The Six Frigates – Birth of the US Navy

Two hundred and seventeen years ago today, March 27, 1794,  the United States Congress authorized the construction of six frigates, the first ships of  the United States Navy, the  USS Constitution, the USS Chesapeake , the USS Constellation , the USS President, the USS United States, and the USS Congress.   The ships were designed to be heavy frigates – longer and faster than the conventional frigates of their day, able to stand and fight against any ships their size and fast enough to evade larger ships of the line.   Innovative structural design involving diagonal bracing allowed US shipbuilders to build longer and faster frigates than was previously thought practical.   The ships more than held their own against the Royall Navy.   The six frigates were also significantly over budget and delivered later than anticipated,  a tradition  proudly upheld in military contracting to this day.

The USS Constitution , nicknamed “Old Ironsides,” is still in service and is the is the world’s oldest floating commissioned naval vessel.  (HMS Victory is older but has been in drydock since 1922.)

For those who wish to learn more,  Ian Toll’s Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy was released in 2008.   Publisher’s Weekly wrote of the book:  “Toll provides perspective by seamlessly incorporating the era’s political and diplomatic history into his superlative single-volume narrative—a must-read for fans of naval history and the early American Republic.”

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8 Responses to The Six Frigates – Birth of the US Navy

  1. Pingback: The Warship, the Watermill and a Ship’s Plans Delayed : Old Salt Blog – a virtual port of call for all those who love the sea

  2. The record of the U.S. Frigates in this group is generally good.
    The most famous of the frigate duels fought by the group was
    was Constitution vs Guerriere,, as it it should have been given the fact that Constitution carried 24 pounder long guns on its gun deck and 32 pound carronades on the main deck. I have not researched the armament of Guerriere.

    However, funds ran low (allegedly) when it came to the construction on Chesapeake, which led to it being constructed of Fir. Fir is light years less robust than the live oak used in Construction of Constitution. Also, the captain of Shannon, Chesapeake’s opponent Shannon was a brilliant innovator in the area of naval gunnery . The combination of Fir construction of Chesapeake and Shannon’s superior gunnery led to it’s loss, despite the brave command of Chesapeake’s Captain : Dont

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  5. Robert Angle says:

    Question, is their a genealogic society tracking crew members relatives of those who served on the first Navy Frigates? Is their a list of names who served on these ships?

  6. Edward C. Zimmerman, Jr. says:

    When I do searches on “The First Ship of the United States Navy” it amazes me that after 37 years of research, when I cross ways with such lists, they always seem to start off with the USS CONSTITUTION. The truth is the frigate USS UNITED STATES was the first. In the orders from President George Washington to John Barry as No.1, his orders were to take command of the frigate UNITED STATES as of 22 February 1797′ so, when Barry was commissioned his command frigate USS UNITED STATES also became commissioned ship of the United States Navy even before she was launched on a cloudy Wednesday after 1:PM from Humphrey’s Wharf in the Southwark area of Philadelphia 10 May 1797. CONSTELLATION wasn’t launched until 07 September 1797 and CONSTITUTION twice in October 1797. USS UNITED STATES was heavier, faster, more powerfully armed than CONSTITUTION.These lists seem to avoid UNITED STATES in many of aspects. I’ve represented this gallant, and it seems too many historians avoid her and her rightful place in history like the plague. While CONSTITUTION was spared and sheltered at the outbreak of the American Civil War, USS UNITED STATES was in the thick of it at Norfolk. Historians have scratched her out of existence. Nothing remains of this noteworthy frigate. In fact, even Robert E. Lee gave her the greatest admiration, keeping her name as CSS UNITED STATES. Unfortunately, due to abuse and neglect, she didn’t survive her last and undeserving fate. There will never again be the First Ship of the United States Navy. And it seems a true Lost National Treasure. Ed. Zimmerman, Jr.; Founder, President, CEO USS UNITED STATES Foundation; USSUNITEDSTATES@GMAIL.com

  7. Edward C. Zimmerman, Jr. says:

    I also have an autographed copy of this book by Ian Toll of which he was so gracious to oblige. He recognized this gallant frigate as she truly was; Poop Deck and all. In every chase after the enemy she left here accompanying ships in the dust; CONSTITUTION, DELAWARE, RARITAN and other ships from other countries. Barry admired qualities beyond his sanguine expectations. Stephen Decatur, Sr., the father of the famous son, said he had never found a ship he could come up with or leave until he sailed with the frigate UNITED STATES. I only wish that those who write on this frigate would contact me first. Too many rumors have been spread by miss-information, especially by internet.
    Her weight is another holdover from 1576 tons as a basic design weight. However, with the addition of the poop deck and the massive diagonal timbers in side she had a weight in excess of 2,000 tons. Even at that she proved agile to out maneuver her adversary MACEDONIAN during the War of 1812. Under Stephen Decatur, Jr.’s command she became the first United States Navy warship to return to American soil with an enemy prize in a declared war.

  8. Joe Lampert says:

    I have a brass token that I was told was stamped from a brass piece on Old Ironsides. Is this possible ? I’ve had it in my possession for over thirty years .