It seems entirely fitting that the first ship in the first navy of the new country, be called after that country. Hense the USS United States was launched on May 10, 1797. USS United States was a wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate of the United States Navy. It was the first of the six original frigates authorized for construction by the Naval Act of 1794. As they were preparing to build the ship, they asked that names be submitted for consideration, and the name “United States” was among the ten such names submitted to President George Washington by Secretary of War Timothy Pickering in March of 1795 for the frigates that were to be constructed. The frigates were designed by Joshua Humphreys to be the young Navy’s capital ships. They would need to be an example of greatness, and so USS United States and her sisters were larger and more heavily armed and built stronger than standard frigates of the period. USS United States ordered on March 27, 1794, built at Humphrey’s shipyard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and launched on May 10, 1797. The USS United States immediately began duties with the newly formed United States Navy protecting American merchant shipping during the Quasi-War with France.
“Joshua Humphreys’ design was deep, long on keel and narrow of beam (width) for mounting very heavy guns. The design incorporated a diagonal scantling (rib) scheme to limit hogging while giving the ships extremely heavy planking. This gave the hull greater strength than those of more lightly built frigates. Humphreys developed his design after realizing that the fledgling United States could not match the navy sizes of the European states. He therefore designed his frigates to be able to overpower other frigates, but with the speed to escape from a ship of the line.”
Of course, as with any naval ship, there is always the possibility of capture, sinking, or destruction. In 1861, while the USS United States was in port at Norfolk, the Virginia Navy of the Confederacy managed to seize the ship. It was really one of the most hideous acts, if you ask me, for a ship named after this great United States to be stolen by the very group who was trying to tear this nation apart, is a heinous crime. Upon her capture, USS United States was subsequently commissioned into the Confederate navy as CSS United States…which is in itself a contradiction of terms. She was later scuttled by the Confederate forces. After retaking Norfolk, Virginia, the US Navy raised USS United States, but the aged and damaged ship was not able to be returned to service. USS United States was instead held at the Norfolk Navy Yard until she was broken up in December 1865. It was such sad ending for a great ship.
I think most of us have heard of the Barbary Coast at some point. The coast was named for its Berber inhabitants, but it was the trouble that occurred there that has made it a name to remember. The Barbary pirates, who were sometimes called Barbary corsairs or Ottoman corsairs, were pirates and privateers who operated from North Africa, mostly near the ports of Salé, Rabat, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, which is now the area known as the Barbary Coast. In addition to seizing ships, they engaged in Razzias, raids on European coastal towns and villages, mainly in Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, but also in the British Isles, the Netherlands and as far away as Iceland. Their main goal was to capture Christian slaves for the Ottoman slave trade, as well as the general Arabic market in North Africa and the Middle East. The pirates captured thousands of ships and repeatedly raided coastal towns.
In order to combat the Barbary pirates, the United States Navy built the USS Constitution, which was a 44 gun frigate. It was first launched on this day, October 21, 1797, from Boston Harbor. The USS Constitution performed well fighting off pirates in the area, and in 1805, a peace treaty was signed on her deck. When the conflict was over, the ship returned and to its base in Boston. I’m sure the pirates knew full well, that it would return if needed. The ship didn’t have to go back and flex it’s muscle again…at least not there.
During the War of 1812, the USS Constitution won its nickname, Old Ironsides, after defeating the British warship, Guerriére in a furious battle off the coast of Nova Scotia. It was said that the British shots just bounced off the sides of the USS Constitution, as if they were made of iron, rather than wood, The Guerriére was thought to be invincible, but that was proven to be a fallacy. On the afternoon of 19 August 1812, about 400 miles southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Guerriére saw a sail in the distance, bearing down on them. It was the USS Constitution, so the Guerriére prepared for action. Captain James Dacres mustered 244 men and 19 boys, and set them to prepare for battle. When the enemy hoisted American colors, Captain Dacres permitted the Americans in his crew to quit their guns. When the fight was over, nine men were killed and thirteen were wounded. Captain Dacres surrendered his badly damaged ship in an effort to save the lives of the remaining crew, the crew were taken prisoner, and the crew of the USS Constitution set the ship on fire. That was the end of the Guerriére, and Old Ironsides was born. The USS Constitution was retired from service in 1881, and served as a receiving ship until designated a museum ship in 1907.