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Coast 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.

Brig, 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.

Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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