Digest>Archives> September 2005

Hopley Yeaton: Father of the Coast Guard

By Shirley Morong


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Coast Guard Academy cadets prepare to move ...

As I grow older, I keep thinking of the past, especially of my life in the Coast Guard and in Lubec.

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The flag-draped casket was taken to North Lubec ...

One of my special memories was the day I got a letter from U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant James Heydenreich, asking me if I could give him any information about Hopley Yeaton, the first officer to receive a seagoing commission from President George Washington in 1791, who had spent the last few years of his life living in Lubec. I had never heard of him but I contacted a few older residents and found out that Hopley Yeaton had settled on a farm in North Lubec in 1809 at the age of 70 and was active in community affairs, including the incorporation of the town of Lubec. Being a member of the Masonic Lodge, he helped establish a Masonic Chapter in Eastport and urged the government to build a lighthouse at West Quoddy Head, which they did during the last year of his service in 1809.

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Further information revealed that he died on May 12, 1812 and was buried in a small cemetery behind a private dwelling in North Lubec, which contained his and a few other small gravestones. Thus began a very interesting and historical chain of events that I will never forget.

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Several Coast Guard officers joined Lt. Heydenreich in obtaining all the information they could concerning his life in the service and after retirement. Even though a hall at the Coast Guard Academy and a Coast Guard cutter were named after Hopley Yeaton many years ago, it was felt that too much time had gone by with no recognition. It was decided that his remains should be taken from the remote grave in North Lubec and removed to a special monument on the grounds of the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.

On November 1, 1974, five Coast Guard Academy cadets, a few Coast Guard officers, a Lubec undertaker and one from New London and several onlookers watched as the cadets, armed with shovels, spades and a pick axe began to dig on a straight line behind the gravestone. As the excavation reached a 4-foot depth, the son of the Lubec undertaker probed the dirt with an iron bar and struck what seemed to be wood. Using a spade, he removed enough dirt to enable the anxious watchers to see what appeared to be the top of a wooden box. The cadets continued to dig until the whole shape of the

wooden box was exposed. The two undertakers decided it would not be feasible to try to remove the casket in one piece, so the cover, which was just laid over it, was handed to the cadets. It was in excellent condition, thought to be made of pine, and the inner side of it resembled a smooth, beautifully grained counter top recently finished.

Human bones visible in the water-filled casket were removed by the undertakers and placed in a plastic bag to be preserved. The remains of the coffin were taken up in pieces.

Late that afternoon, the remains of Captain Yeaton were placed in a concrete vault and buried in a grave at West Quoddy Lighthouse where it would remain until a suitable monument could be established at the Coast Guard Academy.

August 19, 1975 was an exciting day in Lubec. The Coast Guard Training Ship, Eagle, had arrived the night before and was anchored in Johnson's Bay where we could plainly see her from our house. She was there to take the remains of Hopley Yeaton to the Coast Guard Academy. They had been taken from a temporary grave at West Quoddy Head Light and brought to the site of his original grave in North Lubec in a flag-draped casket.

Shortly before 10:00 a.m., my husband and I joined about 200 people, including 75 cadets from the Eagle and Coast Guard officials from the Academy and the First District, to listen to the brief ceremony that was opened with a prayer by Chaplain Frederick K. Brink who also spoke of the important role that Captain Yeaton played during his years of service in patrolling the coast against smugglers. Rear Admiral James P. Steward, U.S. Coast Guard commander from the First Coast Guard District in Boston, read aloud the story of the life of Hopley Yeaton. Following the closing prayer, the casket was lifted by six cadets from its resting place near the new stone plaque placed over

the original gravesite by the Coast Guard, and carried along the dirt road to the pier down on the shore where it was placed on board the Coast Guard cutter, Point Hannon, from Jonesport to be transferred

to the Eagle. Two platoons of cadets followed the casket bearers accompanied by the beat of drums.

A few hours later, we were among a large group of guests that was taken on board the Point Hannon to be transported to the Eagle for a delicious lunch and a tour of the ship. After which, Admiral Stewart presented an enlarged copy of Captain Yeaton's commission to Arthur McCurdy, chairman of the Lubec Board of Selectmen. It was later hung on the wall at the town office. As our visit ended, we were taken back to the boat ramp on the Point Hannon and all agreed that it had been a memorable visit. Later that afternoon, we went down to West Quoddy Head Park and watched the Eagle as she sailed by with all sails up, bound for the Academy and Yeaton's final resting place.

On Sunday, October 19, 1975, I was with a small group of Lubec residents to attend the ceremony of the dedication of the monument placed on the final grave of Captain Hopley Yeaton at the Coast Guard Academy. An impressive service was held in the Memorial Chapel with speakers representing the Armed Forces, the Masonic Lodge and friends and relatives from his home state of New Hampshire. The National Anthem was played by the U.S. Coast Guard Band and the anthem God Who Heard Our Father's Voice was sung by the Coast Guard Academy Idlers.

Following the benediction by Commander Norman A. Ricard, Academy chaplain, everyone left the chapel and walked a short distance to the spot where the square, box-like stone monument rested on a grassy knoll next to the chapel. A ribbon cutting ceremony was performed by Coast Guard officials. After which, a reception was held at the Officer's Mess.

Prior to the dedication ceremony, we were among the guests to assemble at the library, one section of which was the Coast Guard Museum, and later, we were given a tour of the campus by the cadets.

Needless to say, this trip to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut and the events leading up to it will always remain one of the most special events in my life.

Hopley Yeaton was born near Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1740 and went to sea at an early age. He became a merchant captain as a young man and saw service in the Continental Navy during the War for Independence in 1776. He was active with the Sons of Liberty, served as an officer on board the Continental frigates Raleigh and Deane, and commanded the cutters Scammel, New Hampshire and the Governor Gilman of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service.

In 1790, a Revenue Marine Service was formed with ten cutters. On March 21, 1791, President George Washington appointed Hopley Yeaton as the first seagoing officer of the United States. His

commission was signed by both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and he was assigned to command the cutter Scammel for patrol duty along the coast from New Hampshire to Calais, Maine. Widespread smuggling and piracy were a constant and growing menace along the entire length of the coastal area and Captain Yeaton was involved in many serious encounters. He successfully enforced maritime law along the sea border in Canada, was the first to propose formal training of young men for service aboard cutters and served his country well. The Marine Service later became the Coast Guard and Hopley Yeaton was named “Father of the Coast Guard.”

This story appeared in the September 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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