A Mayflower By Any Other Name

Presidential yacht Mayflower at anchor for the Naval Review, October 1912 Negative # 1984.187.189F

On October 14, 1912 the 318-foot steel hulled Presidential yacht, Mayflower steamed into New York Harbor and dropped anchor in the North River. President Taft was on board for the review of the maritime might of the U.S. Navy – the Naval Review of 1912.

The luxurious steam yacht Mayflower was built for Ogden Goelet in 1896 by G. Thompson of Glasgow, Scotland from the design of G.L. Watson Clydebank, Scotland. Mr. Goelet was one of the largest real estate owners in New York. He had been suffering from poor health for some time and believed that sailing would improve his physical condition. He enjoyed the yacht only briefly and died on board in August of 1897.

The U.S. Navy purchased Mayflower on March 24, 1898. She was refitted in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and immediately sailed to Cuba to join in the blockade of Havana. She remained in Cuban waters until the end of the war.

In 1902 the U.S. Senate had decided that Panama would be the best location for a canal that would link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The U.S. failed to secure an agreement with Colombia for a lease through their territory of Panama. President Roosevelt believed that he could obtain a permanent agreement with an independent Panamanian state. In 1903 Mayflower, flagship of Rear Admiral Joseph Coghlan, with nine other U.S. warships sailed to Panama to assist the Panamanian freedom fighters.

On November 1, 1904 she was converted to a presidential yacht. Mayflower served five presidents. Roosevelt, Taft and Coolidge boarded her frequently for pleasure and pomp and circumstance. Wilson used her to court his second wife and Harding seldom sailed on her.

Teddy Roosevelt ordered her to sail to Long Island in the summer of 1905. He met with delegations from Russia and Japan while she lay at anchor in Oyster Bay. The meeting on Mayflower among representatives of these bellicose nations led to a peace settlement that earned Roosevelt the Noble Peace Prize.

Howard Taft sailed on her to Provincetown for the dedication of the Pilgrim Monument on August 5, 1910. Taft spent a lot of time on board. He had two oversize bathtubs installed so that he could bath while he sailed.

The Vermonter Coolidge sailed most weekends with friends and family to escape the summer heat of Washington.

Herbert Hoover had her decommissioned in 1929 as a cost saving measure. Mayflower was put on the auction block, but there were no takers. She was recommissioned for military use and transferred to the Philadelphia Naval Yard. She caught fire during her overhaul and sank.

She was raised from the mud of the Delaware River and sold to a Wall Street operator, Frank Parish. Mr. Parish had hoped to bring her back to her former glory, but he was forced to abandon the Mayflower when a number of illegal deals of his surfaced.

During the 1930s she worked as a floating dance salon and as South American coastal trader. One owner tried to restore her as a historical relic.

In 1942 she was purchased by the War Shipping Administration and renamed the USS Butte. On September 6, 1943 she was purchased by the US Coast Guard and renamed the USCGS Mayflower. She served as a sub chaser and guardian of the U.S. commercial fleet until the end of the war.

Mayflower was decommissioned on July 1, 1946 and sold to a company that employed her as a sealer off the coast of Greenland. In 1948 she was purchased by Collins Distributors Inc. and registered as the Panamanian ship, Malla. The company sent her to the Mediterranean to haul freight.

One of her last voyages in 1948, she was contracted to sail Jewish refugees to the port of Haifa. The passengers on this clandestine voyage were the same refugees that had been denied entrance to Palestine aboard Exodus. Her further fate is unknown.

Guest post by Anthony Antoniello, Rosenfeld Collection volunteer