After nearly two decades of searching, the U. S. Coast Guard, NOAA, and their partners announced recently they have found the final resting place of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear. Widely considered one of the most historically significant ships in American history, the 190-foot steam and sail-powered Bear was custom-built in the Dundee, Scotland shipyards in 1874, and she spent her first ten years as part of the commercial sealing fleet off Newfoundland.
In an article on the NOAA website, Brad Barr, the Bear Mission Coordinator for the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Maritime Heritage Program, notes, “In the entire maritime history of the United States, few ships have been so routinely identified as “iconic” and “legendary,” and none more historically significant than U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear. Largely associated with polar exploration, and particularly its Arctic service, the ship’s history is a series of compelling stories of bravery in the face of peril, dedication to duty, and legendary exploits.”
The venerable Bear spent forty years patrolling the Arctic, performing numerous search and rescue missions; enforcing laws, including the arrest and seizure of the possessions of poachers, smugglers, and illegal traders. She recorded geological and astronomical information; conducted censuses of both people and ships; and escorted cargo and whaling ships through the treacherous ice-filled waters of the north as a forerunner of modern icebreakers. The Bear served as a floating courthouse and hospital, and assisted with relief efforts after the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
The Bear went to Antarctica with the second expedition of Admiral Richard E. Byrd, and went south again in 1941 to evacuate Americans at the beginning of World War II. She later served in patrol duty for the U. S. Navy off the coast of Greenland, and starred as a sealer in the 1930 film version of Jack London's The Sea-Wolf.
A new book from Northern Light Media—with an image taken aboard the Bear on its cover—details some of the most significant years of the ship’s service as recorded by the ship’s physician, Dr. James Taylor White. Dr. White served aboard the Bear during the 1889 and 1894 seasons, and his journals and personal correspondence provide a first-hand look at life aboard the revenue cutter. Extensive annotations and commentary by author and historian Gary C. Stein provide valuable context and perspective on this important era in Alaska’s history.
“I Wish You Could Come Too,” The Alaska Diaries of Dr. James Taylor White, 1889, 1890, 1894, 1900-1901, by Gary Stein, Ph.D. $29.95 plus $6.00 shipping. 412 pages, over 45 photographs, images, and maps. 6″ x 9″ b/w format, extensively annotated, bibliography, indexed. Available now at Northern Light Media.