Spencer was named for John C. Spencer, the 16th Secretary
of the Treasury. He was born in 1788 in Hudson, New York,
graduated from Union College in 1806 and studied law. He was
admitted to the state bar in 1809 and began a law practice in
Canandaigua, New York. He served during the War of 1812 and was
elected to and served in the House of Representatives from
1817-1819. He then served in a number of state public offices
before being appointed the Secretary of War by President John
Tyler in 1841. He was appointed as the Secretary of the
Treasury in 1843, following the resignation of Secretary Walter
Forward that same year. Spencer resigned in 1844 and was
nominated by President Tyler to the United States Supreme Court
but was rejected by the Senate. He died in Albany, New York on
17 May 1855.
Builder: West Point
Draft: 9' 9"
Displacement: 398 tons
Disposition: Transferred to the Lighthouse Establishment for
conversion and use as a lightship.
Machinery: 2 x high-pressure horizontal, 24" diameter x 36"
Armament: 5 x 12 pounders; 1 x 18 pounder; 1 x 9 pounder
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Internet research shows that the First Assistant Engineer of the
RC Spencer was
history of technology catalogues the successes of heroic
inventors. It is worth remembering that virtually every triumph
of ingenuity has been accompanied by at least one spectacular
failure. In the early nineteenth century American naval
architects struggled to make the steam engine compatible with
the requirements of warship design. Naval officers were
skeptical of the standard propulsion device, the side-mounted
paddle wheel. It took up valuable space in the ship's
broadside, and a well-placed enemy shot could cripple a sidewheeler in an instant.
By John Tilley,
USCG Historian's Office:
Lieut. William Hunter, USN, claimed to have figured out the a
pair of paddle wheels mounted horizontally, rotating in
watertight drums and barely projecting through the ship's sides
below the waterline. Hunter patented his invention in 1840, and
managed to sell it to both the Navy and the Revenue Cutter
Service. The latter contracted for the construction of four
cutters with iron hulls and "Hunter wheels." The ships
eventually were named Bibb, Dallas, McLane,
and Spencer, after recent and current Secretaries
of the Treasury.
the Spencer, built by the West Point Foundry
Company of New York, ever got to sea with Hunter wheels
installed. The concept suffered from several basic flaws.
Fifty to seventy percent of the engines' energy was expended in
sloshing water around in the drums; the Spencer
managed a respectable seven knots, but consumed a ton of coal
every two hours. The hull had an odd, inverted bell-shaped
cross-section that left little room for coal bunkers and less
for accommodations. After considerable hand-wringing among the
service's senior officers it was decided to complete the other
three cutters as sidewheelers.
1845 the Spencer's Hunter wheels were removed, the
apertures in the hull were plated over, and a pair of screw
propellers designed by Captain Richard L. Loper were installed.
The ship thereby earned the distinction of being not only the
first iron revenue cutter but the first twin-screw steamer in
U.S. government service.
following year the United States declared war on Mexico, and the
Spencer was ordered to the gulf coast. The cutter
got as far as Charleston, South Carolina before its boilers
broke down. Shortly thereafter the Spencer's
steam plant was removed completely and the hull was turned over
to the Lighthouse Service for use as a stationary lightship. The
Spencer ended its days anchored off
Willoughby's Spit in Chesapeake Bay.
Revenue Cutter Service's first brush with steam power was a
disaster, both technologically and politically. In its wake
Congress revoked the Treasury Department's authority to design
steamships. Not until 1857 would another steam-powered revenue
cutter, the wooden sidewheeler Harriet Lane, be built.
The Harriet Lane, the service's first operational
steam cutter, fired the first shot from a naval vessel
during the war on 11 April 1861 when she put a round across
the bow of the steamer Nashville entering Charleston
harbor during the siege of Ft. Sumter. Unknown to CAPT
Faunce of the Lane, the Nashville was actually
a Confederate blockade runner; when challenged, she hoisted
the Stars and Stripes and was allowed to pass. The
Harriet Lane also took part later in operations in
Hampton Roads, Virginia and in the capture of Hatteras
Inlet, NC. She would be lost to a Confederate boarding party
in Galveston harbor on January 1st, 1863.