ALDEN, James

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Lieut. James Alden, Jr.
U.S. Coast Survey steamer Active
Eastern Cemetery, Portland, Maine


ALDEN, James (1810-1877), naval officer born in Maine, the third of six children born to James Alden (1775-1853) and Elizabeth Tate (1783-1924).

Alden was a member of the Wilkes Expedition, and lieutenant with the U.S. Coast Survey from 1848-1860 who came to Santa Barbara in 1850 aboard Quickstep. Alden was assigned to lead the Hydrographic Party of the U.S. Coast Survey as commander of the U.S.S. Active in 1853. He led the survey team around the Santa Barbara Channel in the spring of 1853, and the resulting Reconnaissance Chart of the western coast from San Francisco to San Diego by Alden was based on geographical positions ascertained by George Davidson. In 1854, Alden hired his artist nephew, James Madison Alden, to come aboard as artist.

Alden was married to Sarah Ann Thompson (1815-1889) on June 7, 1838. James Alden died on February 6, 1877 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. He was 66 years old, and a Rear Admiral of the Navy. Alden left his namesake nephew as his principal heir. He is buried in Eastern Cemetery, Portland, Maine. The destroyer Alden was named after him.


» Alden, J. Appendix No. 18. Report of Lieut. Comm. James Alden, U.S. Navy, assistant in the Coast Survey, to the Superintendent, on the reconnaissance of the Western coast from San Francisco, south, to San Diego, including the Santa Barbara Islands and Channel. Pp. 104-107. In Report of the Superintendent of the Coast Survey, Showing the Progress of that Work during the Year 1852. Robert Armstrong, Public Printer, Washington, 1853.



In the News~

December 1, 1851 [NYT]: “The U.S. surveying propeller Quickstep, Captain Alden, was at Monterey on the 26th October. All well. She was to sail on the 27th for the continuation of the survey of the leeward side.”


January 3, 1852 [NYD]: “The U.S. surveying propeller Quickstep, Captain Alden, U.S.N. commanding, returned to our port at an early hour last evening. She has been as far south as the dividing line between Mexico and the Unites States, and has accurately determined the position of the various islands, rocks, shoals, etc., which interfere with the navigation of the coast…”


November 9, 1852 [NYT]: “The United States survey steamer Active, Lieutenant Alden, which has been in active service for some months, surveying the coast, harbors and inlets between San Francisco and the Columbia, has returned to San Francisco.”


June 16, 1853 [DAC]: “Interesting to navigators. Examination of the shoal near San Clemente and San Nicolas islands. U.S. Surveying Steamer Active, San Francisco, June 15th, 1853. Gents: I enclose herewith for publication Lt. Commanding Stevens’ Report for the Survey of the Shoal or Bank to the southward of San Clemente and San Nicolas islands. This examination proves conclusively that the breakers seen on that spot in 1846, by the U.S. Frigate Constitution, and more recently by the steamers Pacific and Cortes, was nothing more or less than a heavy ‘tide rip.’ I am, respectfully, Your Obd’t Serv’t., James Alden, Lieut. Commanding U.S.N. Assistant U.S.C. Survey.”


August 9, 1856 [SFBulletin]: “U. S. Marine Survey.—Capt. Alden and his assistants, having completed the survey of our harbor and the coast in the immediate vicinity, sailed with the Active, on Monday morning last [28th July], for San Clemente Island. They intend making a thorough survey of the island, and that past of the coast lying between Monterey and San Francisco.”


July 26, 1903 [SFCall]: “… commencing with Captain Alden, who was in command of the survey steamer Active. He and his successor, Captain Richard M. Cuyler, were both men who were fond of society and gay frolics and never lost a chance of having one on board the vessel. Captain Alden had his wife with him and she, making her home on the Active, had many luncheons on board. Cuyler was a bachelor, but that did not prevent his following in his predecessor’s footsteps. He gave frequent parties on the bay and when the Active went anywhere on short trips he always took a jolly crowd with him.”