New London's Maritime History


From the very beginning, New London was a seaport.  Located midway between Boston, Massachusetts and New York City and situated on the shores of both the Thames River and Long Island Sound, New London was a center of the U.S. Coast Guard, a commercial whaling city for 80 years in the 19th century (a record surpassed only by New Bedford and Nantucket, Massachusetts), and a major U.S. Navy homeport during the 20th century into the present. 


In the 18th Century, commercial ports like New London supported the plantation system in the islands of the West Indies, where the major crop grown was sugar.  Following the War of Independence (1776-83) when the Continental Navy was disbanded in 1790, Coast Guard revenue cutters were the only national maritime service.  The Acts establishing the Navy in 1798 also empowered the President to use the revenue cutters to supplement the fleet when needed.  


The Coast Guard traditionally performed two roles in wartime.  The first was to augment the Navy with men and cutters. The second was to undertake special missions for which the Coast Guard is uniquely skilled.  For example, during the Quasi-War with France (1798-99), eight cutters operated along our southern coast in the Caribbean Sea, and among the West Indies Islands .  Cutters captured 18 prizes unaided and assisted in the capture of two others.  The cutter Pickering made two cruises to the West Indies and captured 10 prizes, one of which carried 44 guns and 200 men, three times her own force.


Augmenting the Navy with shallow-draft craft evolved out of the War of 1812 into a continuing wartime responsibility.  During the opening phases of the war, Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin addressed Congress.  He said, "We want small, fast sailing vessels...there are but six vessels belonging to the Navy, under the size of frigates; and that number is inadequate."  During the last two centuries, cutters have been used extensively in "brown water" combat. A cutter made the first capture of the war.  One of the most hotly contested engagements was between the cutter Surveyor and the British frigate Narcissis.  The Surveyor was captured.  The British Captain wrote to Captain Samuel Travis on the following day.


In 1868, the Navy first became involved in New London when the State of Connecticut gave the Navy 112 acres of land along the Thames River to build a Naval Station. Due to a lack of federal funding, it was not until 1872 that two brick buildings and a "T" shaped pier were constructed and officially declared a Navy Yard. This new yard was primarily used as a coaling station by small Atlantic Fleet surface craft.

By 1872, the Coast Guard Academy began the School of Instruction for the Revenue Marine. Nine cadets began their training aboard the schooner Dobbin which operated out of Fisher Island near New Bedford , Massachusetts .  The 106-foot barque Chase replaced the Dobbin in 1878. The Chase was decommissioned in 1907 after 30 years of service and was replaced by the cutter Itasca . In 1910 the cutter Itasca and the winter quarters were moved to Fort Trumbull , an Army coastal defense installation located in New London , Connecticut .


In 1915, the Navy expanded its presence in New London with the arrival of the monitor Ozark, a submarine tender, and 4 submarines.  With the war effort in Europe and the Atlantic in full swing, additional submarines and support craft arrived the following year and the facility was named as the Navy's first Submarine Base.  


Today, the Naval Submarine Base at Groton , CT , serves as the headquarters for all Navy activities in the Northeast.