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.