(Practice Ship: displacement 839; length 189'5"; beam 32'0"; draft 12'11"; speed 14.37 knots; complement 130; armament 4 4", 2 6 pounders, 2 3 pounders, 1 1 pounder, 1 37 millimeter Hotchkiss revolving cannon, 1 Gatling gun)
The first Bancroft, a gunboat, was laid down in 1891 at Elizabethport, N.J., by Moore & Sons; launched on 30 April 1892; sponsored by Miss Mary Frances Moore; and commissioned at the New York Navy Yard on 3 March 1893, Lt. Comdr. Asa Walker in command.
Fittingly, Bancroft was first assigned to the Naval Academy as a practice ship for the naval cadets (as the students at the academy were then called) and was based at Annapolis, Md., for the next three years. Each summer, she made cruises along the eastern seaboard with cadets embarked for training. During the summer of 1896, the gunboat was reassigned to the European Squadron. She sailed from New York on 15 September 1896 and, after stops at Fayal in the Azores and at Gibraltar, arrived at Smyrna, Turkey, on 15 October. For the next 15 months, the warship cruised the waters of the eastern Mediterranean visiting numerous ports of the Ottoman Empire and, later, of Greece as well. Initially, those port calls were selected in response to civil disorders perpetrated by Ottoman Moslems against Christian Armenians, many of whom attended schools sponsored and administered by American missionaries. Bancroft and other ships assigned to the European Squadron provided a naval presence which protected Americans resident in the Ottoman Empire. Later, when hostilities broke out between Greece and the Ottoman Empire, Greek ports were added to the gunboat's itinerary for similar purposes during the summer of 1897.
Bancroft departed the Mediterranean area on 12 February 1898. After stops in the Azores and at Bermuda, the warship arrived in Boston, Mass., on 4 April. While she underwent voyage repairs at Boston, Congress passed a joint resolution recognizing that a state of war existed between the United States and the Kingdom of Spain. Bancroft stood out of Boston on 30 April and, after a two-day stop at Norfolk, Va., arrived at Key West, Fla., on 9 May. For a little more than a month, she made voyages between Key West and Tampa, Fla. On 14 June, the gunboat departed Key West to join the escort of the Cuban expeditionary force that she helped to conduct to the disembarkation point near Santiago. The warship arrived there on 20 June but, on the 21st, headed for Altares, Cuba.
For the remainder of the war, Bancroft served on the blockade at various locations around the island. On 28 July, she was off the southern coast of the Pinar del Rio province (far western Cuba) when she sighted a small schooner in the bay named Ensenada de Cortez. She dispatched her steam launch with an armed crew, and they captured the vessel along with six prisoners of war. The next day, however, she restored the essentially valueless prize to her owner.
She remained in the waters between the Isle of Pines and the southern coast of Pinar del Rio into the second week in August. By that time, hostilities in Cuba had all but ceased, those in Puerto Rico were nearing conclusion, and the armistice was just around the corner. On 9 August, she departed Cuban waters to return to Key West where she arrived two days later. After almost one week at Key West, the gunboat once more headed north. Bancroft made stops of varying duration at Charleston, S.C.; Hampton Roads, Va.; and Provincetown, Mass., before reaching Boston on 2 September where she was placed out of commission on 30 September 1898.
On 6 October 1902, Bancroft was recommissioned, Lt. Comdr. Abraham E. Culver in command. She departed Boston on the 26th and, three days later, arrived in Hampton Roads, Va. After one week in the Norfolk Hampton Roads area, she put to sea for the West Indies and Gulf of Mexico region. For almost one year, Bancroft patrolled the Caribbean and the gulf littoral, keeping an eye on American interests in that portion of Latin America. When United States' efforts to purchase a strip of land in the Colombian province of Panama failed late in 1903, disaffected Panamanians saw an opportunity to seek independence. Those elements rose in revolt against the government in Bogotá on 3 November 1903, and the United States granted the new regime full diplomatic recognition 10 days later. On the 18th, the new republic granted the United States the rights to a transisthmian canal. Bancroft patrolled the isthmian coast between Porto Bello and Colon from 6 December 1903 to 28 February 1904, before resuming her former duties in the West Indies. She patrolled the West Indies throughout the remainder of 1904 and into 1905. On 29 January 1905, she departed San Juan, P.R., and steamed north. The warship remained at New York from 8 to 22 February, putting to sea for Norfolk on the latter day. Bancroft arrived in Norfolk on 24 February. She was placed out of commission there on 2 March 1905.
The gunboat remained inactive at Norfolk until 9 July 1906 at which time she was transferred to the Revenue Cutter Service (one of the organizations later amalgamated into the United States Coast Guard) at Arundel Cove, Md. Renamed Itasca on 23 July 1906, she spent almost a year at the depot at Arundel Cove before being placed in commission on 17 July 1907. Between early summer 1907 and early fall 1911, Itasca made five summer cruises to European waters, probably as a school ship for Revenue Cutter Service cadets. When not so engaged, she operated in American waters enforcing maritime and tariff laws. After her return to the United States from her fifth European cruise on 13 September 1911, she confined her operations to the Atlantic seaboard with occasional voyages to the West Indies.
When war broke out in Europe on 1 August 1914, she added another duty enforcement of American neutrality to her list of chores. For the next 32 months, she sailed the waters along the east coast and the West Indies, enforcing maritime and tariff law and attempting to keep the European war from spreading to the western hemisphere. During that time, the Revenue Cutter Service was merged with the Lighthouse Service and the Lifesaving Service to form the United States Coast Guard.
On 6 April 1917, when the United States joined the Allied Powers in the war against the Central Powers, Itasca again came under Navy jurisdiction along with the rest of the Coast Guard. Throughout the remainder of the war, she performed substantially the same duties that she had in peacetime. The major differences were that her sphere of operations was limited—first, to the 3d Naval District and, after 22 March 1918, to the 4th Naval District—and that antisubmarine patrols were added to her operations. There is, however, nothing to indicate that she ever came in contact with any of the very few German U boats that made it across the Atlantic during World War I.
On 28 August 1919, the Treasury Department resumed jurisdiction over the Coast Guard, and Itasca concluded her second and last tour of duty with the Navy. She then resumed her former duties. During the summer of 1920, she made a final voyage to Europe and back, returning to New London on 3 October. On the 31st, she arrived at the Coast Guard Depot at Arundel Cove, Md., where she was apparently laid up until sold on ll May 1922 to Mr. Charles A. Jarding, of Baltimore, Md.