From: Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Vol.VIII - p 124


Washington, the 42d state, was admitted to the Union on 11 November 1889. The first six Washingtons were named for George Washington ; the seventh and eighth, for Washington state. See General Washington, Vol. III, page 65, for biography.

(RC: a. 4 12-pdrs.)

The fifth Washington--a revenue cutter completed at New York in 1833--initially operated out of Mobile, Ala. She shifted to Key West, Fla., as her base of operations and spent a brief period of time at Charleston, S.C., undergoing repairs, before returning to Key West on 20 May 1835 and remaining based there for the remainder of the year.

Around Christmas of 1835, two companies of regular Army troops under the command of Major Francis L. Dade, USA, were massacred by Seminole Indians. One badly wounded survivor managed to make a difficult 60-mile trek to the head of Tampa Bay, where he reported the disaster to the garrison commander at Fort Brooke, Fla., Capt. Francis S. Belton, USA. Fearing for the safety of his post, Belton immediately dispatched a request for reinforcements via the sloop Motto.

Belton's message reached Key West early in January. Meanwhile in the Federal capital, Levi Woodbury, the Secretary of the Treasury--who had also heard of Dade's disaster--directed Capt. Ezekiel Jones, commanding Washington, to place his ship under Navy control "until otherwise directed." Interestingly enough, Jones did not receive this order--issued on 6 January 1836--until he had already begun operations in cooperation with the Army and Navy.

Word of the massacre reached Jones on or about 11 January. Washington soon got underway and proceeded via Tampa Bay to Charlotte Harbor and arrived at Fort Brooke on 25 January. At 1700 that afternoon, the revenue cutter landed a pair of 12-pounder guns-- with sufficient powder and shot for 35 rounds--along with 10 seamen under the command of Lt. L. B. Childs and a Lieutenant Clark, to cooperate with the Army garrison troops. Belton, expecting an imminent attack by the Seminoles, took the precaution of ordering noncombatants--mostly women and children--to take refuge on board the merchant ships in the harbor.

Washington, meanwhile, lay to with springs to her anchors and her decks cleared for battle. At that juncture, the sloop-of-war Vandalia, Master Commandant Thomas T. Webb, USN, in command, sailed from Pensacola escorting a small merchantman carrying a detachment of 57 marines under 1st Lt. Nathaniel S. Waldron, USMC. Vandalia and her mercantile consort reached Fort Brooke on 28 January.

With the arrival of Vandalia and Waldron's marines, Washington withdrew her landing force from the beach on 1 February. Three days later, the revenue cutter received orders to reconnoiter Charlotte Harbor, south of Tampa Bay; got underway on the 5th, and arrived at her assigned destination on the 8th.

Under the command of Lt. Childs, a party of 13 men in two boats landed at 0800 on the island of Sanibel in search of Seminole dependents reported there. Finding none, however, they withdrew but sighted three canoes and 10 men on the opposite shore at 1500 that day. Going ashore again on the 10th, Washington's landing force ascertained that the 10 men and three canoes had been in the employ of a local friendly Spaniard that lived in the vicinity.

After the men returned to the ship, Washington shifted back to her previous anchorage near Fort Brooke, reaching there on 13 February. At 1280, men in the revenue cutter heard the reports of heavy guns to the southeast side of the bay and spotted two canoes full of Indians "who appeared to be retreating from the scene of action." Washington made sail and gave chase, firing a 12-pounder loaded with round shot. Anchoring at 1230, Washington dispatched all of her boats, with crews, to overtake the Indians, who eventually hove to under the threats of superior force. They turned out to be friendly, though, and were allowed to go on their way.

Capt. Jones brought Washington back to Key West on 19 February to repair his ship. Such were the vagaries of long-distance communication that Jones only then received Secretary Woodbury's instructions of 6 January. The following day, Jones reported to the Secretary, "I have been cooperating since January 11th, having half my battery and crew on shore at Fort Brook (sic) a part of the time and have rendered such service as the emergency of the case required. I shall sail again for Tampa as soon as I can effect some necessary repairs."

On 16 March, Master Commandant Webb, the local senior officer present, afloat, directed Washington to reconnoiter a reported Indian encampment in the neighborhood of the Manatee River. Late in the afternoon of that same day, 16 March, Jones landed a force of 25 men under the command of Lt. William Smith, USN, of Vandalia. By nightfall, the men had located the site of an encampment but found neither Indians nor cattle. Returning on board that evening, Washington again put the landing force on the beach on the morning of the 17th. With competent Indian guides, the party followed a fresh Indian and cattle trail 10 miles into the interior before they returned to the ship, again empty-handed.

Almost simultaneously, Seminole forces were reported to be in retreat in boats down the Pease River. Webb ordered Washington to Charlotte Harbor to blockade the river "so as to cut off most effectually all retreat to or communication with the glades of the south."

Sailing to that locale, Washington examined St. Joseph's Bay, Costa Islands, Mullett Key, and sundry other places in and about Tampa Bay. She also examined Charlotte Harbor and Charlotte Bay, together with the neighboring keys and inlets. On 28 and 29 March, a boat expedition in the charge of Lt. Smith saw an Indian encampment some 30 miles from the mouth of Tampa Bay. Hoping to learn the whereabouts of "hostiles," Smith and his two friendly Indian guides landed and invited a parley. Smith and his guides returned to the ship safely with no information as to any local Seminole strongholds in the area. Washington, her sister revenue cutters Dallas and Dexter, and the sloop-of-war Vandalia continued to perform valuable services in cooperation with Army units against the Seminoles, on patrol duties into the spring of 1836. Washington subsequently sailed for Sarasota, Fla., and arrived there on 11 May, anchoring at the mouth of the bay. She dispatched a cutter--in charge of Lt. Childs--and brought out two Spaniards and about 20 women and children, all fleeing from hostile Seminoles in that area.

Washington and Dallas subsequently cruised off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico during most of June. Washington later carried dispatches from Governor Call to Master Commandant M. P. Mix in Concord--the ship that had relieved Vandalia--in early July, before she transported a company of Army volunteers from Pensacola to St. Marks. She also surveyed the rivers, inlets, and bars along that stretch of the Florida seaboard.

After operating in Pensacola Bay and Tampa Bay during most of August and September, Washington accompanied Vandalia from Pensacola to Key West, departing on 2 October 1836 for Cape Florida and New River. Their mission was to surprise and, if possible, to capture some 200 Seminoles--braves, women, and children.

Embarked in Washington-- now commanded by Capt. Robert Day, United States Revenue Marine--were 50 seamen under the command of Lt. Smith and four midshipmen, as well as 95 marines under the command of Lt. Waldron and 2d Lt. McNeill. To carry this expeditionary force, six boats and two schooners were employed with Washington and Vandalia to carry the force. Sent to Tampa Bay on 4 November after the expedition had gotten underway, Washington delivered provisions from Tampa Bay to Cape Sable on 15 November. The revenue cutter subsequently sailed for Key West, arriving on 8 December.

A party of men from Washington, under the command of the indefatigable Lt. Levin M. Powell, USN-- the man who conceived of vigorous riverine warfare concepts--surveyed the coast around New River from Cape Sable to Charlotte Harbor and, while he penetrated 15 miles into the trackless Everglades, found no Indians during their trip. Commodore Alexander Dallas, in overall command of the naval forces operating in the Seminole War, highly commended Powell and his men, citing their "perserverence and exertions under circumstances of privation and exposure in open boats."

Eventually, by the spring of 1837, the pace of operations began to tell upon Washington, and she was released by Commodore Dallas to receive extensive repairs at Key West, Fla. Although ordered to Norfolk and, later, to Baltimore, on 22 May 1837, Washington apparently remained in southern waters, eventually returning to her original duty station, Mobile, Ala., where she was sold on 26 June 1837.

(RC: a. 10 guns)

The sixth Washington--a revenue cutter of unknown dimensions--was the second cutter of that name to serve the Navy. Authorized on 6 July and named on 1 August of 1837, Washington 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 conducted sounding and surveying operations off the coast in the summers of 1838 and 1839. She was rerigged from a schooner to a brig during that period--apparently at Baltimore, Md.

While sounding between Gardiner's Point and Montauk Point, N.Y., in the summer of 1839, the cutter encountered evidence of a grim event at sea. On 26 August, Washington sighted a "suspicious-looking vessel" at anchor. The brig's commander, Lt. 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 transferred to the Coast Survey-- the forerunner of today's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration--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 Lt. George M. Bache, 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 Lt. Comdr. S. P. Lee, 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 Capt. S. L. Breese 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, Washington underwent extensive repairs at 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, Conn., to Wilmington, Del., 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, La., soon thereafter. She apparently remained there into 1861 ; and--although slated to be relieved, in turn, by Robert McClelland-- the outbreak of the War Between the States caught the brig at New Orleans where she was taken over by authorities of Louisiana soon after that state seceded from the Union on 31 January 1861. Little is known of the ship thereafter. In June 1861, Comdr. 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.