“The New Navy of the United States was launched in the waters of uncertainty.” (New American Navy, Long, 1903)
Following the Civil War, the US Navy rapidly demobilized, and for the next 15 years the fleet was shrinking and becoming technologically obsolete.
A law of 1883 had signaled the end of the old Navy. Repairs were prohibited on wooden warships whenever the cost would exceed 20% of the cost of a new ship of the same size and type. New construction favored steam while still carrying sails. In addition, American ships were to be built of American-made steel. Then, naval shipbuilders were introducing a new policy, new ships.
Bids for the new vessels were opened on July 2, 1883. Eight firms participated in the competition. The proposal of John Roach, whose shipyard was at Chester, Penn., was the lowest, and it was accepted.
The unfortunate financial failure of John Roach in 1885 forced the government to take over and complete the first of the new fleet. (Long, 1903)
“The United States started a squadron of cruisers … the sole purpose of which, sailing under the euphonious title of ‘the Squadron of Evolution,’ will be to demonstrate in a peaceable sort of a way to the rest of the world that the United States Government has a navy, or rather the nucleus of a navy.” (New York Times, November 19, 1889)
The first four vessels of the “New Navy” came to be known as the ABCD Ships because their names began with the first four letters of the alphabet – Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and Dolphin.
They were also known as the “White Squadron” (named for the group’s white-painted hulls.) Later, other ships were added to the growing, modernizing Navy.
Three years later the Squadron was strengthened by the addition of the cruiser Baltimore and the gunboat Vixen and was ordered to prepare for action by Undersecretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt.
There are some Hawaiʻi ties to a couple of the ABCDs – the Atlanta and the Boston.
Named for a city in northwestern Georgia (originally called Terminus and later Marthasville,) the community was renamed Atlanta when it was incorporated as a city in 1847.
The ship was the second to carry the City’s name (the first was a gunboat acquired by the Navy in the autumn of 1858 and later renamed Sumpter.) The new Atlanta was part of the new Navy.
When Queen Kapiʻolani traveled to celebrate the Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in England in 1887, while on a stop in New York, Commodore Bancroft Gherardi invited the Queen to visit the Brooklyn Navy Yard – he wanted to show off some of the new Navy ships.
Queen Kapiʻolani was able to adjust her schedule and visited the facility on her last day in New York. “Seldom has the yard looked so well. The commodore’s residence and the Lyceum building had been profusely decorated by Sailor Douglass with the colors of the two nations.”
“Just before the royal party reached the yard a battalion of marines arrived from the Minnesota. At the same time out came the naval band and discoursed some popular music.”
“The masts, spars and rigging of the Atlanta and Boston were then manned, and Commodore Gherardi and staff in full uniform advanced to the wharf to meet their guests, who were taken on board the Atlanta.” (The Day, May 25, 1887)
“The Atlanta had been just put into commission and her majesty was shown how quickly the great guns could be handled. Close alongside was the Boston, her powerful propeller churning the water incident to the breaking in of her.” (Iron Trade Review May 5, 1898)
In a follow-up thank you note (May 30, 1887) from Henry Alpheus Peirce Carter (who coordinated the Queen’s state visits) to US Secretary of State Thomas Francis Bayard notes, “Her Majesty Queen Kapiʻolani (requests) you to convey to the honorable Secretaries for War and of the Navy, her grateful thanks for the attentions and honor paid her … by Commodore Gherardi and officers of the United States Navy at the navy-yard at Brooklyn, on the occasion of her visit”.
“… Her Majesty was the recipient of the kindest attentions, both public and private, and she desires that her very sincere acknowledgments may be properly conveyed to those officers of the Army and Navy of the United States stationed (there.)” (HAP Carter, May 30, 1887)
A later sight of the Boston was not as pleasant.
It happened in the Islands; Captain Wiltse gave the order … “Sir: You will take possession of the Government building, and the American flag will be hoisted over it at 9 am. Very respectfully, GC Wiltse, Captain US Navy, Commanding USS Boston.”
In accordance with that order, the battalion of the Boston landed at Brewers Wharf, in the city of Honolulu, at 5 pm, January 16, 1893.
After the battalion was formed, they marched first to the United States consulate, where Lieut. Draper, with his company, was detached with orders to proceed to the legation and leave half his command in charge of the orderly sergeant, returning with the remainder to the United States consulate, himself, and remain there as a guard until further orders.
The remainder of the battalion then marched down King Street. In passing the palace the battalion, in column of companies, gave a marching salute, trumpeters sounding four ruffles in honor of the royal standard, which was flying there.
At 2:30 pm the next day, a civilian, armed, reported that a policeman had been shot while attempting to stop a wagonload of ammunition which was being conveyed to the old armory where the civilian forces enrolled by the committee of safety were then assembling, and that a large crowd was collecting on Merchant Street.
The battalion was immediately assembled under arms in the yard in rear of the building to await developments. Until nearly 6 o’clock, the men leading the citizens’ movement had assumed charge of the Government building without opposition of any kind; the civilian companies under arms had marched in and established a line of sentries about the Government building.
The Boston’s battalion was kept in rear of the camp, at their company parades, with arms stacked. About 1 pm, they were notified that a Provisional Government, of which Mr. SB Dole was presiding officer, was in complete possession. A letter from the United States minister recognized it as the de facto government of the Hawaiian Islands, and the battalion was to consider it as such.
On January 19 new quarters were provided for the battalion at the unoccupied house on King street, the property of Mr. CR Bishop. That home was formerly the home of Abner Pākī and his wife Laura Kōnia (Kamehameha III’s niece.) Their child, Bernice Pauahi Pākī and hānai daughter, Liliʻu (later Queen Liliʻuokalani) were raised as sisters. The battalion of the Boston named this former home of the Queen Camp Boston.
A proclamation from Minister Stevens establishing a protectorate over the Hawaiian Islands in the name of the United States, pending negotiations with the Hawaiian Commissioners at Washington, was read.
At 9 am, the United States ensign was hoisted over the building, the battalion and civilian forces presenting arms. The Hawaiian flag, hoisted on the pole in the grounds, received the same salute. (Lots of information from the Report of the Committee on Foreign Relations.)