New Hampshire and the Civil war Navy. The Strange Legacy of the Name of the Kearsarge (Extracted from The Pride Of Portsmouth by William Marvel, NHHS Spring/Summer 1986)
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The Strange Legacy of the Name of the Kearsarge
(Extracted from The Pride Of Portsmouth by William Marvel, NHHS Spring/Summer 1986)
At the start of the war the Navy Department had determined to christen new vessels with names that were exclusively American; hence a number of Indian names began to appear.
Administration officials and theirs wives were invited to submit names. Mrs. Gideon Welles proposed the Junita after the river along which she was born.
Secretary of the Navy
Mrs Gustavus Fox, a daughter of a New Hampshire Senator wished to name a ship the Kearsarge after the 3268 Mt just North of Conway, where she has summered.
For fourteen years there was no question until along comes Henry McFarland, wrote a letter to Gideon Welles claiming he had suggested the name to Gideon Welles and it was the Mt. Kearsarge in Warner.
The Reverend Nathaniel Boutin, President of the New Hampshire Historical Society and an advocate of the Warner Mountain of the same name enlisted the aid of several legislators to officially rename the Carroll County mountain, Mt. Pequawket.
In a moment of high drama reminiscent of a movie Boutin was addressing the legislature on the subject that it was not Mrs. Fox who had named the ship when he was interrupted by Albert Hatch who produced from his pocket a letter written by Gideon Welles in which he defended Mrs. Fox claim that since she was a New Hampshire native and was aware that there were two mountains of the same name she surely knew which mountain she was referring to.
Gustavus Vasa Fox
Under Secretary of the Navy
Gustavus Fox did more by finding even more evidence to support his wife’s claim so that on April 11, 1877 he presented the information to the Appalachian Mountain Club that confirmed there were indeed two mountains of the same name.
The Reverend Boutin was irate and formed a committee that included Fox but was stacked with Boutin’s cronies.
Not too surprisingly the conclusion of the committee was that the ship was named after the Warner Mountain.
To rub salt in the wounds Henry McFarland reemerged to claim that Fox was guilty of fraud in misrepresenting the Conway Mountain.
The controversy subsided only to emerge again in 1915 when the US Senate investigated on behalf of the United States Geographic Board. By this time Welles was dead as was Fox.
Part of the testimony was a letter from Reverend Gilmore, son of the Civil War Governor who said that his father had been asked to submit a list of names to the Navy Department and on that list was the Mt Kearsarge in Warner that Gilmore could see from his home in Pennacook. No one thought to question the validity of this since Gilmore did not take office until two years after the Kearsarge was launched.
Throughout it all the Navy has been unaware
of the major controversy that went on for several decades
down to the present day and it officially recognizes the
Mountain in Warner as the one for which the ship was named.