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By H. G. Weston

Hampton Union

November 26, 1953

A Legend Of A Ship's Anchor

There are anchors and then there are anchors. Winthrop Brown acquired one about five weeks ago, standing now behind the A. W. Brown Plumbing Company [now home of Parsons Electric Co., Inc. in 1999] building at [85] High Street, that undoubtedly belongs in that latter class -- a class denoting something rather special, at least as far as anchors go.

If a person did not know of the history rumored to surround the anchor, as the sea once did, the size alone is sufficient to attract the attention of a passing motorist or stroller. Indeed, a second look is almost mandatory!

Among the anchor family this one is a veritable patriarch, having been cast long before the advent of the patent anchor used by ships today. At the time of manufacture it weighed a ponderous three and a quarter tons. A local school of thought holds that it is the largest anchor ever cast in a single piece. In view of the fact it measures an overall twelve feet in length with an eight-foot span between the flukes, there appears to be an obvious basis for this argument.


On the historical side, legend has it that the anchor once belonged to the battleship New Hampshire that burned and sank a half century ago while being towed from Portsmouth to Boston for scrapping. This, it develops, is erroneous.

Mr. Brown, himself, frankly disclaims any knowledge of the anchor's background. "I only bought it for the novelty," he explains and then adds, "A fellow told me that a new 60-pound anchor today costs about $160 and I got over 6000 pounds of anchor delivered for $170.

He bought it, he says, from the brother of a Hampton man, Lawrence Kershaw, who is a fisherman out of Gloucester. He fouled his nets in it some three months ago while dragging off the coast of that Massachusetts fishing town. Not only did Mr. Kershaw bring up the anchor, but its chain too. This was discarded because decades of immersion in the salt water had fused it into a solid rusted mass. Mr. Brown said a Rhode Island man planned to buy the anchor from Mr. Kershaw, but failed to appear to close the deal, so now it stands in Mr. Brown's backyard, all slicked up with three quarts of black paint and a new wood stock; the original one having been worn away by the sea in years past.

Though completely unintentional, fact and fiction invariably join hands in any discussion of Mr. Brown's novelty.

Two New Hampshires

It should be understood, and some may be unaware of it, that, according to Naval records, there have been two ships in the history of the Navy that bore the New Hampshire name. In any event, neither one ever burned and sank while being towed from Portsmouth to Boston, enroute to the boneyard. Time, like the sea, seems to have worked a somewhat corrosive action on the life of the battleship New Hampshire.

Evidence from The Bureau of Ships would indicate that Mr. Brown's anchor, if it actually is from the New Hampshire, came from a ship that the government began building in 1817 at the Portsmsouth Naval Shipyard. A ship that during the course of its service also bore two other names. Originally called the Alabama, she was not named the New Hampshire until October 1863. As originally planned when constructed she was to be a 74-gun line, wood hull battleship, 196 feet from bow to stern with a displacement weight of 4,150 tons.

Years In The Stock

As a matter-of-fact, the New Hampshire was obsolete as a ship-of-the-line when she belatedly embarked on her career, if a career it can be called, in May of 1864. Apparently the federal government suffered from budget ailments back in those days, too, for once the keel was laid no further work was done on the New Hampshire until the advent of the Civil War when she joined the United States fleet as a store and supply ship under the command of William Reynolds. The firepower of the vessel had been reduced to fifteen guns, none of which it appears were ever used to engage the Southern enemy.

During the Civil War, she plied the coastal waters carrying men and stores to Port Royal, South Carolina and at the close of the war was a member of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron under Rear Admiral Dahlgren.


Under Commodore Inman, the New Hampshire served briefly as a flagship and later returned to Norfolk, Virginia where she was converted into a Receiving Ship, never again to sail under a full commission. From 1876 until 1881, she served as a store ship at Port Royal, later being stationed at Norfolk and Newport. At the latter base the New Hampshire served as flagship for the Apprentice Training Squadron and Receiving Ship for Boys. In 1891, she was towed to New London for similar duty.

In June of 1892, the ship was placed out of commission entirely and turned over to the New York State Naval Militia. In 1901, the New Hampshire received its third name, the Granite State. This was done so that a new ship might bear the New Hampshire name. For almost thirty years the ship belonged to the naval militia until she burned to the water's edge in New York in 1921. The hull was sold to the Mulholland Machinery Corporation, raised and patched up enough to float, but in 1922, while being towed to the Bay of Fundy for scrapping, she again caught fire and sank off Half Way Rock in Massachusetts Bay which is approximately mid way between Boston and Gloucester and in the very general area where the fisherman, Mr. Kershaw, fouled his nets on the anchor that sets in Mr. Brown's backyard now.

The Silver Service

Some local people hold that the New Hampshire was presented with a silver service which is both correct and incorrect in a way. The New Hampshire was presented with such a service, paid for with funds appropriated by this sale, but it was not the New Hampshire that met her ignominious end off Half Way Rock, it was the second ship of that name launched in 1906 that the silver service belonged to that now is in possession of the New Hampshire Historical Society in Concord.

This ship, the BB-25, was considerably more in the image of what one imagines a battleship to be than was the original New Hampshire, formerly the Alabama.

Built at a cost of $3,748,000 in Camden, New Jersey, she was commissioned in March, 1908. Mounting four 12" guns and eight 8" guns of 45 caliber and four 21" torpedo tubes, she was capable of a bit over 18 knots. 456 feet in length, she carried a normal compliment of approximately 1,200 men and for all her seeming imposing might, at least for that naval era, the ship witnessed relatively little action during her life. She was present at Vera Cruz when the city was occupied by American Forces in 1914; during 1915-1916, she sailed with the Atlantic Fleet. In 1917, she was relegated to the reserve force of that fleet, but during the same year was recommissioned and made four trips in 1918-19 bring American troops from Brest, France back to the United States.

New Hampshire Scrapped

In September of 1923, the battleship New Hampshire was declared incapable of further combatant service and two months later, in accordance with the Washington Treaties limiting naval armaments, was sold to a private salvage company to be broken up and scrapped. In February of 1924, the ship was delivered to the purchaser at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and shortly after departed for Baltimore, Maryland. As the Navy does not keep records of vessels once they have been sold, the ultimate fate of the BB-25 is unknown. Presumably she ended her career as just so many tons of scrap iron.

All this historical review of these two United States Navy ships would probably never have come about if Winthrop Brown hadn't been taken with his "novelty." Most novelties can at least be put in the house someplace, not so his. It, for quite obvious reasons, has to be stored in the backyard where all can see it. And if all can see it, there are bound to be questions and that's how this piece got started.

One fact appears to stand out in the story of the vessels. That is, contrary to a local school of thought, neither New Hampshire ever sank while being towed from Portsmouth to Boston. The original ship bearing that name when being towed north to the Bay of Fundy for scrapping, did burn and founder approximately midway between Boston and Gloucester, but it is at all unlikely that in that era of sailing ships, others went to the bottom in the expanse of water between the two ports.

Another local legend has the New Hampshire paid for by subscriptions from citizens of the state. Navy records do not indicate that either vessel was paid for in this manner.

Mr. Brown's father now in his eighties, recalls boarding the New Hampshire (BB-25) when she was berthed in Portsmouth on Navy Day sometime less than fifty years ago. This was the ship that was given the silver service, by the state. It was not the original New Hampshire.

Winthrop Brown admits to being not at all certain whether the anchor ever belonged to the New Hampshire. As he says, he only bought it for the novelty and not for any purported historical value.

The only two things that one can be sure regarding the anchor are: 1. being an anchor it must have come from a ship, and 2. it rested on the bottom of Massachusetts Bay a long, long time before it found its way to Mr. Brown's backyard. He estimates that sea rusted about 500 pounds of iron from the thing before it was brought to the surface.

Mr. Brown is a bit vague about the future of his novelty. "I guess it'll just stay where it is," he says, which seems quite sensible as moving it would present rather a weighty problem.

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