CharlieZardoz

American sailing warships with no plans or records

283 posts in this topic

Charlie, I might have an answer for you.

 

If anyone has both a copy of 'The Naval War of 1812', Chatham Pictorial History, Vol. 6, Naval Institute Press ANA a functioning scanner, I beg you look at page 49, bottom, at an engraving entitled "United States and Macedonian Frigates passing Hurl Gate", New York, by P. H. Hansel, Philadelphia, 1817. I believe it to be the most accurate depiction of the United States's stern. My reasoning is thus:

 

1. The sterns of both ships are shown in great detail, and the styles are clearly different from one another, in both the style of the scroll work to the number of windows. Artists of the period who fudged the details, usually fudged both ships identically.  We already know that the Macedonian had the stern of the Lively Class frigates, two other drawings of which survive. The Macedonian is propperly depicted there with six windows across her stern, and the same style of carvings.

 

2. The United States is shown with seven windows across her stern, plus a pair of what I can only describe as half windows in the back of her quarter galleries. While this might be dismissed as whimsey, remember that the US had a double-decked stern and galleries at one time. So these half lights might be a remnant her her early configuration. The 1820's Charles Ware spar deck plan shows here with quarterdeck roundhouses, another remnant which no other American frigate carried. Seven windows means eight counter timbers, which the Essex was rebuilt with, and which at least one of the 36 gun ships might have been built with since a unidentified gun deck framing plan with eight counter timbers survives in the Fox papers. Congress? Philadelphia? The Guerriere class stern requires eight counter timbers too.

 

3. For a while, the United States and the Macedonian found themselves blockaded in the Thames River, and they were hauled up river as for as they could be, and anchored with guns run out the stern ports for protection against British boat attacks. They  hung boarding nettings and ran a cable acroos the river, and rowed a constant guard down stream. They became quite the tourist attraction, but nobody got too close, and so they were viewed only stern on. (Source: "The William Skiddy Journal", 1813-15, an unpublished private journal written by one of the USS Hornet's midshipmen. ) I believe that Mr. Hansel got to see them at that time, made his preliminary sketch, complete with two guns run out of the U.S's quarterdeck stern chase ports. His depictions of the ship's broadside are sketchy, because he could not have seen them on the Thames. He partially hides them with smoke for saluting guns, (a common artistic ploy) and he even erroneously places guns in the Macedonian's planked-up waist, a feature she never had. 

 

4. A contemporary pencil sketch of the battle, drawn soon afterwards by one of the US's crewmen, shows seven windows as well. The original was held by the Naval Academy museum, (and may or may not still be there), but was photographed and published in John Spears's "The History of Our Navy", a lively, yet slightly racist Victorian book that is otherwise best avoided.

Edited by uss frolick
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Interesting items, Frolick - THANKS!

 

Just for muddying the waters purposes, here is a picture from the following book:

 

Barnes, J. 1897. Naval Actions of the War of 1812. Osgood. https://books.google.com/books?id=gAMpAAAAYAAJ.

 

I am not certain from whence or when this painting evolved!

 

post-18-0-01635200-1434737648_thumb.jpg

 

This version is available from a commercial site - not sure, again, from whence it was acquired.

 

post-18-0-70056300-1434737647_thumb.jpg

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Reminds me rather of a strangely-distorted version of the sterns the improved 44s built during the war got (Java class). Constitution had one as late as 1874, as this picture Marcus posted in the Constitution stern thread shows. Not exactly the same, but the ports remind me of it.The black and white version of the painting there does have a horizontal line where the overhang begins that's missing entirely from the clearer colored one.

 

Did United States get one later like Constitution did or could he have used any of the other frigates as an inspiration? (Do note the quarter galleries are still missing in the picture)

post-14867-0-15555200-1434740041_thumb.gif

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I can't help but doubt that painting's accuracy entirely-the vessels look more like whaling ships than frigates.

Uss frolick-solid research! I have that book and know the picture you are talking about-though I don't have access to it right now

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This is all great stuff. Im going to track down the resources mentioned (page 49) and see. The depection you mentioned with the seven windows and upper deck windows sounds on the mark. That painting posted looks a bit wierd though and yes looks more like the stern for the java class.

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They are not upper deck windows. They are partial windows in the stern of the quarter galleries at the gun-deck level, but only on the upper half of the back of the galleries. You'll see what I'm talking about ...

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Back to the USS John Adams:

 

In 1812, after the JA have been converted to a fine fast and powerful flush decked corvette, William Banibridge ordered her upper works put back on so that he could have another frigate in the stable. The only benefit was the addition of eight 18-pouinder carronades to the new quarterdeck. She was so unstable that her 42-pounder main deck guns had to be swapped out for 32-pounders, and her two chase guns were reduced to nine-pounder and were placed on the lower deck since the new mini-forecastle couldn't take the weight.  These changes caused indignation amongst the officer corps, who new well the old ship. Master Commandant Charles Ludlow took the j.a.c.k.a.s.s frigate on her maiden voyage on September 7, 1812, and wrote to the Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton:

 

"I had a very good opportunity to try the sailing of the ship, and conceive it my duty to report the same. She cannot pass for more than a tolerable sailing merchant ship, and so crank that a ship of 20 guns ought to take her, in what would generally be called a topgallant breeze for ships of war."

 

This means that her main deck gun ports were under water!

 

Captain Ludlow continued:

 

"When I took command of this ship from Captain (Joseph) Tarbell he insured me that it was his intention  to apply to the department for orders to rejoin the ship again and wished me not to make any alterations. I have not made any of any consequence, but if Captain Tarbell is not to have her ... (which I will give up with much pleasure) I shall be under the necessity of applying for a survey of the ship, and trust can make it appear, that as a corvette, she will answer as a vessel of war, but at the present, she is unworthy of the name AMERICAN SHIP OF WAR, and I shall very reluctantly  hazard the reputation of her officers and that of the service; in her present state; she will be considered by the public; and particularly with any vessel she may have to contend with, as a 32-gun frigate, when she mounts 32 guns." 

 

Captain Ludlow was of a great and influential naval family, he having a brother  then serving as purser on the Constitution, and another brother Augustus Ludlow, destined to be the gallant, slain first lieutenant of the USS Chesapeake, of who the latter of which, many towns in the US would be named. (Ludlow, Vermont, for example.) Yet, he felt inclined to add:

 

"With due deference I have made the above report, and hope I have not exceeded the bounds of rectitude."

 

The report worked, and the JA sat out most of the war stripped of her guns in New York until the summer of 1814, intended as a 'harbor ship' for the defense of the port.

 

But she would get her salvation ...

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I continue ...

 

The John Adams became whole again in early 1813. It is possible that the JA never had a full forecastle deck installed in 1812, just a short platform called a "topgallant forecastle deck" for conning, as well as the armed quarterdeck, since that is the definition of a j.a.c.k.a.s.s. frigate: a frigate with no forcestle.

 

A confidential letter written by the new Secretary of the Navy William Jones, to Master Commandant William Crane, dated  April 16, 1813:

 

" ... You will proceed immediately to Baltimore and take command of the United States Ship John Adams, destined by the President, for a special and confidential service and in order to render her fit for service it will be necessary to cut down her topsides and reconvert her into an efficient corvette, as she was previous to her last repair and outfit at Boston.

 

About 16 or 17 feet of the after part of the quarterdeck and the topgallant forecastle will be retained, but without armament, or any thing above other ... other [than] the crane irons and ridge ropes. Her armament will be twenty heavy 12-pounders and four long 18-pounders."

 

Keep the cranes, Crane!

 

The confidential mission was to have been a raiding mission around Cape Horn on to the Oregon/Canadian coast to destroy the British settlements, and to protect the American presence in the northwest. Long guns would be needed to bombard any land settlements, if they chose not to go quietly. Politically connected millionaire John Astor was to accompany the expedition, since he had financed the American settlements already there. And so the ship was fitted out in the best possible fashion, and she was ordered to carry only the highest quality stores. The plan was cancelled when Crane and the ships' entire crew was instead sent on emergency status to Lake Ontario.

 

Crane had practical problems with the desired armament:

 

"The long 18-pounders in the yard are so badly made that they will not stand the proof. One burst on Lake Ontario and one burst yesterday. The 12-pounders are short, heavy, clumsy pieces, not of which will clear the stern ports." Fox was known to have decreased the rake of the JA's stern when she was razeed in 1807-9, but she might have still retained an excess stern rake, so much so that the guns couldn't reach all the way out. 

 

Crane wanted 32-pounder carronades, but they could only have been transported from the foundries in Maryland and Philadelphia by sea, and the British blockade was too tight.

 

Crane was unable to enlist a full crew in New York either, in another letter to the SecNav dated May 4, 1813.:

 

"I discover a very strong prejudice in the seamen against the John Adams."

 

Since the ship had been repaired and fitted for the tastes of Mr. Astor, it was decided to send her off on a diplomatic voyage. The retention of a long piece of the quarterdeck was probably to house Astor and his staff.  On February 5, the JA sailed under Master Commandant Samuel Angus to England carrying "Peace Commissioners" Henry Clay and Jonathan Russell, to try and negotiate the end to the war. On the way back, the JA was to bring her namesake's son, Diplomat John Quincy Adams, home.

 

John Quincey Adams noted in his memoirs on June 13, 1814:

 

"She (the John Adams) carries twenty-two guns, but is now only half-armed, having but twelve forty-two pound carronades." Presumably the rest of her guns were moved into the hold.

 

Apparently, Commander Angus suffered several "temporary attacks of insanity" after picking up Adams off the Texel, and even tried to pick a fight with two small British brigs of war on August 25, 1814, even though the JA was flying the flag of truce. The commander of one of them, the 10-gun HMS Helicon (only 18-pounder carronades), noted that the John Adams was a razeed frigate, she had all her guns mounted, and was painted all black.

 

Her consort was the 16-gun ex-French HMS Achates (24-pounders). That would have been an interesting battle!

 

CORRECTION, CORRECTION! HMS Helicon's consort was HMS Scylla, 18 guns, with 32-pounder carronades, a Cruiser Class Brig, not HMS Achates.

Edited by uss frolick

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Yes back to the John Adams indeed! very interesting notes though I am a bit confused. How many times was she a corvette and a frigate? Sounds like she was converted several times?  Also Wikipedia's entry on John Adams is confusing.  It doesn't differentiate between the original and rebuilt ship claiming it lasted until 1867 (which I am assuming it was rebuilt the same way Constellation and Macedonian were).  If I were to build a model of her it would most likely be as the sleek corvette :) Also any info on the elusive General Greene?

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John Adams Chronology:

 

1799: Frigate with twenty-four long twelve pounders on the gun deck and two twelves, bow chasers, and six 24-pound carronades on her spar deck. She retained this form when she fought with Commodore Morris Squadron, bombarding Tripoli, firing at gunboats, and engaging and destroying the 26-gun Lateen rigged Frigate Meshuda fighting alongside the USS Enterprize. She did a lot of fighting during this service. She had a bust figurehead carved by William Rush of Philadelphia. She was the first US Navy ship to carry carronades.

 

1804: converted to a store ship when she joined Preble's squadron off Tripoli. Gun deck full of cargo with eight long six-pounders on her quarterdeck and six long twelve pounders in the Waste of her spar deck! This would have required her having been converted to a mini-double-banked frigate! The rest of her guns were in the hold, but her carriages were scattered among other ships.

 

1807-09: Converted to a 24-gun flush decked corvette carrying twenty-two 42-pounder carronades and two long twelve pounders. No poop deck. Fox wrote in a letter stating that he intended to replace the bust with a scrolled fiddle head. The watercolor appears to show this. At some unknown point in her history, she received a bust head of John Adams again. Her replacement ship had one.

 

1811-12: Reverted back to a frigate in j.a.c.k.a.s.s frigate form in Boston, carrying thirty lighter carronades and two chase guns. No forcastle!

 

1813-14 Converted back to a corvette of 22 guns: armament varied in port, but they settled on 42-pounder carronades again by her 1814 sailing. Differed from 1809 version by having a 17-foot long quarterdeck (poop) cabin with a flush roof. This appears the ship shown in the watercolor. Note the sailor dudes on it. Retained this form until her breaking up and replacement in 1829.

Edited by uss frolick

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Here's a few more pics of John Adams but the rebuilt version as a Boston class sloop.  Sorry for the lousy quality the pics are very light in the books but you can see she was a totally different design when rebuilt.

post-15936-0-61507600-1435290716_thumb.jpg

post-15936-0-79238800-1435290723_thumb.jpg

Edited by CharlieZardoz
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Good scans. JA is definitely one of the Humphreys' boats like that book and Chapelle both state, built on the lines of Vandalia. I'm reposting the quick comparison I threw together of that period in sloop designs from Chapelle so you can see more detail in the draught. The JA/Vandalia's design is fifth from the top. You can always tell the three designs apart by the stern. Humphreys' had a classic stern with quarter galleries, Doughty had a round stern with quarter galleries, and Barker had just a simple round stern (the latter two are sixth and seventh from the top respectively).

 

1GyfaUOl.jpg

 

In an interesting comment to the text in your scan, Chapelle asserts that Boston and Vincennes might have been built to the Barker draught, since the two of them are listed as having a slightly narrower beam that matches Barker's designed beam. I'm almost finished my redrawing of the Barker design, just needs the foremast and staysails put in.

 

1nTyI4Ol.jpg

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Donald Canney give evidence in "The Sailing Warships of the US Navy", in the form of letters exchanged between Commodore John Rogers and the Secretary of the Navy John Branch, that Naval Constructor Francis Grice had improved upon the new John Adams' hull lines. Branch wanted an explanation for all the anecdotal tales that he was hearing concerning the JA out-sailing her supposed sister-ships. When Branch appeared angry that any constructor would dare to alter the official navy plans, Rogers quickly changed his tune. He then suddenly claimed that the draught had been followed - but without stating which draught.  Grice had submitted a slightly smaller design of his own, but it was not used. It showed much more dead-rise in the floors than the Boston. Grice had been a student of Henry Eckford, who had also submitted a beautiful design of his own, sporting sharp floor dead-rise, but that plan sadly also went unused. Eckford had tinkered with the official North Carolina, 74, plans on his own, and created the Ohio, 74, the best sailing battleship of the fleet. Eckford lost his job for doing it.

Edited by uss frolick
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Here's a first hand account of the John Adams's encounter with Helicon and Scylla, from "Naval Adventures: Thirty Five Years of Service" , Volume 1, by William Bowers, London, 1833:

 

"Not long after, in company with the Scylla, eighteen, about two hundred miles west of Scilly, we descried a large ship under heavy press of sail, steering about W by N, She was painted black, showed no guns or colours, other than a small white flag at the foremast,, which, with the manner which she shortened sail, and backed her maintop sail, keeping the fore sail and jib on her, after we had whipped a few shot across her bows, impressed us with being a merchantman. I proceeded to board her, and on pulling up in her wake, was struck with her breadth of beam, and warlike cut of her canvass. When close upon her quarter, I hailed her, and was given to understand she was the United States Ship John Adams, having on board the American Envoy from the Texel, bearing the proposals for peace, and with an Admiralty passport. The captain at the same time invited me on board, pledging his word of honour, that I should not be detained. On this I pulled up and mounted the side. To my astonishment, as I was about to step on deck, I found the whole crew at their guns prepared for action,the matches burning, and the men with the train tackles in hand prepared for running out the guns. This corresponded so little with the peaceful declaration I had just received, that, not choosing to risk my own honour and the fate of the two vessels, I instantly jumped into the boat and returned to report what I had seen. By this time the Scylla was on her weather quarter and her commander, a fine veteran of the old school, being senior officer, I reported to him what i had seen.. He replied, 'Bear a hand onboard your ship,  tell W_____ to keep his jib boom on my tafferail, and we will soon see who he is.'  few minutes later, both brigs ranged up on his weather beam, as close as we could without danger of falling on board, and with a voice roaring like an old lion, Darby then hailed ordering to send an officer with his passport. This being complied with, and all being found correct, I returned with the American first lieutenant, a fine young fellow,and was received very cerimoniously.

 

On entering the cabin, I was introduced to the Envoy, Mr. Dallas, refreshment was offered and I am almost ashamed to say refused,however, a young man might be excused if. influenced by a national sentiment, and in a hurry of movement, he should overlook those nice shades of conduct, which should guide him according to time, place and circumstance ... The American Captain expressed himself hurt at the cavalier and impervious manner inwhich he was hailed by the English commodore, as he styled him.  I assured him nothing offensive was intended, but it was his natural manner, being a plane rough seaman. This ship had been a frigate, now raz'ee, and mounting twenty  forty-two pounders and two long twelves, with a crew of three hundred men."

 

I don't consider Captain Samuel Angus to have done anything wrong, having cleared for action when two English sloops of war were bearing down on her, and firing shots across his bow! It was certainly not  a bout of "temporary insanity" as John Quincy Adams termed it. Must have been more to that story.

 

I also note that the John Adams's bulwarks must have been high indeed for her gun crews not to have been seen until she was boarded by an English officer! Obvioulsly, her half ports were in place.

 

Nowhere can I find the name of the JA's first lieutenant who so impressed Lt. Bowers of HM Brig Helicon. :(

Edited by uss frolick

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The Eckford and Grice designs are in the post I did above, for those who aren't familiar with them. They are the second and third respectively in the Chapelle pic. I mentioned it in the other thread, but Eckford's design really reminds me of his schooner Grampus too (and the merchant ship you pointed out too in another book, frolick). It's the head especially, very similar style. I need to redraw those two, and Floyd's big sloop, and see how they look with rig and all.

 

hGLQrhfl.jpg

 

Looking at Grice's again, I think it's the last sloop design to have a huge amount of drag to the keel like the old War of 1812 sloops and up to the Erie rebuild (first sloop from the top in the pic in my last post). Even when they went back to smaller dimensions with the Dale and the other 3rd-class sloops, they stuck with a more even keel.

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The ship in the other book, The Search For Speed Under Sail, is the Bolivar, ex-Hercules, a navy corvette built in New York by Eckford for Greek Revolutionaries, but forfeited by them for lack of payment, and instead sold to the Colombian Navy. This may be the only surviving plan for a Colombian Navy ship. Colombia at this time possessed several frigates and even one ship of the line. There was a great naval battle that helped secure the country's independence. The Corvette Bolivar is unusual in that she had half the number of gun-ports that one might expect to see in a ship her size, (implying that they were big guns!) and because she is so very sharp that it would have been impossible to store much in the way of stores and water in her. But the Colombian Navy stuck to the coastline, because that's where the action was. Bolivar almost looks like a British Lake Ontario ship. She must have been very, very fast! Bolivar is a better candidate for reconstructing the USS Madison because of this. (I've recently been to Bogota twice, and after hitting every history museum, a can appreciate how truly wonderful Colombian history is.) 

Edited by uss frolick
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With his foolish alterations to the John Adams, I cannot help but wonder yet again how bainbridge was as successful as he was. He was reportedly a good seaman and navigator, but was tyrannical to his crew(slashing a man who dared speak to him first with a sabre) lost several warships to the enemy on fairly foreseeable errors of judgement, botched the building or repair of several warships badly (JA and 74 gun independence)-and enabled the early death of Stephen Decatur by urging the duel to continue as Decatur and Barron began to make amends. He just doesn't seem of the same calibre of leader and captain as Decatur, Hull, Stewart, Rodgers etc.

 

By my recollection Eckford was just told to design a corvette-had he been told the intended armament was 24pdrs I'm sure he could've come up with something better than what was chosen. (Which ended up being problematic until finally enlarged into the new cyane and levant design) Really they should've tried for 18-22x18pdrs, rather than trying to jump all the way to long 24s on a corvette. Perhaps they should've come up with refined versions of the corvette JA and A, and a new design to similar dimensions to trial against eachother for the larger 1820s corvette

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The John Adams was very useful to the early navy as a flush corvette. So much so, that the specifications for the ten 1816 "Gradual Increase" sloops - the Boston/Concord Class - were to the dimensions of the old John Adams. But she was too small to carry long 24-pounders, even if only medium 24-pounder columbiads.

 

Of all the subscription frigates, only the John Adams was built out of Southern Live Oak, (by accident of geography, as she was built in Charleston) and so she outlived all the others. The old Frigates Boston and New York, built of inferior north-eastern white oak, were found too rotten by 1808 to be worth repairing, but the JA lasted until 1829 with almost constant service.

Edited by uss frolick

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No just the smaller "subscription" warships, i.e. built by merchants of wealthy seaports and sold to the navy: Essex, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Adams, John Adams. All the six big navy ships were built of live oak.

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In the case of the President, it was likely a combination of factors that influenced the scrapping by the British.  Due to the on again/off again schedule for her construction, it's possible that a combination of white and live oak was used, as there were very significant challenges getting live oak.  When the 3 frigates got put on hold, one of the missions for Fox was to inventory the available supplies at the three yards and coordinate their shipment to the remaining 3 yards. When there was the prompt need to resume construction, what live oak that was available wasn't seasoned, perhaps contributing to the issue with rot.  HOWEVER - for a ship of the era, a 20 year career afloat was pretty good, particularly if there were no significant rebuilds done. 

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True true and what about the British? I'd imagine they had a well developed system of growing oak lumber and maintaining its use for ships.  I'm assuming that by the 1850's the US must have developed a similar system.  Was live oak even used in England?

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True true and what about the British? I'd imagine they had a well developed system of growing oak lumber and maintaining its use for ships.  I'm assuming that by the 1850's the US must have developed a similar system.  Was live oak even used in England?

 

By the mid-18th century, the British were challenged for oak - they had a strong reliance on North American (primarily New England) timber - both white oak and pine for spars.  With the loss of that resource, they relied heavily on Baltic timber.  They had depleted much of their native oak and other good timber over the years - with only a few forests reserved for ship building.  Since the maturity time for the trees was outpaced by the consumption rate, they had serious issues to contend with.  I am not aware that they had live oak available due to the climatic conditions where it was found (swampy, warmer climes - Georgia and Florida in the US primarily).

 

For a good discussion of the British challenges see:

 

Albion, R.G. 1952. The Timber Problem of the Royal Navy, 1652–1862. The Mariner’s Mirror 38, no. 1: 4–22. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/citedby/10.1080/00253359.1952.10658102.

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The British were not overly fond of white oak.  From the reference above:

 

The white oak (Quercus alba) of America was considered too susceptible to dry rot; and the British completely neglected the possibilities of the invaluable live oak (Q. virens or Virginiana) which grew along the coast of the southern American colonies. In the eyes of the British shipwright, the English Qercus robur, with its rugged individuality, was the best ship-timber in the world. The favouritism did not stop there, for naval contracts frequently specified 'good, sound Sussex oak'. The oaks grown in the clayey soil of that particular county had in the opinion of the English shipbuilders no equal.

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The British scrapped the USS President mainly because on that cold, January night in 1815 when she slipped out of New York, the local Pilot put her aground on a bar off Sandy Hook, where she beat for hours in a gale and broke her back. The hogging of her keel so badly affected her sailing that the British frigate squadron was able to catch her, even though she threw most of her provisions, anchors and fresh water over the side. They took her lines off in England and built an exact replica out of English Oak. It was so close a copy that many on both sides of the Atlantic for decades thought that she was the real ship.

 

The best ship building oak was English Oak. The best timber available in the US was southern Live Oak. I think the Constitution's frames came from Amelia Island or somewhere off Georgia. Northern white oak just did not last very long, no matter how gifted and careful the shipbuilders were.

 

All US Navy ships had been specified to be built exclusively out of Southern Live Oak, unless there was a wartime emergency. Most of the surviving War-of-1812 built ships had to be rebuilt or completely replaced by the 1820s. The only exception that I can think of was the 1830's-era Frigate USS Hudson, built in New York out of local northern timbers. She had been intended for Greek Revolutionaries, but when the latter failed to pay the builders, she was politically fobbed off on the unhappy US Navy. She was condemned as completely rotten after only one three year commission to Brazil and broken up.

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