The Coast Guard at Newburyport: A Piece of American History
Newburyport was settled in 1635 as part of Newbury, a fishing and trading town, and has been a popular destination ever since it was founded. Newburyport is unique in its wonderful architecture and restored historical buildings. In the 1970’s the town underwent a huge renovation project to enhance its general attraction to the public. This effort has been wildly successful, and Newburyport has become a favorite spot of Americans stretched all over the country. One of the best parts about the town is its mark on U.S. history as the birthplace of the United States Coast Guard almost 120 years ago.
The Origin of the United States Coast Guard
The United States Coast Guard is one of the seven branches of uniformed forces of the U.S. Armed Services. Initially called the Revenue Marine, the USCG was established in 1790, making it the country’s oldest continuous maritime service. The need for a United States coast guard developed early on in the country’s history when traders were refusing to pay taxes on their goods and smugglers ran amuck from port to port. The young government desperately needed revenue to pay off debts and support the national economy, so Treasurer Alexander Hamilton came up with Tariff Act of 1789 to fund the government. The U.S. Revenue Marine enforced the tariffs to prevent smuggling and therefore supplied the government with 95% of its revenue, since state and income taxes had not yet been set up. Renamed the Revenue Cutter Service, the Coast Guard was initially comprised of ten cutters, the first was the Massachusetts, which was launched in 1791.
The USCG Now
The USCG has been immensely important in the United States’ protection and regulation. Though the Coast Guard was established to prevent smuggling and stop piracy, it has evolved and become a protection and emergency unit as well. Coast Guardsmen are well-trained and skilled and, therefore, are depended upon by boats and boaters in distress.
Presently, the USCG is a versatile service that acts under Homeland Security during times of peace and the Navy during times of war. The Coast Guard is dedicated to safety, security and stewardship. Coast Guard stations are placed all over the country, regulating permits and enforcing tax laws as well as responding to natural disasters and other emergencies.
Where it All Started
Although the Coast Guard was established more than a hundred years ago, the towns that were host to this historical event live on and cherish their mark on the history of our country. Located on the southern bank of the Merrimack River, Newburyport is a proud, historic town that still holds to its traditional maritime roots. The first United States Coast Guard station, then called “Plum Island” was established in 1873. In 1902 the name was changed to “Newburyport Merrimack Station,” the same name it holds now as the Coast Guard regulates and monitors the highly-used Merrimack River.
This port is perfectly situated for the Coast Guard’s needs, as it is on the banks of the Merrimack River just before it flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The wharfs of Newburyport were established before much of the town, marking it as a busy and necessary port long before it actually became one. This town’s rich and successful history also includes some tragedy; the Great Fire of 1811 devastated the town’s economy and debilitated it during the War of 1812.
The Great Fire
Newbury, a great town with a highly successful economy, suffered a period of severe set-backs beginning with a devastating fire that leveled much of the town and demolished the port’s wharfs. No one was killed in this tragedy, but the town’s economy and infrastructure suffered greatly. More than 90 families were left homeless, and churches, stores, and schools were completely destroyed. Very soon after, the War of 1812 threw another blow in the town’s direction, as taxes and tariffs were raised significantly to pay for the war. The economic crisis in 1816 prevented Newbury from recovering and rebuilding for some time, but the town had lost much of its original luster in the midst of such adversity.
Slowly Newbury recovered, and in 1851 Newburyport was formed as its own city. With the help that the new Coast Guard station gave the residents and town officials by regulating the port their town was named for, Newburyport began the process of becoming a central trading and fishing epicenter again. The community worked together in common interest and the town became the beautiful residence it is now.
Fully recovered and fully restored, Newburyport is a delightful town with a heritage that they are proud to call unique. Being the birthplace of the United States Coast Guard brings many tourists and military members to the town, a fact that Newburyport embraces and encourages. This New England town is charming—an excellent weekend getaway or break from Boston’s bustling streets. Newburyport is a living, breathing community that continually proves the power of perseverance and the potential of unity.