Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Contemporary painting of a Revenue Marine cutt...Image via Wikipedia

"Fifteen hundred dollars worth of coffee coming in duty free meant a tidy profit, whether it was Delerue-Sanders behind the smuggling or someone else. A simple plan, but one that worked all too well given the poor state of the Revenue Marine. The revenue cutters couldn't begin to cover all of the coast, not when the ships were spread thin with surveying, rescue operations, and winter cruising between Charleston and Key West. Underfunded, understaffed, looked down on by the regular navy, despised by the merchants who paid the tariffs, the Revenue Marine was no one's darling.

Well, except maybe Alexander Hamilton, he'd loved his revenue cutters that brought money into the Treasury, but look what happened to him, Washburn thought. Irritate the wrong people and there you are, worm food."

Smuggler's Bride, Darlene Marshall

Today is the birthday of the U.S. Coast Guard, a branch of the service with a fascinating history. When I was researching Smuggler's Bride I thought at first I'd be able to use all the early 19th c. USN research I'd done for my other novels. Wrong. The more I studied, the more I realized that what I really needed to know about was the Revenue Marine, aka the Coast Guard.

From its earliest days, when the USN sneered at it as "The Treasury's pet navy", the USCG has had PR issues. Before the national income tax, tariffs were a key source of income for the nation and the Revenue Marine (later called the Coast Guard) was charged with patrolling the waters and making sure goods weren't smuggled in without payment. As one historian said, "Unlike the Navy, they never had a Marryat." There wasn't a historian crafting exciting tales of life in the Revenue Marine so few people knew what this brave service did, the branch of the armed forces that fights battles in peacetime.

Nonetheless, for over 200 years the USCG has been, as their motto so aptly puts it, "Semper Paratus"--Always Ready, whether it was keeping slavers from smuggling in illicit human cargo in the 19th C., stopping drug dealers in the 21st C., saving boaters and rescuing the shipwrecked, teaching water safety and more. Today they're part of Homeland Security and continue their work guarding our borders and waterways.

So it's time to say, "Thank you, Coasties, and Happy 219th Birthday!" They may not have gotten the PR they deserve over the last two centuries, but we're glad they're there.

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