The U.S. bought Alaska in 1867, but it really didn't have much of a presence there, and especially not in more remote areas like the Bering Sea, for many years. The Treasury sent a revenue cutter into the Bering Sea in 1870, and again, nine years later, in 1879.
In 1880, the revenue cutter Thomas A. Corwin entered the Bering Sea under Captain Calvin Hooper. At Hooper's recommendation, regular annual cruises by revenue cutters were began in 1881. Hooper and the Corwin made the 1881 cruise.
In the late 19th Century these patrols were the face of the U.S. government in the Bering Sea. The cutters had a lot of jobs. They tried to interrupt the regional trade in liquor and rifles, investigated vessel disappearances, conducted search and rescue efforts, provided logistical support for the census, moved people around within the region, helped the shipwrecked get home, suppressed fur seal poaching, shipped reindeer from Siberia to the U.S., and carried out geographic and scientific research.
Science was important right from the start In 1881, John Muir was the cruise glaciologist. On a shore stop at the western Alaskan port of St. Michael, the Corwin picked up an employee of the U.S. Signal Service, the naturalist and ethnographer, Edward Nelson. The Coast Guard, a successor agency to the Revenue Service, dates its participation in oceanographic work from this trip. Captain Hooper, made several attempts to gather information about currents from the Bering Strait (Oceanography in the Coast Guard).
The Corwin in 1885.
The Corwin had left San Francisco on May4 and arrived at Unalaska in the Aleutians on May 17. Thereafter she performed various missions in the Bering Sea and Arctic, arriving at St. Michael in Norton Sound on July 4. She departed St. Michael on July 9 and sailed north and then west along the south side of the Seward Peninsula. She arrived at King Island on the morning of July 12.