The Mayflower had a long history that read a lot like a Frank Sinatra song. It was a pawn and a king, its life went up and down, over and out. By the time it made port in Wilmington, it was on a downswing.
The 273-foot sleek steam ship displaced 2,690 tons and could make 17 knots. It usually had a complement of 171 crew and drew only 13 feet, 2 inches of water.
According to the U.S. Navy, the ship was built in Scotland in 1896 as the yacht Ogden Goelet. The Navy purchased it in 1898 and commissioned it, USS Mayflower.
During this time, according to a Time magazine article, the ship took part in the blockade of Havana, chased three Spanish warships and scored a hit on one with a 5-inch shell. In 1902, the USS Mayflower served as Admiral George Dewey‘s flagship. A year later it helped quench a flare-up in Panama and in 1905 special envoys of Russia and Japan met on board her during their peace conference at Portsmouth, N. H.
That life was short-lived, however, because records indicate it was decommissioned just six years later. The ship was down, but not out.
On July 25, 1905, the Mayflower was recommissioned, this time as a presidential yacht. According to the Time article, Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Harding, Coolidge, Taft and Wilson used the ship for ceremonial purposes. But President Hoover decided the upkeep was too expensive. It was decommissioned yet again in 1929. In 1931 she caught fire and sank at her berth in the Philadelphia Navy Yard. But it was recovered and sold to a private individual. That person then sold it to Broadfoot Iron Works in Wilmington, which would account for its appearance here.
According to Wilbur Jones, local World War II historian, it most likely came to town with very little fanfare.
But the ship wasn’t scrapped at the iron works. It escaped once again, in 1942, this time with the help of the War Shipping Administration under a new name, “Butte.” But the following year it was transferred to the Coast Guard and given the name USCGC Mayflower.
After that it worked as an Arctic seal catcher, as an Aliyah Bet ship under the name “Malla” (under Panamanian registration) and as a merchant ship in Genoa, Italy. Its last duty was carrying Jewish refugees to Haifa, Palestine.
The Ogden Goelet/Mayflower/Butte/Malla was broken up in 1955.
Date posted: January 25, 2011
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