Levi Woodbury—born in Francestown, N.H., on 22 December 1789—graduated from Dartmouth College at Hanover, N.H., in 1809. He studied law in offices in Litchfield, Conn.; Boston, Mass.; and Exeter, N.H., before being admitted to the New Hampshire bar in 1812. He practiced law in Francestown until 1816 when he received an appointment to the New Hampshire bench as judge of the superior court. In 1819, while still a New Hampshire judge, he moved his residence to Portsmouth. In 1822, he gave up his judgeship in a successful bid for the governorship of New Hampshire in which office he served until 1824. After a term in the lower house of the state legislature, he was elected to the United States Senate for the term beginninng on 4 March 1825.
At the conuclusion of that term in 1831, he declined a nomination to the New Hampshire state senate to remain active in national politics. In May 1831, Wood-bury accepted the post of Secretary of the Navy in President Andrew Jackson's cabinet. Well suited to the office by virtue of service on the Senate naval committee, Woodbury revised the rules of conduct and procedure within the nation's naval establishment. Woodbury held his office as Secretary of the Navy until 30 June 1834 at which time he assumed the duties of the Secretary of the Treasury. In that role, he opposed the rechartering of the United States Bank and supported Jackson's fiscal policy. He liked the independent treasury and hard currency and warned against the danger of inflation in 1836. During the Panic of 1837, he devised a scheme whereby those who held Federal obligations suffered no loss as a result of the depreciated paper currency.
When the new administration assumed the reins of power, Woodbury gave up his duties as Secretary of the Treasury. Again declining a proffered state office— that of Chief Justice of the superior court of New Hampshire—in favor of national political office, he won another term in the United States Senate. Woodbury took his seat in the Senate on 4 March 1841 and served until 20 November 1845 at which time he resigned to accept a seat on the United States Supreme Court vacated by the death of Joseph Story. He served on the Supreme Court until his death at Portsmouth, N.H., on 4 September 1851.
(Sch: t. 115; a. 4 12-pdrs., 1 6-pdr.)
The first Woodbury—a schooner-rigged revenue cutter sometimes referred to as Levi Woodbury—was authorized on 8 November 1826. Exactly a week later, Capt. H. D. Hunter, of the United States Revenue Cutter Service, was designated to superintend construction of the vessel. Referred to as Woodbury on 7 February 1837, the revenue cutter was launched on 27 March 1837 at Baltimore, Md., by L. H. Duncan, shipbuilder.
When ready for sea, Woodbury proceeded southward to New Orleans, slated to relieve the revenue cutter Campbell at that port, and arrived at her destination on 21 June. Little is recorded of the vessel's activities in 1837; but records indicate that, as of 28 March 1838, Woodbury was operating in the Gulf of Mexico in cooperation with the United States Navy, protecting American commerce from the Mexican privateers.
During the state of emergency incident to tension between Mexico and the United States, Woodbury was placed under naval control. Her orders, from the Collector of Customs at New Orleans to her commanding officer, were specific: "You will proceed to sea forthwith, taking your cruising ground from Chandalier Islands to the mouth of the Sabine River, and in the event of any vessel sailing under our flag, being in your presence unlawfully attacked, by an armed force, you will render such aid and protection as may be in your power."
At the time Woodbury was dispatched to Mexican waters, France and Mexico were engaged in the brief "Pastry War" over alleged mistreatment of French nationals by the Mexican government. In the summer of 1838, the French had established a blockade off the key seaport of Veracruz, Mexico, and retained it there into the autumn. Woodbury was brought-to off Veracruz by a French warship and collided with her; the French graciously allowed Woodbury to proceed to Veracruz for repairs. Apparently detained in port by the French admiral, Woodbury witnessed the French bombardment of the fortress at San Juan de Ulua that compelled its surrender on 28 November. The following day, with the French apparently in command of the situation at Veracruz, Woodbury sailed for New Orleans.
Records of what the ship did next are sketchy, but indicate that she may have proceeded to Savannah, Ga., for repairs soon thereafter. She later moved to Belize, Honduras, where she apparently operated under naval orders before returning to Florida. Records show that she was in Pensacola Bay, Fla., in early June of 1839. Ordered to Baltimore for repairs, Woodbury arrived there on 26 August 1839.
Returning to the Gulf of Mexico, Woodbury sailed for New Orleans on 23 September, following her refit at Baltimore. She probably remained in the gulf into mid-1841 before again returning to Baltimore in July of that year for repairs.
Woodbury conveyed bearers of dispatches to Veracruz and back in April and December of 1842 and, in May of 1844, was dispatched to Veracruz to receive and carry to New Orleans the fourth installment of the indemnity fund established by the arbitration board as a result of the claims convention between Mexico and the United States in 1839.
However, war between Mexico and the United States over the question of Texas' annexation was only a matter of time, and Woodbury participated in the conflict in a vital support role. During the tense period preceding hostilities, the revenue cutter served as a dispatch boat in the Gulf of Mexico, touching at Corpus Christi and Galveston, Tex., and ranging as far as the mouth of the Mississippi.
On 2 March 1846, Woodbury, commanded by Capt. Winslow Foster, arrived at Aransas Pass, Tex., to support General Zachary Taylor's move southward. Taylor had moved into Texas, basing at Corpus Christi, in July of 1845. Meanwhile, tensions between the United States and Mexico had increased markedly; and Taylor was planning to move to the Rio Grande. He advanced prior to his receiving promised naval support and was forced to use what forces he had at hand.
Woodbury's arrival was timed perfectly. Capt. Foster promptly placed his ship at Taylor's disposal—something later praised by the general in subsequent dispatches—and the revenue cutter convoyed the transports bearing Taylor's troops to Point Isabel, just north of the mouth of the Rio Grande. Taylor's army soon moved into an encampment across from Mata-moros; and Woodbury, her task completed, sailed for Galveston. Taylor later conveyed his gratitude to Capt. Foster on 26 March, expressing his "thanks for the handsome manner in which you have extended your assistance and that of your vessel to the operations of the Army. . . ."
Although that service had been rendered independent of the Navy, Woodbury later received orders directing her to cooperate with both services—Army and Navy— that spring. The revenue cutter returned to New Orleans and thence sailed back to the mouth of the Rio Grande. There, on 12 June, the ship was given orders to "remain off the Rio Grande or Brazos Santiago and assist the naval vessel or vessels on the station in covering the depot (established by Taylor there) and the public stores. It is expected you will without waiting for orders, cooperate with the naval force when necessary."
Sailing from Brazos Santiago on 25 June 1846, Woodbury arrived at Belize on 6 July. On 8 July, although regarded as "entirely unfit for duty and un-seaworthy," Woodbury was ordered to report to General Taylor or Commodore David F. Stockton. However, those orders were changed the following day, when she was sent to New York for repairs. Accordingly, the revenue cutter sailed on the 11th and arrived at Brazos Santiago on the 21st.
Five days later, while Woodbury lay at that port, troops on board the transport Middlesex mutinied. Lt. McClane, of Woodbury, accordingly went on board the transport, restored order, and landed the troops before returning to the cutter.
Woodbury later sailed to Belize in early August and, "after a tedious passage of 18 days," reached the Staten Island Quarantine Ground on 7 September. Later apparently seen to be unfit for further service, Wood-bury was slated to be dismantled by orders dated 14 September 1846. She was sold on 1 June 1847 and subsequently was broken up.