In the 1870's Halibut Point's pastures made up part of the Babson Farm. On its eastern flank most of the land stretching to Pigeon Cove had been acquired by The Oil King of Swampscott, Eben Phillips, who recognized that coastal land values would skyrocket once the Eastern Railroad connected Rockport to Boston. One of Eben Phillips' passions was his racing schooner Fearless.
To the west of Halibut Point considerable acreage of Lanesville and Bay View had come under the control of the Cape Ann Granite Company, founded by Benjamin Butler. Garrulous Butler met taciturn Phillips in his first racing test for America, on July 24, 1875, fourteen miles north of Halibut Point off the Isles of Shoals, in a regatta promoted by the proprietor of the Isles' Oceanic Hotel. America bettered Fearless in elapsed time on the course but the judges favored Fearless in corrected time.1 Butler touted his yacht's ascendancy. Phillips, characteristically, left no recorded words. Intriguingly, no photographs seem to exist of either man aboard his yacht.
|Author Harriet (Stevens) Robey, third from left, in 1903|
|Harriet Robey's reflections on Great-Grandfather Butler|
Gloucester historian Joe Garland noted how Butler's wartime relationships (both North and South) enabled his acquisition of America in 1873:4
"The fast deal that brought Ben Butler his greatest joy brought him the glory-covered old first-time captor of the America's Cup....Butler had won the claim of Gazaway Bugg Lamar, a Georgia banker turned blockade runner, for compensation for cotton condemned during the war. His grateful client apparently contended or offered to contend that he owned another property seized but never properly condemned, the famous schooner America....Rumors that Lamar might press his claim to America evidently scared rival bidders away, and she was quietly if not secretively knocked off for $5,000 to a straw for Butler and Jonas French."
"Navy Secretary George M. Robeson, a Butler crony subsequently investigated by Congress on charges of extravagance and corruption, posted her for auction over the hot objections of naval officers who had learned their ropes on her as midshipmen."
Ben Butler enjoyed twenty exhilarating years as master of America, investing faithfully in her upkeep and modernizations. He bequeathed the yacht to his only daughter, Blanche, and her husband, General Adelbert Ames.
|The wedding of Blanche Butler and General Adelbert Ames, 18702|
"Ames was a West Point graduate, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in the First Battle of Bull Run. In Virginia he served under his future father-in-law, the citizen major general who at every opportunity had made a point of scorning Pointers since he was politically passed over for admission as a boy. Ames rose to general, commanded a military department in the South after the war and was appointed to the Senate from Mississippi in 1871 at a time when Congressman Butler enjoyed great influence with President Grant. In 1874 he was elected governor of the former slave state. At the head of a corrupt carpet-bagger government and caught up in the forces that were tearing Reconstruction apart, Governor Ames was impeached by the white-liners when they regained control of the Mississippi legislature. Butler got a smart ex-Confederate lawyer to defend his son-in-law, and the charges were withdrawn in exchange for his resignation."
Harriet Robey's Grandfather
Ames in 1932, aged 97, |
with his friend John D. Rockefeller, aged 93
|America as skippered by Adelbert Ames and his son, Butler Ames5|
|Charles Francis Adams conveying title of America to the U. S. Navy, 1921|
America returned to Annapolis in a museum status for the next twenty years. Wartime priorities prevented the Navy from investing in a restoration proposal by President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1942 she was crushed beyond repair when heavy snowfall collapsed the roof of her storage shed.
Model of America by Erik Ronnberg, 2003|
Presented to the Cape Ann Museum by the descendants of Benjamin Butler
1. Winfield M. Thompson, William P. Stephens, and William U. Swan, The Yacht "America", 1925.
2. Harriet Robey, Bay View, 1979.
3. Peter Andreas, Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America, 2013. Courtesy of Lise Breen.
4. Joseph E. Garland, Boston's North Shore, 1978.
5. Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company collection.