A Visit to USS Trenton, circa 1886

The first warship to carry the name of the New Jersey capital city famous for a Christmas-time visit from General Washington was a 3,800-ton steam frigate commissioned on 14 February 1877, armed with 11 8-inch guns and a pair of 20-pounders. She would spend her first three years on European Station, ranging from Alexandria, Egypt to Copenhagen, Denmark.

The below images, letterpress reproductions of photographs by Mr. E.H. Hart, 1162 Broadway, New York City, were published by the Photo-Gravure Company of New York, circa 1886, and capture USS Trenton at her peak, highlighting the frigate’s state-of-the-art weaponry.

USS Trenton explosion of a spar torpedo deployed from the ship’s starboard side, during exercises in a U.S. east coast harbor, 6 September 1886. NH 42103

USS Trenton: Explosion of a spar torpedo carried by the ship’s steam launch, during exercises in a U.S. east coast harbor, 6 September 1886 U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 42104

Ship’s Marines on the spar deck, 1886. They are armed with trap-door Springfield rifles, with fixed bayonets, and still have Civil War-style kepis. The view looks forward on the starboard side, from abaft the mainmast. NH 60756

USS Trenton sailors of the ship’s port watch pose on the spar deck amidships, with the landing force’s artillery piece and two cats, 1886. The view looks forward on the port side, from abaft the mainmast. NH 42107

USS Trenton ship’s apprentices pose with Colt revolvers, cutlasses, and a Gatling gun, 1886. The view looks forward on the spar deck, from abaft the mainmast on the starboard side. Note the steam launch on its davits, in the left-center background. NH 42108

The photos were taken at the conclusion of Trenton’s three-year West Pac tour cruise, which she completed after a term in ordinary following her return from Europe in 1881.


Reactivated on 18 September 1883, Trenton departed New York in November for duty on the Asiatic Station. Steaming via the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, Ceylon, and Singapore, she arrived at Hong Kong on 1 May 1884 to begin two years of cruising in the Far East. She visited ports in China, Korea, and Japan, carrying out various diplomatic missions. On occasion, Trenton sent landing parties ashore in China and Korea to protect American nationals and other foreigners during periods of internal unrest. The warship completed this tour of duty in the spring of 1886; departed Yokohama, Japan, on 9 May; retraced her voyage back across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea, and across the Atlantic to reach Hampton Roads on 2 September. She entered the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Va., on 9 September and was decommissioned for repairs on the 17th.

Trenton would again head for the Pacific in May 1887 but only make it as far as Samoa, which the warship reached on 10 March 1889 and joined other units of the Pacific Squadron.

“Six days later, while still at anchor in Apia harbor, Trenton was wrecked by a hurricane. Before abandoning ship, however, her crew assisted in the rescue of Vandalia’s ship’s company. Trenton was declared a total loss, and her name was stricken from the Navy list on 13 April 1891,” notes DANFS.

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