History: Sea Language washes ashore or Why beat the rush?

The term “beat the rush” has become lexicon as millions of Americans plan to get up early enough to avoid their fellow traveler on a road trip. As summer approaches, beating the rush is sometimes the difference between a successful or failed long weekend at the beach. But, have you ever stopped to think about where the phrase “beat the rush” came from?

This month’s history post comes to us from Dr. David Rosen, the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area historian and tells the story of the Revenue Cutter Richard Rush. The Rush was a late 19th century scourge on poachers in the Bering Sea looking to illegally harvest seals off the coast of the new American territory of Alaska. Failure to “Beat the Rush” had a whole different set of consequences for these men.


Post written by Dave Rosen, Ph.D., historian, Pacific Area.

In 1867 the Senate approved the purchase of Alaska from Tsarist Russia, due largely to the efforts of Secretary of State Seward at a cost of $7 million. “Walrussia” or “Seward’s Folly” were the initial nicknames for the territory. The Revenue Cutter Service was tasked with law enforcement in Alaska.

The primary mission of the USRCS in the Bering Sea was to protect the seal herds for the Treasury Department to obtain money from the harvesting of their pelts. Until the discovery of gold in Alaska, the tax on the harvesting of seals was the largest money maker from acquiring the territory of Alaska.

Two different cutters named Richard Rush worked as part of the Bering Sea Patrol, named after the Treasury Secretary who served 1825-29. The Rush boasted such legendary figures as then First Lieutenant “Hell Roaring’ Mike Healy as Commander in 1881 and then 2nd Lieutenant John Cantwell as navigator in 1890. “Get there early to avoid the Rush!” became the motto of the poachers who aimed to hunt before the cutter arrived on the scene. The second Rush is shown below.

Information for this post came from the following sources:
Donald Canney, U.S. Coast Guard and Revenue Cutters, 1790-1935.
Dennis Noble, Alaska and the U.S. Revnue Cutter Service, 1875-1915

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

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