Van Buren I


Van Buren I

(Sch: t. 112; Ibp. 73'41/4"; b. 20'2"; dph. 7'4"; a. 4
12-pdrs. )

The building of the first Van Buren, a schooner rigged revenue cutter, was authorized on 26 June 1839. That same day, the Secretary of the Treasury ordered Lt. J. C. Jones, USRM, to superintend her construction at Baltimore. Reported ready for use on 29 November 1839, the ship entered service with the Revenue Marine on 2 December 1839, Capt. Henry Prince, USRM, in command.

Few records apparently exist to indicate the nature or extent of Van Buren's service in late 1839 and 1840. It can be assumed that she performed the usual duties assigned to the ships of the Revenue Marine ( a forerunner of the United States Coast Guard ), keeping watch off the coast of the United States for smugglers or shipwrecks, ready to enforce the laws of the land or rescue survivors from disasters at sea.

With the outbreak of the Seminole War in Florida in the late 1830's, the Revenue Marine came under the control of the Navy for cooperation with Army forces in their campaign to put down the Seminoles. On 30 July 1841, the Secretary of the Navy wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury, Thomas Ewing, transmitting the "authority of the President" to transfer the revenue cutters Jefferson, Madison, and Van Buren to the Navy's jurisdiction. Ewing, on 2 August, consequently relieved 1st Lieutenant John McGowan USRM-Van Buren's commanding officer—"from the usual duties arising under the Revenue laws," and directed him to place himself, and his ship, under the direction of the Navy.

As part of the "Mosquito Fleet" under Lt, John T. McLaughlin, Van Buren operated as a unit of the Navy's "riverine" force, in conjunction with Army troops, in battling the wily and elusive Seminole foe. Such duty proved exacting, the officers and men undergoing "every species of privation and toil." The Seminole Wars had produced a riverine conflict similar to that waged in the Mekong Delta over a century and a quarter later.

At the end of nearly a year of such service, Van Buren, Madison, and Jefferson put into Norfolk by 23 July 1842. Six days later, the Secretary of the Treasury issued instructions to the Collector of Revenue to receive the vessels and put them back into the service of the Revenue Marine. She was accordingly transferred from Navy control on 18 August 1842.

Ordered to Charleston, S.C., on 22 August, Van Buren operated out of that port over the next three years. During that time, she underwent repairs at Baltimore in May and June 1844.

When the United States went to war with Mexico in 1846, Van Buren-under the command of Capt. Thomas C. Rudolph, USRM-received orders on 20 May from Robert J. Walker, Secretary of the Treasury, to take on board a "full supply of ammunition and stores for three months" and sail for the Gulf of Mexico. Eight days later, with instructions to report to the Collector of Customs at New Orleans, Van Buren stood out of Charleston.

However, as the schooner put to sea, a bolt of lightning struck the fore-royal mast and so damaged it that Capt. Rudolph was compelled to bring the ship back into harbor the same day. After repairs to the damaged mast, Van Buren cleared Charleston again on 2 June and headed for the gulf.

The cutter reached Belize. Honduras, simultaneosly with the revenue cutter Walter Forward on 30 July and later sailed as part of the squadron commanded by Capt. John A. Webster, USRM, for blockade duty off the coast of Mexico. Van Buren took station off Vera Cruz.

Reported unfit for sea on 4 October, Van Buren lay at Southwest Pass, near New Orleans, preparing for a voyage to Soto la Marina, a town on the northeastern coast of Mexico. Three days later, the ship's officers remonstrated against that proposed cruise because of the ship's unseaworthiness. Ordered to proceed without delay to New York, Van Buren accordingly sailed for that port on 11 November 1846. She saw no further active service and was sold on 1 June 1847.