A local man has researched his links to the American Line.

Julian Porter’s great-great uncle Frederick worked as a Steward on the SS St Paul which sailed between Southampton and New York. 

After winning the contract for conveying the American Mail to Europe, Clement Griscom, the President of the International Navigation Co., the American Line parent company, agreed to transfer their North Atlantic operations to Southampton. 

In return for this concession, White Star Line paid Griscom $20,000 a year for five years and Cunard paid Griscom $10,000 a year for the same period to move out of Liverpool and set up their office at Canute Chambers in Canute Road. It was completed in 1893 as the American Line – previously the Red Star Line – head office. 

This building was later made famous as the offices of White Star Line at the time of the Titanic disaster in 1912, having moved there in 1907. 

At No. 3 Canute Road, almost opposite, is the old United States Line office, now a hairdresser where, in the entrance, is a tiled floor showing their initials.

Canute Chambers.

Canute Chambers.

Griscom, agreed contracts for the construction of St Louis and her sister ship St Paul, with William Cramp and Sons of Philadelphia. Part of the cost for their construction was bourne by the American Government in exchange for use of the ships in the event of war. 

Griscom wanted to crew these ships with non-US labour at a much-reduced rate. The American seamen’s unions didn’t take too kindly to this and Griscom had to agree to 100% US crew on the SS St Louis. When it came to the SS St Paul, however, he got his way leading to Julian’s Great Great Uncle Frederick, a resident of the then fairly newly built-up area of Shirley, became a Steward aboard St Paul. 

On April 13, 1898, approximately two months after the destruction of the US Battleship “Maine ‘’ in Havana Harbour, and only 12 days before the United States declared war with Spain, the US Navy formally requisitioned St Paul and St Louis.

The St Paul, nearing New York on her normal transatlantic run from Southampton was converted to wartime use. The command of St Paul was given to Captain Charles D. Sigbee, who had commanded the battleship “Maine” on her ill-fated visit to Havana. 

Most of the crew of St Paul were English and many were probably from Southampton. Any that wished to stay on board were drafted into the US Navy, including Fredrick, who ended up being Captain Charles D Sigbee’s personal Steward.

St Paul at sea.

St Paul at sea.

St Paul blockaded the port of Santiago de Cuba for some 6 weeks and after a trip to New York to re-supply and coal, returned to the fray carrying ammunition and rations to the American marines and Cuban insurgents fighting at Guantanamo.

By October 1898, the conflict with Spain was over and St Paul was returned to passenger use.

Later, all the English crew who had served on her were given US Navy war medals. The Navy version of the Spanish Campaign Medal was created on June 27, 1908. It was issued to any man of either the Navy or Marine Corps who had served between April 21 and August 16, 1898. The crews of 47 ships were eligible for the medal.

The ribbon was later changed from red and yellow to blue and yellow in order not to offend the colours of Spain. These were some of the earliest American Navy medals.

Campaign medals.

Campaign medals.

Later, in 1926, Julian’s great-great uncle Fredrick used his US Navy credentials to become an American citizen with his wife and daughters. A son is buried in Southampton Old Cemetery.

If you or your family have a set of these early American Navy Medals, feel free to get in contact with the Echo by emailing ian.crump@dailyecho.co.uk .

Martin Brisland is a tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk .