America (1851)

Other Names
later: Camilla
later: Memphis
Vessel Type
Recreational vessel » Yacht
Ship Dates
Launched: May 3 1851
End date: 1945
Vessel Description

America was a 19th-century racing yacht and first winner of the America's Cup international sailing trophy.

On August 22, 1851, America won the Royal Yacht Squadron's 53-mile (85 km) regatta around the Isle of Wight by 18 minutes. The Squadron's "One Hundred Sovereign Cup" or "£100 Cup", mistakenly known in America as the "One Hundred Guinea Cup," was later renamed after the original winning yacht.

A syndicate of New York Yacht Club members, headed by NYYC charter member Commodore John Cox Stevens, with members Edwin A. Stevens, George Schuyler, Hamilton Wilkes, and J. Beekman Finley, would build a yacht to sail to England. The purpose of this visit was twofold: to show off U.S. shipbuilding skill and make money through competing in yachting regattas. Stevens employed the services of the shipyard of William Brown and his chief designer, George Steers.

John Cox Stevens and the syndicate from the New York Yacht Club owned the America from the time she was launched on May 3, 1851 until ten days after she won the regatta that made her famous.

On September 1, 1851, the yacht was sold to John de Blaquiere, 2nd Baron de Blaquiere. In late July 1852, America ran aground at Portsmouth, Hampshire and was damaged. De Blaquiere raced her only a few times before selling her in 1856 to Henry Montagu Upton, 2nd Viscount Templetown, who renamed the yacht Camilla but failed to use or maintain her. In 1858, she was sold to Henry Sotheby Pitcher.

Pitcher, a shipbuilder in Northfleet, Kent, rebuilt Camilla and resold her in 1860 to Henry Edward Decie, who brought her back to the United States. Decie sold the ship to the Confederate States of America the same year for use as a blockade runner in the American Civil War. Decie remained aboard as captain. During this time she may have been renamed Memphis but the details are unclear. In 1862, she was scuttled in Dunns Creek, north of Crescent City, when Union troops took the city of Jacksonville.

She was raised, repaired and renamed America by the Union, and served the United States Navy on the blockade for the remainder of the war. America was armed with three smooth bore bronze cannon designed by John A. Dahlgren and cast at the Washington Navy Yard. A 12-pounder was located on the bow and two 24-pounders were placed amidships. Each 24-pounder weighed 1,300 pounds (590 kg) and had a range of 1,140 yards (1.04 km) at an elevation of four degrees.

Assigned to the federal blockading squadron off Charleston, South Carolina, she was on patrol the night of 19 March 1863, when she spotted the smoke of a blockade runner near Dewees Inlet, South Carolina. She immediately launched colored signal flares to alert the rest of the fleet. The runner proved to be the CSS Georgiana, which was described in contemporary documents as the most powerful Confederate cruiser then afloat. America's action ultimately resulted in the Georgiana's wreck and destruction. Georgiana was undoubtedly the most important vessel to be captured or destroyed by the federal blockade.

After the war, America was used as a training ship at the U. S. Naval Academy. On August 8, 1870, America was entered by the Navy in the America's Cup race at New York Harbor, where she finished fourth.

America remained in the U.S. Navy until 1873, when she was sold to Benjamin Butler for US$5,000. Butler raced and maintained the boat well, commissioning a rebuild by Donald McKay in 1875 and a total refit of the rig in 1885 by Edward Burgess to keep her competitive. Upon Butler's death in 1893, his son Paul inherited the schooner, but had no interest in her, and so gave her to his nephew Butler Ames in 1897. Ames reconditioned America and used her occasionally for racing and casual sailing until 1901, when she fell into disuse and disrepair.

America was sold to a company headed by Charles Foster in 1917, and in 1921 was sold to the America Restoration Fund, who donated her to the U. S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. She was not maintained there either, and by 1940 had become seriously decayed. On March 29, 1942, during a heavy snowstorm, the shed where America was stored collapsed. Three years later, in 1945, the remains of the shed and ship were finally scrapped and burned.

Source: Wikipedia: America (yacht)

Related Archival Item
technical drawings: America (2007.5000.0072)