About the time of the start of the Civil War in 1861, the Navy Department purchased a sailing vessel and named it the USS Newburyport. It was the Navy’s intention to use the boat as a supply ship.
Soon after its acquisition it was discovered that there were serious defects in the hull that rendered the ship unfit for naval duty. As a result of the problem, the ship was assigned to the Navy’s Stone Fleet. The fleet consisted at the time of about 20 older ships and like the Newburyport no longer safe for sea duty. The ships of the fleet were loaded with stone and towed to a point near the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, S.C., where they were scuttled one after another to form a blockade of the harbor. This action did hamper enemy naval operations there during the war.
The second USS Newburyport was built during World War I at the L.H. Shattuck shipyard in Newington, N.H. It was a 274-foot steamer. It was designed as a cargo carrier and with a crew of 56 was intended to transport supplies to the troops serving in Europe.
The ship was christened on Aug. 15, 1919, by Mrs. David P. Page, wife of then Newburyport Mayor David P. Page. Many Newburyport men, including my grandfather, were employed in the ship’s building and many of their family members attended the christening ceremonies.
However, because the war had ended several months before this, the Newburyport was no longer needed by the Navy and never placed into active service and eventually ordered to be demolished. So much for the life of the second ship named in honor of the Clipper City.
In 1996 then Mayor George H. Lawler petitioned the Coast Guard to have a new cutter then under construction named the “City of Newburyport.” Locally it was felt that the city’s close ties to the Coast Guard, including the fact of its being the Coast Guard’s birthplace, would be a favorable factor resulting in positive action on Mayor Lawler’s request.
However, the mayor was eventually informed by Vice Adm. W.D. Shields that names of cities was not one of the categories from which names were used to name its ships.
Then in 1972 state Rep. George E. Twomey endeavored to have the Coast Guard name a new 400-foot icebreaker under construction in Seattle, Wash., after the City of Newburyport. Twomey’s efforts led to strong support from Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and Edward W. Brooke, U.S. Secretary of Transportation John Volpe and Congressman Michael J. Harrington and many others.
It was pointed out that the Coast Guard had other icebreakers with geographical names such as the Staten Island and the Burton Island and that naming the new ship after Newburyprt would be in line with past practices.
After about six months of the usual political wrangling back and forth, Twomey was notified by Adm. Chester R. Bender that despite the Coast Guard’s close historical relationship with the home of its birthplace, the new icebreaker was to be named the Polar Star.
Makes one wonder if after 40 years one more try might be worth the effort.
Joe Callahan is a former fire chief of Salisbury who is interested in historical accounts of the area.