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The War of 1812

The War of 1812 was basically a naval war, and the manpower need was mostly in the army. It was not expected that this country would be involved in another war so soon. At the commencement of the war, in June, 1812, the country had neither navy, fortifications, nor disciplined troops. The relics of the Federal navy then consisted of five frigates and seven sloops and brigs in commission, and three frigates under repair,--a feeble force, indeed, with which to meet the Mistress of the Seas

Following an unsteady peace with the Barbary States in 1805, Jefferson's government abandoned capital ship construction in favor of a "gunboat era." Public apathy to the need for first-class men-of-war soon received just deserts. American shipping became the hapless victim of British warships striving to cut off supplies to Napoleon. Jefferson's odd-hundred gunboats could do little as English warships detained American merchantmen and often impressed the men on board. Diplomatic protests and negotiations, without powerful naval support, resulted in dismal failures. British squadrons, led by ships-of-the-line, soon strangled America from the sea in a second great war with England.

On 16 May 1806, England passed her Orders in Council, declaring the ports and rivers from Brest to the Elbe in a state of blockade. On 21 November 1806, Napoleon issued his Berlin Decree, declaring the British ports blockaded. January 6, 1807, England prohibited all coastwise trade with France, and November 11, 1807, prohibited all neutrals from trading with France or her allies, except on payment of duties to England. December 17, 1807, Napoleon issued his Milan Decree, confiscating all neutral vessels that had been searched by English cruisers, or had paid duties to England.

December 16, 1807, the day preceding the date of the Milan Decree, President Jefferson submitted to Congress the Embargo. The Democratic party was then all-powerful, and the measure, after being debated for a few days and nights in the House, and a few hours in the Senate with closed doors, was adopted. This surrender to England of the commerce of the world, this measure whose objects were veiled in mystery, conjectured, but not understood, became a law December 22, 1807.

Armed ships from England appeared on the coast of Georgia and loaded with cotton from lighters in defiance of Government, and Northern ships in the outports occasionally eluded the vigilance of collectors or escaped by their collusion; but the measure pressed with a crushing weight upon the honest merchants and ship-owners. President Madison and his friends, deferring to the reasons of Story and Adams, and yielding to the adverse current now setting strongly against Democracy, March 9, 1809, repealed the act.

But the pusillanimous policy which prompted the embargo survived its repeal. The Chinese theory still showed itself, in impotent measures for restriction or prohibition, and finally in a declaration of war against England on the very eve of her triumph by the power of her navy and commerce over the greatest captain of the age. A war declared by rulers without an army, navy, officers, coast-defence, or national credit, for the avowed purpose of securing free trade and sailors' rights by measures which the mercantile community rejected.

In the war of 1812 the little American navy, including only a dozen frigates and sloops of war, won a series of victories against the English, the hitherto undoubted masters of the sea, that attracted an attention altogether out of proportion to the force of the combatants or the actual damage done. For one hundred and fifty years the English ships of war had failed to find fit rivals in those of any other European power, although they had been matched against each in turn; and when the unknown navy of the new nation growing up across the Atlantic did what no European navy had ever been able to do, not only the English and Americans, but the people of Continental Europe as well, regarded the feat as important out of all proportion to the material aspects of the case.

The United States had retained a few seagoing warships. Under the superb leadership of men like Decatur and Hull, through tireless training, and audacious courage of their crews, these ships won stirring victories in single-ship engagements. Likewise, fleets hastily constructed on the Lakes, won the epic battles of Lake Erie and Lake Champlain that had far-reaching influence on the Nation's history, preventing invasion and saving the Northwest Territory.

The US Navy won several courageous victories in ship-to-ship actions; the most memorable of which was that by Captain Isaac Hull in USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides") over HMS Guerriere. Despite the powerful Royal Navy's close blockade of the American coast, a number of U.S. warships were able to slip through the blockaders to take their toll of enemy naval and merchant ships.

Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's brilliant success in the Battle of Lake Erie placed the Northwest Territory hrmly under American control and sent the Nation's morale soaring. Another fleet victory by Commodore Thomas Macdonough on Lake Champlain turned back a British invasion from Canada.

Commodore Joshua Barney and his sailors and Marines made a heroic stand in the land fighting at the Battle of Bladensburg outside Washington. In the final contest of the war Commodore Daniel Patterson correctly predicted that the enemy blow would come at New Orleans rather than Mobile. Patterson's small naval squadron so delayed and harassed the advancing British with ship gunfire that General Andrew Jackson was enabled to prepare his defenses and gain the historic New Orleans victory.

The Americans first proved that the English could be beaten at their own game on the sea. They did what the huge fleets of France, Spain, and Holland had failed to do, and the great modern writers on naval warfare in Continental Europe--men like Jurien de la Graviere--have paid the same attention to these contests of frigates and sloops that they give to whole fleet actions of other wars.


One of the peculiar aspects of the War of 1812 was government licensing of private armed vessels. Commonly known as privateers, each vessel received a "Letter of Marque and Reprisal" signed by the President. These privateers, although not part of the fledgling United States Navy, were nevertheless authorized "to subdue, seize and take" enemy vessels as prizes and to keep or sell the "apparel, guns and appurtenances." They were essentially licensed pirates.

American privateering in 1812 was even bolder and more successful than during the Revolution. It was the work of a race of merchant seamen who had found themselves, who were in the forefront of the world's trade and commerce, and who were equipped to challenge the enemy's pretensions to supremacy afloat. Once more there was a mere shadow of a navy to protect them, but they had learned to trust their own resources. They would send to sea fewer of the small craft, slow and poorly armed, and likely to meet disaster. They were capable of manning what was, in fact, a private navy comprised of fast and formidable cruisers. The intervening generation had advanced the art of building and handling ships beyond all rivalry, and England grudgingly acknowledged their ability. The year of 1812 was indeed but a little distance from the resplendent modern era of the Atlantic packet and the Cape Horn clipper.

Already these Yankee deep-water ships could be recognized afar by their lofty spars and snowy clouds of cotton duck beneath which the slender hull was a thin black line. Far up to the gleaming royals they carried sail in winds so strong that the lumbering English East Indiamen were hove to or snugged down to reefed topsails. It was not recklessness but better seamanship. The deeds of the Yankee privateers of 1812 prove this assertion to the hilt. Their total booty amounted to thirteen hundred prizes taken over all the Seven Seas, with a loss to England of forty million dollars in ships and cargoes. There were, all told, more than five hundred of them in commission, but New England no longer monopolized this dashing trade.

Instead of Salem it was Baltimore that furnished the largest fleet -- fifty-eight vessels, many of them the fast ships and schooners which were to make the port famous as the home of the Baltimore clipper model. All down the coast, out of Norfolk, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans, sallied the privateers to show that theirs was, in truth, a seafaring nation ardently united in a common cause.

Again and more vehemently the people of England raised their voices in protest and lament, for these saucy sea-raiders fairly romped to and fro in the Channel, careless of pursuit, conducting a blockade of their own until London was paying the famine price of fifty-eight dollars a barrel for flour, and it was publicly declared mortifying and distressing that "a horde of American cruisers should be allowed, unresisted and unmolested, to take, burn, or sink our own vessels in our own inlets and almost in sight of our own harbors." It was Captain Thomas Boyle in the Chasseur of Baltimore who impudently sent ashore his proclamation of a blockade of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which he requested should be posted in Lloyd's Coffee House.

These privateers came from many different ports and varied greatly in size. Baltimore produced the largest number; but New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Salem, were not far behind; and Charleston, Bristol, and Plymouth, supplied some that were very famous. Many were merely small pilot-boats with a crew of 20 to 40 men, intended only to harry the West Indian trade. Others were large, powerful craft, unequalled for speed by any vessels of their size, which penetrated to the remotest corners of the ocean, from Man to the Spice Islands. When a privateer started she was overloaded with men, to enable her to man her prizes; a successful cruise would reduce her crew to a fifth of its original size. The favorite rig was that of a schooner, but there were many brigs and brigantines. Each was generally armed with a long 24 or 32 on a pivot, and a number of light guns in broadside, either long 9's or short 18's or 12's. Some had no pivot gun, others had nothing else. The largest of them carried 17 guns (a pivotal 32 and 16 long 12's in broadside) with a crew of 150.

The private armed ships outfought and outsailed the enemy as impressively as did the few frigates of the American Navy. There was a class of them which exemplified the rapid development of the merchant marine in a conspicuous manner -- large commerce destroyers too swift to be caught, too powerful to fear the smaller cruisers. They were extremely profitable business ventures, entrusted to the command of the most audacious and skillful masters that could be engaged.

Of this type was the ship America of Salem, owned by the Crowninshields, which made twenty-six prizes and brought safely into port property which realized more than a million dollars. Of this the owners and shareholders received six hundred thousand dollars as dividends. She was a stately vessel, built for the East India trade, and was generally conceded to be the fastest privateer afloat. For this service the upper deck was removed and the sides were filled in with stout oak timber as an armored protection, and longer yards and royal masts gave her a huge area of sail.

American Superiority

The Americans showed superiority amounting in some cases to twice the efficiency of their enemies in the use of weapons. The best French critic of the naval war, Jurien de la Gravière, said: "An enormous superiority in the rapidity and precision of their fire can alone explain the difference in the losses sustained by the combatants." So far from denying this conclusion, the British press constantly alleged it, and the British officers complained of it. The discovery caused great surprize, and in both British services much attention was at once directed to improvement in artillery and musketry.

Americans trained with live ammunition more often than their British counterparts, the British, spending long periods at sea, tended to reserve their supplies of powder and shot for actual engagements. American guns had gunsights, an innovation not found on British ships. British captains had relied on getting close to the enemy, which meant that rate of fire was more important than long ranges accuracy.

Nothing could exceed the frankness with which Englishmen avowed their inferiority. According to Sir Francis Head, "gunnery war, in naval warfare in the extraordinary state of ignorance we have just described, when our lean children, the American people, taught us, rod in hand, our first lesson in the art." The English text-book on Naval Gunnery, written by Major-General Sir Howard Douglas immediately after the peace, devoted more attention to the short American war than to all the battles of Napoleon, and began by admitting that Great Britain had "entered with too great confidence on war with a marine much more expert than that of any of our European enemies." The admission appeared "objectionable" even to the author; but he did not add, what was equally true, that it applied as well to the land as to the sea service.

The navy came out of this struggle with a vast increase of reputation. The brilliant style in which the ships had been carried into action, the steadiness and rapidity with which they had been handled, and the fatal accuracy of their fire, on nearly every occasion, produced a new era in naval warfare. Most of the frigate actions had been as soon decided as circumstances would at all allow, and in no instance was it found necessary to keep up the fire of a sloop-of-war an hour, when singly engaged. Most of the combats of the latter, indeed, were decided in about half that time. The execution done in these short conflicts was often equal to that made by the largest vessels of Europe in general actions, and, in some of them, the slain and wounded comprised a very large proportion of the crews.

It is not easy to say in which nation this unlooked-for result created the most surprise, America or England. In the first it produced a confidence in itself that had been greatly wanted, but which, in the end, perhaps, degenerated to a feeling of self-esteem and security that were not without danger, or entirely without exaggeration.... The ablest and bravest captains of the English fleet were ready to admit that a new power was about to appear on the ocean, and that it was not improbable the battle for the mastery of the seas would have to be fought over again.

That the tone and discipline of the service were high, is true; but it must be ascribed to moral, and not to physical, causes, to that aptitude in the American character for the sea which has been so constantly manifested, from the day the first pinnace sailed along the coast, on the trading voyages of the seventeenth century, down to the present moment.

Many false modes of accounting for the novel character that had been given to naval battles were resorted to, and among other reasons, it was affirmed that the American vessels of war sailed with crews of picked seamen. That a nation which practiced impressment should imagine that another in which enlistments were voluntary, could possess an advantage of this nature, infers a strong disposition to listen to any means but the right one to account for an unpleasant truth. It is not known that a single vessel left the country, the case of the Constitution on her two last cruises excepted, with a crew that could he deemed extraordinary in this respect.

No American man-of-war ever sailed with a complement composed of nothing but able seamen; and some of the hardest fought battles that occurred during this war, were fought by ships' companies that were materially worse than common. The people that manned the vessels on Lake Champlain, in particular, were of a quality much inferior to those usually found in ships of war. Neither were the officers, in general, old or very experienced.

The navy itself dated but fourteen years back, when the war commenced; and some of the commanders began their professional careers several years after the first appointments had been made. Perhaps one half of the lieutenants in the service at the peace of 1815, had first gone on board ship within six years from the declaration of the war, and very many of them within three or four. So far from the midshipmen having been masters and mates of merchantmen, as was reported at the time, they were generally youths that first went from the ease and comforts of the paternal home, when they appeared on the quarter-deck of a man-of-war.

The greater skill of the Americans was not due to special training; for the British service was better trained, in gunnery, as in everything else, than the motley armies and fleets that fought at New Orleans and on the Lakes. Critics constantly said that every American had learned from his childhood the use of the rifle; but he certainly had not learned to use cannon in shooting birds or hunting deer, and he knew less than the Englishman about the handling of artillery and muskets. The same intelligence that selected the rifle and the long pivot-gun for favorite weapons was shown in handling the carronade, and every other instrument however clumsy.

The War of 1812 was the dividing line between two eras of salt water history. On the farther side lay the turbulent centuries of hazard and bloodshed and piracy, of little ships and indomitable seamen who pursued their voyages in the reek of gunpowder and of legalized pillage by the stronger, and of merchant adventurers who explored new markets wherever there was water enough to float their keels. They belonged to the rude and lusty youth of a world which lived by the sword and which gloried in action. Even into the early years of the nineteenth century these mariners still sailed -- Elizabethan in deed and spirit. On the hither side of 1812 were seas unvexed by the privateer and the freebooter.


The War of 1812 triggered legislation that provided the U.S. Navy's first ships-of-the-line, though none completed before the war ended. The Act of 2 January 1813 led to the construction of Independence, Franklin, Washington, and Columbus. Known as the "Independence class," the four were nearly identical in dimensions and armament. But it is not clear that all were built to one master design. Loss of public and private papers of naval constructors render it impossible to determine which person made the leading contribution. They may have been built to the modified 1799 design of Joshua Humphreys.

Independence was the first U.S. Navy ship-of-the-line to launch and the first to make a foreign cruise. She sailed in July 1815 to lead the Mediterranean Squadron in quelling the renewed piracy of the Barbary States. Her career spanned nearly a century in the U.S. Navy. Regarded as somewhat unsuccessful, largely because of the ill-advised modifications made by Capt. William Bainbridge during construction, the ship was taken into Boton Dry Dock 1 and "razed" (cut down) to a large frigate in 1835-36. A much more successful ship thereafter, she was long a fixture at the Mare Island Navy Yard, serving as receving ship there from 1857 to 1912.

Sister ships also performed notable service. Washington carried diplomat William Pinkney on his successful mission of adjusting American merchant claims against Naples. Columbus cruised around the world as flagship of Commodore James Biddle who exchanged the ratified copies of the first commercial treaty with China. She also carried Biddle into Tokyo Bay, paving the way for Commodore Perry's successful mission in opening Japanese ports to American commerce.

The third Franklin, a 74 gun ship-of-the-line, built in 1815 under the supervision of Samuel Humpherys, was the first vessel to be laid down at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Franklin sailed on her first cruised on 14 October 1817, when under the command of Master Commandant H.E. Ballard she proceeded from Philadelphia to the Mediterranean. She carried the Hon. Richard Rush, U.S. Minister to England, to his post. Franklin was the initial flagship of the newly formed Pacific Squadron protecting the whaling fleet on the Pacific coast of South America. Subsequently she was designated flagship of the Mediterranean Squadron, cruising on that station until March 1820. She returned to New York on 24 April 1820. From 11 October 1821 until 29 August 1824 she served as flagship on the Pacific Station. Franklin was laid up in ordinary until the summer of 1843 when she was ordered to Boston as a receiving ship. She continued in this capacity until 1852 at which time she was taken to Portsmouth, N.H., and broken up.

A supplemental act of 3 March 1813 authorized two 74s for service on the Great Lakes. Named New Orleans and Chippewa, their contract was let 15 December 1814. They were laid down in January 1815 at Sacketts Harbor, Lake Ontario, and nearly complete when peace ended their construction.

74-gun Ships-of-the-Line

After the War or 1812, Congress authorized the construction of 9 ships of the line as a potential deterrent to future war with Britain. War never came. A legislative milestone towards an effective force of first-class warships was "An Act for the Gradual Increase of the Navy of the United States," approved 29 April 1816. It provided for "nine ships to rate not less than 74 guns each" (including the previously authorized Columbus) and funding of $1 million per year for a period of 8 years. This act also enabled the construction of some of the finest frigates of any sailing Navy which were improvements over famed Constellation and Constitution. It also resulted in building of ships-of-the-line superior in force to those of the same class of any nation.

The resolution of Congress 3 March 1819 required that the 74-gun class ships building be named for States of the Union. Columbus, missed this privilege, having launched only 2 days previously. As the eight other ships-of-the-line neared completion, their names were determined by lot. The names drawn were Alabama, Delaware, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia. All except Pennsylvania were largely complete by 1825.

The policy was to have the 74s in readiness to launch and fit out as national interests might require. As a result, New York and Virginia never launched. Alabama (renamed New Hampshire in 1863) and Vermont were not commissioned until the Civil War when they served as huge floating naval depots for the Federal Blockading Squadron at Port Royal, SC.

Of the 74s authorized by the act of 29 April 1816, Columbus was nearly identical to the design of Independence, Franklin, and Washington. Samel Humphreys designed and built the titanic four-decker, Pennsylvania, largest sailing ship ever built for the US Navy. The remaining seven warships were designed and built under directions of William Doughty.

The stately North Carolina was third launched but the first commissioned of the new 74s. North Carolina gave her name to this new class as she was first to commission. The first North Carolina was laid down in 1818 by the Philadelphia Navy Yard; launched 7 September 1820; and fitted out in the Norfolk Navy Yard. Master Commandant Charles W. Morgan was assigned to North Carolina as her first commanding officer 24 June 1824. Considered by many the most powerful naval vessel then afloat, North Carolina served in the Mediterranean as flagship for Commodore John Rodgers from 29 April 1825 until 18 May 1827. She laid the keel of America's first commercial treaty with Turkey. She and her sister ships alternated as flagship of the Mediterranean Squadron that lent stability in times of international turmoil and projected the seapower so vital to support of diplomacy. North Carolina also served as Pacific Squadron flagship, protecting commerce during the war between Chile and Peru. Delaware performed similar service as flagship of the Brazil Squadron. In the war with Mexico, Ohio supported the land-sea assault that led to the surrender of Vera Cruz. She also furnished a landing force for the amphibious expedition against Tuxpan. She finished out the war as flagship of naval operations on the west coast of Mexico, then became flagship of the Pacific Squadron. A British officer called Ohio "perfection of a line of battleship." She was also known as the most beautiful ship that ever floated. Since her great size made her less flexible than smaller ships, she returned to the New York Navy Yard in June, and served as a receiving ship until placed in ordinary in 1866. She was sold at New York 1 October 1867.

The USS Ohio was the first launched of a new class of ships-of-the-line designed by naval constructor William Doughty. Her keel was laid in November 1817 and she was launched at the New York Navy Yard 30 May 1820. 'A more splendid ship I never beheld,' said an English naval officer who visited Ohio in 1826 while she lay in ordinary at New York. The USS Ohio is listed in The History of the American Sailing Navy by Howard Chapelle, at 74 guns. Ohio was sold to a private buyer in Boston on 27 September 1883 and broken up at some date after that.

Delaware was one of "nine ships to rate not less than 74 guns each" authorized by Congress 29 April 1816. She was built to the design of William Doughty by naval constructor Francis Grice in the Norfolk Navy Yard. Her keel was laid August 1817 and she launched 21 October 1820. Delaware's station bills for 1834 show her armed with 90 guns: lower deck: thirty-two 42-pounders; Main deck: thirty-two 32-pounders; Spar deck: twenty-four 42-pounders and two 32-pounders. A Bureau of Ordnance gun register of 1846 records: Lower deck: four 8-inch chambered cannon, reamed up from 42-pounder cannon in 1841 and twenty-eight 42-pounders; Main deck: four 8-inch chambered cannon of 63 hundredweight and twenty-eight 32-pounders; Spar deck: two 32-pounders and twenty-two 42-pounder carronades. Delaware remained in ordinary until 27 March 1827, then fitted out under Capt. John Downs.

Vermont's keel was laid in the Boston Navy Yard September 1818 and she remained completed on the stocks from about 1825 until 1848. It was then discovered that her covering shiphouse was so near the yard boundary that there was danger from fire should the contigous private buildings be set aflame. Vermont launched 15 September 1848 but did not commission until 30 Jannary 1862, Comdr. A. S. Baldwin, commanding. Her original armament was four 8-inch shell guns and twenty 32-pounders. She served as a receiving ship at New York 1 July 1884 to 31 August 1901. Her name was struck from the Navy list 19 December 1901 and she was sold at New York 17 April 1902.

Alabama was laid down in June 1819 at the Portsmouth (NH) Navy Yard. In keeping with the policy of the 74-gun ships-of-the-line being maintained in a state of readiness for launch, Alabama remained on the stocks at Portsmouth for almost four decades, in a state of preservation-much like part of a "mothball fleet" of post-World War II years. Needed for service during the Civil War, the ship was completed, but her name was changed to New Hampshire on 28 October 1863. She was launched 23 April 1864, fitted out as a stores and depot ship of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron; and commissioned 13 May 1864.

New York, whose keel was laid in 1820 and was ready for launching in 1825, never left the stocks. On 20 April 1861, this 74-gun ship-of-the-line was burned by Union forces to avoid capture by encroaching Virginians at the start of the Civil War.

Virginia was one of nine, 74-gun warships authorized by Congress on 29 April 1816. She was laid down at the Boston Navy Yard, Mass., in May 1822; finished about 1825; and was kept on the stocks as naval policy and the expense involved discouraged launching or commissioning the "74s" except when the national interest clearly required it. Virginia remained on the stocks at Boston until she was broken up there starting in 1874.

Ship-of-the-line Pennsylvania was one of "nine ships to rate not less than 74 guns each" authorized by Congress 29 April 1816. She was designed and built by Samuel Humphreys in the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Her keel was laid in April 1816. She was designed and built by Samuel Humphreys in the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Her keel was laid in September 1821, but tight budgets slowed her construction, preventing her being launched until 18 July 1837. The largest sailing warship ever built for the US Navy, she had four complete gun decks of which three were covered, and her hull was pierced for 136 guns. Exploding shell guns were replacing solid shot by the time Pennsylvania was fitting out. A Bureau of Ordnance Gun Register for 1846 records her armament as follows: Spar deck: two nine-pounder cannons and one small brass swivel. Main deck: four 8-inch chambered cannons received from Norfolk in 1842, and thirty-two 32-pounder cannons. Middle deck: four 8-inch chambered cannons received from Norfolk in 1842, and thirty 32-pounder cannons. Lower deck: four 8-inch chambered cannons and twenty-eight 32-pounder cannons.

Pennsylvania shifted from her launching site to off Chester, Pa., 29 November 1837 and was partially manned there the following day. Only 34 of her guns were noted as having been mounted 3 December 1837. She stood downriver for Newcastle, Del., 9 December, to receive gun carriages and other equippage before proceeding to the Norfolk Navy Yard for coppering her hull. She departed Newcastle 20 December 1837 and discharged the Delaware pilot on the 25th. That afternoon she sailed for the Virginia Capes. She came off the Norfolk dry dock 2 January 1838. Pennsylvania remained in ordinary until 1842 when she became a receiving ship for the Norfolk Navy Yard. She remained in the Yard until 20 April 1861 when she was burned to the waterline to prevent her falling into Confederate hands.

Further Construction

Although Joshua Humphreys, his son Samuel and Henry Eckford were outstanding among those contributing to the development and construction of American ships-of-the-line, naval constructor William Doughty stands first. He began his career 23 October 1794 as clerk of the yard for frigate United States building under Joshua Humphreys' supervision in the Philadelphia yard. When the seat of government moved to Washington, D.C., he was appointed naval constructor of the Washington Navy Yard. He remained from 1812 to 1837, advising the Board of Navy Commissioners and drafting leading warship designs including the Navy's new class of "double-banked frigates." The latter were improvements over the famed Constitution-Constellation classes of 1798.

William Doughty introduced the extreme type of clipper bow into large-sailing warships of the US Navy. This was one measure of his titanic contribution that produced large first-class men-of-war that could bear a heavier weight of armament than comparable classes of foreign navies, and yet still be stable and swift sailing. His life was dedicated in the execution of design and construction in line with his stated conviction that "instead of the ships of our Navy possessing inferior properties to those of same classes of other nations, it is desirable, and indeed of considerable importance, that they should excell in all their principal qualifications...." He was the designer of nearly every outstanding improved class of frigates and sloops-of-war that appeared in the American sailing navy after the War of 1812. The most powerful of all these were his majestic North Carolina class ships-of-the-line-marvels of the naval architecture of their time and mighty projectors of American Nation prestige and power upon the seas.

A vote, it is true, was at length passed, to build four ships of the line, six frigates, and six sloops; but none were finished before the close of the war; and it was not until after its conclusion that the Democratic party, so long opposed to Federal measures, and triumphant from their very opposition, caused by their abandonment, gave the most conclusive proof of their value by funding the debt, re-establishing the navy, reviving the Military Academy at West Point, fortifying the coast, and making a tariff for revenue with incidental protection. Well might party-strife cease under the veteran Monroe; for Democracy had become Federalized.

From 1815 to 1840, the Navy continued to expand its sailing fleet. In fact, more than 74 sail warships were built during this period.

Long illegal, the infamous slave trade was declared by Congress in 1819 to be piracy, and as such, punishable by death. The Navy's African Slave Trade Patrol was established to search for and bring to justice the dealers in human misery. Never exceeding a few ships in number, the Patrol, which from time to time included the USS Constitution,USS Constellation, USS Saratoga and USS Yorktown, relentlessly plied the waters off West Africa, South America, and the Cuban coast, a principle area for slave disembarkation. By the start of the Civil War more than 100 suspected slavers had been captured.

By the second decade of the 19th Century, pirates increasingly infested the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, and by the early 1820's nearly 3,000 attacks had been made on merchant ships. Financial loss was great; murder and torture were common. Under the leadership of Commodores James Biddle, David Porter and Lewis Warrington, the U.S. Navy's West India Squadron, created in 1822, crushed the pirates. The outlaws were relentlessly ferreted out from uncharted bays and lagoons by sailors manning open boats for extended periods through storm and intense heat. To the danger of close-quarter combat was added the constant exposure to yellow fever and malaria in the arduous tropical duty. The Navy's persistent and aggressive assault against the freebooters achieved the desired results. Within 10 years, Caribbean piracy was all but extinguished, and an invaluable service had been rendered to humanity and the shipping interests of all nations.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:41:14 ZULU