New Hampshire

New England’s Hopley Yeaton: Father of the U.S. Coast Guard

Hopley Yeaton inspires U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadets in tangible ways 225 years after he was named the first commissioned officer of the service.

The early U.S. government had limited funds and wartime debts, so it used tariffs to support itself. But how to collect these monies? Honest traders would go to the Customs Houses to pay. The cheats had to be tracked down. That’s where New Hampshire’s Hopley Yeaton came in.

Hopley_YeatonIn 1790 the government established the Revenue Marine, later the Revenue Cutter Service, to interdict smugglers. In 1791 George Washington named Hopley Yeaton as the first commissioned officer of what would become the U.S. Coast Guard.

Yeaton’s mission was to sail a cutter, the USRC Scammel, from Nantucket to Passamaquoddy Bay looking for ocean-going ships attempting to smuggle goods into the country.

The smuggling ships would typically wait off shore while smaller vessels would ferry the illegal imports to land.

The Revenue Marine started with 10 cutters, and it is fitting that Yeaton, born in Somersworth, N.H., was assigned to the Scammel, named for Col. Alexander Scammell, the New Englander who died at the  siege of Yorktown. Originally from Massachusetts, Scammell settled in New Hampshire.

The Scammel, like all the original cutters, was built for speed to be able to run down ships that might attempt to flee. Yeaton, a veteran sailor who served in the Continental Navy, spent nearly 20 years policing the coast.

Among his achievements: He helped convince the service to establish the West Quoddy Lighthouse in Lubec, Maine. In 1809 when he retired, Yeaton settled in Lubec, where he was active in the town’s effort to incorporate. Following his death in 1812, he was buried on private land in what would become the backyard of a house.

Yeaton would stay there until 1974. The Coast Guard rediscovered his whereabouts and decided the ‘Father of the Coast Guard’ deserved a more celebrated resting place. His remains were dug up and relocated temporarily to the grounds of the West Quoddy Lighthouse.

Once a suitable monument could be erected on the grounds of the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., he was relocated there.

Today, Yeaton serves as a muse to struggling students at the academy, figuring in two superstitions.

Students who join the so-called Square Root Club – any student with a grade point average below 1.0 so named because their actual GPA is lower than the square root of their GPA – historically have spent a night sleeping on Yeaton’s tomb. The legend holds that Yeaton will grant them the knowledge they need to improve their grades.

Cadets struggling to master their nautical sciences lessons will also visit Yeaton’s tomb to sharpen their dividers on it for the same reason.

This story was updated from the 2014 version. 

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