Sunday, September 2, 2007

Revenue Point at Sand Island Lighthouse

Just to the East of Sand Island Lighthouse across the Mobile ship Channel is a submerged shoal known as Revenue Point. To understand why it has this name you must travel back in time with me to around 1790. During this time the United States obtained almost all of its income or "Revenue" from tarriffs placed on items brought into this country aboard ships. These fees were accessed against a ships cargo once it entered the country. The Revenue Point was the point that once a ship sailed past it owed the fees on its imported cargo. Simple huh? This revenue was very important to our government and the formation of a fleet of floating tax collectors was created known as the United States Revenue Cutter service. This Revenue Cutter Service later became what we know today as the U.S. Coast Guard!

The United States Revenue Cutter Service was established by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in 1790 as an armed maritime law enforcement service. Throughout its entire existence the Revenue Cutter Service operated under the authority of the United States Department of the Treasury. In 1915 the Service merged with the Lifesaving Service to form the United States Coast Guard.

Ten cutters were initially ordered. Between 1790 and 1798, the Revenue-Marine was the only armed maritime service for the United States. Cutter captains were answerable to and received their sailing orders directly from the Customs Collector of the port to which they were assigned. All crew pay, requests for supplies, arrangements for repairs to the cutter, and mission-specific tasking came directly from the port's Customs House. Standing orders for individual cutters were stated in general terms, allowing captains to exercise their discretion and judgement to the fullest. Captains also had far reaching authority " — to seize vessels and goods in the cases in which they are liable to seizure for breaches of the Revenue laws…" and to send inspection parties aboard vessels already in port, to ensure that cargo intended for export also did not violate Revenue laws. It was specifically directed in Alexander Hamilton's first letter of instruction that captains "…will always keep in mind that their countrymen are freemen, and, as such, are impatient of everything that bears the least mark of a domineering spirit… They will endeavor to overcome difficulties, if any are experienced, by a cool and temperate perseverance in their duty – by address and moderation, rather than by vehemence or violence."