they were engaged in exploring has received their bodies; this
monument has been erected to their memory by their shipmates who shared
their perils but escaped their fate.”
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 February
10, 1872. He is interred in the Congressional Cemetery.