Chapter 3 – To Build Ships for the United States Navy

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By the 1790s, the American economy revived as the young republic recovered from the chaos and economic disruption that attended the Revolutionary War. In Philadelphia, some merchants regained old markets as famine increased the demand for Pennsylvania grain in Western Europe. Others, such as Jesse and Robert Waln, Thomas Truxtun, and John Barry explored new markets in southern Europe, the East Indies, and China. As trade revived so did the shipyards, and the pace of work took on a new vibrancy. In 1791 Joshua Humphreys’ dockyard repaired or entirely refitted forty-eight different vessels and forty-seven more in 1792. Dockyard records listed the names of more than two hundred workers who performed the multitude of tasks associated with shipbuilding: sawing, planking, coppering, and caulking. Truxtun’s London Packet, already completely refitted by Humphreys and now appropriately named The Canton, returned from the Orient. In April 1791, laden with Asian goods for the burgeoning American market, The Canton sailed up the Delaware River to the wharves of Philadelphia. The now prosperous Truxtun immediately ordered a new ship, The Delaware, from Humphreys’ yard. In the construction of The Delaware, Humphreys exhibited some of the innovations in naval architecture that he later demonstrated on a greater scale in warship construction. For example, instead of using the ancient system of connecting the steering wheel to the tiller with a rope, Humphreys installed an iron chain and gear. This system enhanced the sailing master’s ability by allowing him to hold the ship by and large into the wind without the delay and slippage of the older system. By 1792 sailing vessels both large and small crowded the wharves and shipyards up and down the Delaware River. But this burst of easy prosperity proved illusory, for very quickly foreign events soon threatened the infant nation and the economic well being of Philadelphia’s shipping community.[1]

Until 1793 little impetus or public debate occurred about the re-creation of an American navy. The delegates who spent the long hot summer of 1787 in Philadelphia hammering out the new federal constitution barely mentioned a navy or naval policy. In the ensuing struggle over the ratification of the Constitution the topic surfaced, but only infrequently. In Federalist No. 11, Alexander Hamilton strongly urged the creation of a navy, while in the Virginia Convention, Patrick Henry and William Grayson argued vehemently against it. Grayson cited the cost of constructing and provisioning even a single warship, and Henry saw a navy as an agent of imperial ambition. But, as Europe descended into war, the matter became more urgent. Before the American Revolution, between eighty and one hundred American ships, protected by the British Navy, traded around the littoral of the Mediterranean Sea, now, deprived of that protection, American ships, cargoes, seamen, and passengers became the target of attack and seizure the Barbary States, the Moslem principalities along the northern coast of Africa from Algiers to Morocco. In October 1793 the British government and the Algerine states negotiated the Treaty of Portugal. It opened the Strait of Gibraltar, heretofore closed, to Algerine ships and deprived American ships of unthreatened access to the Mediterranean. Intent on plunder, the Algerine ships swept into the Atlantic and approached the coast of NorthAmerica. There is some evidence that British merchants hoped that this treaty would drive up the rates for marine insurance to a prohibitive level, thereby eliminating American competition. Evidence also suggests that they encouraged news reports that deliberately exaggerated the shipping losses. In any case, without naval protection, American commerce became helpless prey. In the closing months of 1793, Algerine pirates seized eleven American merchant ships and enslaved more than one hundred American citizens.[2]

In the late winter and early spring of 1794, stung by the new federal government’s impotence to protect American shipping and outraged by the Algerian treatment of captured Americans, Congress began debating the creation of a United States Navy. On March 27th, the Navalists, led by Federalist William Loughton Smith of South Carolina, succeeded in passing, by a narrow two-vote margin, the Naval Act of 1794. The act authorized the construction of six major ships, four of forty-four guns and two of thirty-six guns, at a cost of about $600,000. The act also contained an important caveat, to which the Navalists reluctantly, but necessarily, agreed to secure passage of the bill. If the administration succeeded in negotiating peace with the Barbary States, construction of the ships was to be suspended immediately. The act placed authority for construction in the hands of Secretary of War Henry Knox, who decided that government enterprise rather than private contractors should build the ships. President Washington and Knox also decided, largely for political reasons, that each ship would be built in a different location. Generally, they were the same ports in which ships had been built during the Revolution. This resulted in the same awkward administrative structure that had plagued Revolutionary War shipbuilding. In each port, three men: a shipbuilder, a supervising naval captain, and a naval agent, shared responsibility for the construction without clear division of authority among them. To foster co-operation among these disparate sets, Washington and Knox selected one of the shipbuilders as project manager for the construction of all six ship. Washington and Knox chose Philadelphia shipbuilder Joshua Humphreys as the “Naval Constructor”.

TABLE 1

 

Ship

Shipbuilder

Place of Construction

Supervising

Captain

United States

Joshua Humphreys

Philadelphia

John Barry

Constitution

George Claghorn

Boston

Samuel Nicholson

President

Forman Cheesman

New York

Silas Talbot

Constellation

David Stodder

Baltimore

Thomas Truxtun

Chesapeake

John Morgan

Norfolk

Richard Dale

Congress

James Hackett

Portsmouth

Joshua Barney

Since this scattered building program assured widespread support, it made sense politically, but it caused almost insurmountable practical difficulties. This widely dispersed construction required Humphreys, the supervising federal naval constructor, to communicate, largely by slow and unreliable mails, with the six individual sites. It also meant that building materials, mostly timber, had to be obtained in sufficient quantities from remote locations and then redistributed to each of the six sites. As Table 1 indicates, the six sites stretched from Norfolk, Virginia to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This scattered construction compounded the naval constructor’s burden.[3]

After soliciting designs from several shipbuilders, Knox had less difficulty in the selection of a naval architect. Knox chose Humphreys’ design for the frigates. Humphreys then had to design and supervise the construction of the other five ships as well designing and constructing one in his own yard. On June 22, 1794, Knox wrote to Humphreys, “You are appointed the Constructor or Master Builder of a Forty-four Gun Ship to be built in the port of Philadelphia at the rate of compensation of Two thousands dollars per annum.” Humphreys was a shipbuilder who Knox and several of the captains of the new ships, John Barry and Thomas Truxtun, already knew. Humphreys was also firmly in the Navalist camp. A later letter from Truxtun to Humphreys clearly expressed their shared views:

“…when we turn our minds to the construction of larger ships of war…we are obliged to commit ourselves to our own ingenuity and industry to fix the vacuum left from want of experience and practice…in an infant country whose [sic] extent, situation seem to demand a strong naval force against the impetuous and wrangling nations of the earth.”[4]

Humphreys’ plan for the six frigates constituted a revolution in the design of wooden sailing warships. He planned to build a combination of the largest, fastest, most maneuverable, and most durable warships afloat. Humphreys’ frigates measured 175 feet in length from stem to stern along the keel and 40 feet in width, breadth or beam, with a total weight of 1,576 tons. Next, Humphreys planned to construct a warship that could carry more armament on one gun-deck than any rival ship could carry on two. Not only would the ship carry more cannons, but they would fire heavier cannonballs. These two factors meant that when the American frigates fired a broadside (all of the cannons along one side of the ship firing simultaneously) they would fire a throwweight (the total weight of all the cannon balls fired in a broadside) fifty percent greater than any ship of the same class. Since wooden sailing ships, especially armed warships, are more buoyant in the middle than they are at either end, they tend to “hog,” to develop a deformative curve along the keel that eventually “breaks the back,” destroys the ship. Humphreys conceived of an innovative way to prevent hogging and to accommodate the weight of all this armament and the tremendous strain that firing a broadside placed on the structure of the ship. He added an entirely new form in shipbuilding architecture, diagonal riders, a set of timbers set in lateral rows to reinforce the structure of the hull. Then, to preserve maneuverability in face of such great weight of armament, Humphreys added a pronounced “tumblehome” to the design. This feature curved the upper sides of the ship inward from the water line to the gun deck so that the weight was pushed back over the center of gravity.[5]

Finally, Humphreys decided to build American ships with American material. His design advocated the use of southern live oak, especially for the knees and lower futtocks. These structural members carry the greatest weight and strain. Instead of using white oak, the traditional hardwood favored by English shipwrights, he planned to employ Carolina pitch pine for the beams. In addition to the drawings and models which Humphreys submitted for the secretary of war’s approval, Humphreys also identified the types of skilled workers required: “joiners [sic], boatbuilders, painters, plumbers, carvers, copperworkers, caulkers, blockmakers, mastmakers, riggers, sailmakers, chandlers, and common laborers ”. In his appointment to the office of naval constructor, Joshua Humphreys brought  with him ingenuity, experience, and a clear vision of the kinds of ships needed by the infant navy.[6]

Even if Humphreys’ design for the six frigates was innovative, the methods by which they were built reflected centuries of accumulated tradition-bound shipbuilding lore. Using mostly hand tools, skilled shipwrights constructed wooden sailing ships according to a time consuming and complex process. This began with a set of dimensional measurements called Offset Tables. Using these figures, extracted from the design drawings, the shipbuilder began lofting the ship. To loft a ship the builder drew, in full scale, a diagram of several views of the ship on top of each other, on the floor of a mold loft. Since the rough dimensions of the frigates were 175 feet by 40 feet by 40 feet, the size of the building which housed the mold loft was very large.(See: Figure 7.) Henry Knox suggested constructing a new mold loft, specifically for the frigates, but Humphreys rejected the idea as too costly. Especially to the uninitiated lay person, lofting becomes confusing when three different views of the ship: a profile view, a half-breadth view (as though the ship were bottom up and sliced down the middle), and the rear view are layered on top of each other. From this complex maze of overlaid lines the shipwright extracted measurements to construct the molds. Unlike other industries, such as iron founding where the object is made within the mold, in shipbuilding it works the opposite way. The builder constructs the ship around the molds which are later removed as the hull of the ship nears completion. This plan, understandable in its conceptualization, but extremely difficult in its execution, required that Humphreys, for structural uniformity, construct all six sets of molds in his yard and then transport the other five sets of them to the shipyards where the other frigates were under construction. Not only were Humphreys’ design architecturally innovative, but the idea of collecting timber and other material from different and widespread locations and then constructing six different but uniform ships in six different shipyards demanded innovations in management as well.[7]

Actual construction began only after Humphreys had completed these intricate preliminary steps, but difficulties surfaced immediately. Although the Naval Act had passed in March 1794, the accompanying appropriations bill was delayed until June of that year, as once again the Navalists in Congress repulsed stiff opposition. Live oak, the timber most vital to construction, particularly in the early stages, grew only in a very limited region, the coastal swamps and islands of the southern portion of the United States, from Virginia southward, with the greatest stands of timber located on the sea islands off the coast of Georgia. The summer months, June, July, August, and into September proved deadly to timber crews, principally skilled New England foresters. Pandemic diseases, malaria, yellow fever, and ague, ravaged the workers and timber cutting ground to a halt until cooler weather made labor possible. Even with the change in weather, formidable obstacles remained. Transportation proved almost impossible. Axmen cut trees more than two hundred feet tall and ten feet in circumference. Their enormous weight required teams of oxen to dislodge them from the tangled swampy undergrowth. Conditions forced the time-consuming and laborious construction of sawing pits to attempt to cut the felled trees into rough planks more easily dragged from the forests. Pit sawing required prodigious effort of two men, the top sawyer and the bottom sawyer. The top sawyer guided the frame saw along the line traced from the mold, while the bottom sawyer, out of the sun but laboring under a continual shower of sawdust, pulled the saw through the timber. (See: Figure 4.) Nearby, other woodcutters used adzes and other hand tools to shape rough timber, especially the curved lines for the weight bearing knees.

Having commenced rough cutting, formidable obstacles remained. These islands lacked accessible harbors, and trying to find ships capable of carrying such cargoes and then loading the timber on board proved almost insurmountable. In October 1794 the secretary of war dispatched Captain John Barry to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, to hasten the harvesting of live oak. Barry found that shipbuilder John Morgan, now acting as the supervisor of the sawing, had only six of the original sixty-one men and that work had ground to a halt. Timber cutting re-commenced only with the coming of cooler weather, and after Morgan had hired sixteen slaves to replace the sick and absconded northern workers. By the end of October, eighty-one Connecticut sawyers augmented this force and cutting and shipping timber began in earnest. In November, Humphreys reported to Henry Knox that John Barry had procured enough of the one thousands tons of live oak needed for each ship to begin construction. With all these impediments, including opposition from northern timber interests, Humphreys never wavered from his dedication to the use of live oak. To Knox he wrote, “Those timbers of live oak, in point of strength and durability will far exceed every other consideration.”[8]

For all of Humphreys’ unalterable optimism, problems with harvesting, sawing the timber, fashioning it into molds, and then transporting the molds to the appropriate location persisted. Only after cutting and sawing were well under way did Captain Barry discover that the contractor, John Morgan, had failed to arrange for ships to transport the finished molds. Hastily, Barry informed Humphreys, who in turn wrote to Tench Coxe, serving as Henry Knox’s assistant, and asked him to dispatch nine ships to carry the sawn oak to Philadelphia. A fire destroyed some of the molds, ships carrying timber ran aground, and the sheer magnitude of the enterprise intimidated some of the builders. One wrote: “These moulds [sic] frighten me they are so long…I cannot stand it, you say that if I was there I shou’d be mortified, if you was here you wou’d curse live oak.”[9]

One other problem, seasoned timber, bedeviled Humphreys as it had American shipbuilders since earliest times. Unseasoned timbers tend to rot quickly, mainly when exposed to the triple nemesis of wooden sailing ships: rough weather and corrosive salt water and blistering sun. The chemical salts in sea water react to the natural tannic acid in oak to rapidly deteriorate the timber. Seasoning required a shipbuilder to stack sawn timber in piles that maximized air flow around the wood until the “green” wood had dried and the liquid sap had crystallized. This process was both lengthy and expensive. It took one year to properly dry wood, and no shipbuilder, especially one financed by the infant federal government, could afford to allow huge piles of costly timber to sit so long. Consequently, both older American ships and the newly built frigates suffered from rotting timber very quickly.[10]

Besides timber, the construction of the great frigates required enormous amounts of another material, copper. As a wooden sailing ship moved through the sea or laid tied to a wharf, mainly in tropical waters, barnacles and other marine growth attached themselves to its bottom. This accumulated mass reduced the speed of the ship by as much as fifty percent, an undesirable condition in a warship that depended upon speed for its fighting effectiveness. Another sea creature, the torpedo worm, proved even more destructive. This parasite bored into the bottom of wooden ships, quickly turning them into disintegrating sponge. Since 1763 the British Royal Navy had solved the problem of boring worms and marine growth by sheeting the bottoms of warships with copper. For Joshua Humphreys and other American shipbuilders acquiring the necessary amount of copper sheeting, roughly six acres, proved a formidable obstacle. In 1794 infant American industry lacked the capacity to produce that amount of copper sheets, not to mention the one thousand, one and three eights inch copper bolts needed for planking each ship. To supply this need Humphreys turned to America’s foremost coppersmith and former revolutionary horseman, Paul Revere. But the demand even exceeded Revere’s expertise. In 1794 neither Revere nor any other American possessed the quantity of raw copper ore, the ability to refine it, or the means to roll it into sheets of uniform thickness.[11]

Despite all these difficulties, during the summer and early fall of 1794 Humphreys and his skilled workforce of shipcarpenters completed preparations required to begin construction. At intervals, the shipbuilders drove three parallel rows of pilings. Each row, ten feet apart, inclined towards the river for a distance of a hundred yards. Then, the shipwrights spiked a row of timber rails along each row of piles. Since the middle rail and row of plies bore most of the weight as construction proceeded and served as the critical guide when the finished ship was launched, builders placed large timbers called keelblocks along its length. (See: Figure 8.) By the end of October, with a row of piles, timber rails, and keelblocks in place, the shipyard stood ready. The next month, November, Humphreys received good news. John Barry had returned from Georgia and reported that the timber for the keel of The United States had been cut and was on ships headed for Humphreys’ yard in Southwark. The construction of the warship began.[12]

Perhaps the best way to comprehend the magnitude and the complexity of the construction of an eighteenth century warship is to visualize it as a giant, three dimensional, five thousand piece jigsaw puzzle. Unlike a modern jigsaw puzzle, there is no picture on the cover of the box, no pattern of colors or shapes to aid assembly. Instead of colors or interlocking shapes, each piece is labeled with exact dimensions and a name. The names: futtock, scantling, keelson, deadwood, wales, transom, breasthook, and others are arcane and have no meaning outside the ancient and mystic order of shipwrights. Assembly requires thousands of wooden, copper, and iron bolts, spikes, nails, and perhaps, some glue. Assembly also demands, patience, perseverance, great skill, co-operating weather, and luck. When completed, the puzzle will be a powerful, intimidating, 1,500 ton, 175 feet long, 40 feet wide and high engine of naval warfare.

For this engine of war the keel was the backbone. For a warship the length of  The United States, the keel consisted of six separate sections of timber, each approximately thirty feet long, two feet wide, and two feet thick. Since live oak, the material used for the keel, is among the densest of hardwoods at seventy-five pounds per cubic foot, the weight alone presented a formidable problem for the workmen. To complicate the task, construction necessitated that ship carpenters join the sections of the keel upon the elevated middle row of pilings that comprised the launchway. Carpenters joined the individual sections by a technique called “scarfing,” a method of nautical joinery invented in ancient Egypt. (See; insert on Figure 8.) As a wooden sailing ship moves through the sea, two opposite dynamic forces act upon it. The wind-filled sails push the ship; the seas resist it. The tension caused by the push and the resistance, especially of a heavily armed warship, places great stress upon the structure of the ship. Scarfing enabled the keel and stem and stern to endure this constant torque. This technique joined the sections as they overlapped at either end. To scarf the sections shipcarpenters, using a two man augur, drilled holes through the overlapping portions of the timber and then drove bolts through the holes to connect the members. Scarfing solved the problem of dynamic structural stress, but it presented workers with a labor-intensive and time-consuming task. Joining these six massive pieces required a small number of workers but took almost a month of effort. November blended into December.[13]

By the end of 1794, as the coming winter weather slowed construction, Humphreys sent the secretary of war “A Report on the Progress made in building the frigates.” He began with a plea for patience: “Considering the newness of this business, the information and every material to be obtained and the whole to be organized a considerable portion of the time must have been required.” He then described the progress to date, the obstacles overcome, and ended with a note of vibrant optimism, “The foundation of the frigate is laid…there is every reason to believe this ship may be compleated  [sic] in all next year.”[14]

The first year of building the six new ships—1794— had ended on an upbeat note, and the beginning of the new year brought bright promise. The prodigious effort of John Barry, the supervising captain, John Morgan, the shipwright turned foreman of the woodcutting, and the gang of wood cutters resulted in enough sawn timber to begin construction on all six ships. However, as continued difficulties plagued construction, 1795 brought the enterprise back to cold, hard reality. Timber and other material arrived sporadically or not at all. Supervising the construction of five other ships from remote location, while building one of the frigates himself, as well as dealing with the infant and awkward federal bureaucracy, pushed Joshua Humphreys’ ability (and patience) to its limits. Persistent problems with disbursement of funds delayed building. Letters passed between Humphreys and the disbursing bureaucrats, Gurney and Smith, who controlled the purse strings: “What I expected is now verified the workmen have broken off because they call on you for their pay + then not receiving it…either pay them or they will not work.” Humphreys concluded by threatening to take the matter directly to General Knox. Over the winter John Barry fell victim to his chronic asthma and retired to his rural home under the care of a physician. This deprived Humphreys of Barry’s technical assistance and his leverage with the War Department. By April, Thomas Truxtun wrote from Baltimore that lack of funds and material, mainly copper bolts and live oak timber, had forced him to discharge his workers. Yet, despite this turmoil, construction sputtered along, and Humphreys remained conscious of the newness and experimental nature of the project. He found time to write to Josiah Fox, an experienced English shipwright temporarily working as a clerk in the War Department, inquiring about methods used in royal dockyards: “I wish you to send me a description of the machine they have in the dockyard for driving bolts. I will thank you to describe it as minutely as possible.”[15]

When the weather began to clear in February 1795, Humphreys, though short of timber, pressed on with the work. To the forlorn keel sitting upon the blocks, ship carpenters fashioned and added two other larger pieces integral to the internal structure of the ship, the sternpost and the stempost. As with the keel, both of these members consisted of large timbers sawn, shaped, bolted together, and then bolted to the keel, the stenpost aft, or to the rear, and the stempost in the front or bow. The common method employed by shipbuilders was to use a team of oxen or horses combined with a tripod, ropes, and pulleys to raise the pieces and to swing them into place while carpenters bolted them into position. Once shipcarpenters added the stem and stern posts, they could begin to frame the ship. Frames or ribs had the appearance of giant wishbones. Workers installed frames, then scarfed timbers twelve inches thick and measuring eighty feet end to end, at intervals of two feet along the length of the keel.[16]

By the Spring of 1795, rumors circulated of the negotiations and a possible treaty with Hassan Pasha, the Dey of Algiers. This treaty threatened to end ship construction. With Congress more and more divided by acrimonious partisan politics, the Anti-Navalists used the enormous overrides in the costs and delayed construction to castigate the shipbuilding program. Dedicated Navalists such as Fisher Ames prophetically persisted “…whenever an equal number of years passed over this country to that which passed between the reign of Queen Elizabeth and George III, America will doubtless be found to possess naval strength equal to that possessed by any power whatever,” but other less ardent supporters blanched, perhaps remembering Alexander Hamilton’s strictures against the feasibility of a “temporary” navy. In this threatening atmosphere Humphreys, in words that demonstrate keen understanding of his workers, admitted difficulties:

“…there is great reason to believe it will be one year before all the timber is cut for the six frigates…several of the builders [report] that they are obliged to discharge their hands after the timber they have on hand is finished… I know to the fact the workmen considering they are to be discharged when they have wrought all the timber on hand will rather incline to prolong the work on hand.”

Searching for some solution to the dilemma, Humphreys fell on a plan:

“If the Treaty of the Mediterranean should not be concluded this year, next summer the Rovers of that sea will much embarrass our trades, but if two ships should be forwarded with all possible dispatch they would be able in a great degree to protect our trade in that quarter.”[17]

By December 1795, all six keels had been laid, but construction had not gone much further. In Philadelphia matters had progressed somewhat more. In his year-end “Report on the state of the frigate United States building in the Port of Philadelphia” Humphreys described:

“The keel is laid the stern frame all compleat [sic] +ready to raise One half of the timber for the body frame is received nearly the Whole of which is dressed + many of the frames boulted [sic] Together ready to be put into the ship.”

Some of the timbers for planks: for the strakes, beams, decks, and wales had arrived and carpenters had worked it according to the molds. Mastmakers had fashioned the timber for masts, the bowsprit, yards, and other spars. Although much work lay ahead, Humphreys and his workers had accomplished much. On December 23, 1795 Humphreys’ yard received a distinguished visit. President George Washington, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and George Custis, Washington’s adopted son, guided by Humphreys and John Barry, inspected construction of the frigate. Although Washington had been an advocate of naval power, this was his first reported visit to an American naval yard.[18]

In the same month, Henry Knox, who had begun his career before the Revolutionary War as a book seller and who had evolved into a successful, if not an outstanding administrator as the secretary of war, retired to pursue land speculation in Maine. His two immediate successors, Timothy Pickering and James McHenry proved less competent. Pickering remained in the position only briefly. McHenry, perhaps the most incompetent secretary of war in American history, succeeded to the office when Pickering moved to the Treasury Department. Both Pickering and McHenry became embroiled in the political intrigue within the executive administration and the Federalist Party as Alexander Hamilton and John Adams contended for mastery. The wrangling and the ineptitude of these two secretaries of war compounded the natural disruption of a change in command and added to the woes and delays in the frigate construction. Within Congress, opponents to the fitful construction and the cost overrides renewed their attack. The expenditures as of the end of 1795, $450,000, came close to exceeding the original estimated cost of finished construction, $633,333, and work had hardly begun. Even before Washington’s visit to Humphreys’ shipyard, word had arrived that American negotiators had completed a treaty with Hassan Pasha, Dey of Algiers. Construction on the frigates halted.[19]

The treaty with the Dey provided relief for beleaguered American merchants and seamen, but it angered and humiliated the advocates of an United States Navy. The treaty, signed in Europe on September 5, 1795 and ratified by the United States Senate and signed by the president on March 2, 1796, required a lump sum payment of $642,500 to the Dey. This amount surpassed the cost of the entire frigate construction program, even as the keels and the ribs of unfinished ships sat in yards and workmen went idle. In addition to the lump sum, the treaty also promised an annual tribute of $21,600. Ironically, while the frigates went unfinished for the want of naval stores, this very material was to be offered as payment to a Barbary pirate. Finally and most galling of all, the Dey demanded and received a thirty-two gun American-built frigate, later named The Crescent, and a brig and two schooners as part of his compensation. In a sardonic way the treaty proved to be both a frustration and a boon for Joshua Humphreys. While the frigate United States lay unfinished, Treasury Secretary Timothy Pickering gave Humphreys the commission to construct the Algerian vessels.[20]

Even with these obstacles, Humphreys remained focused on the importance of his enterprise and the need for innovation in frigate construction. In a letter to Col. James Hackett, the naval contractor in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he had written, “This [lack of clarity] must arise from the want of uniformity of thought in the United States, shipbuilding is a noble art and by communicating ideas to each other it may render great service to our country.” Similarly, Humphreys wrote to his frequent and sometimes contentious correspondent, Thomas Truxtun, concerning the superiority of American naval architecture to British shipbuilding: “In the construction of our ships we have not followed the tracts [sic] of that nation, but in my opinion have gone before them.” The construction of the frigates ceased, but behind the scene powerful proponents planned to rescue them from unfinished decay.[21]

When Congress reconvened in the spring of 1796, Albert Gallatin, a newly-elected representative from Pennsylvania, added a strident voice to the anti-naval faction. Gallatin, well versed in economics, cited the cost of the frigates. He pointed out that two-thirds of the original appropriation had been spent, yet not one keel touched water. On January 20, 1796, in the “House Committee Concerned with the Building of the Frigates”, the Navalist, led by William Smith, took Gallatin’s argument and turned it upon itself. They argued that, if the ships went unfinished, then the money already expended would be wasted. At the same time, the Senate Naval Committee requested that the Secretary of War James McHenry report on the status of the uncompleted ships. With unusual alacrity, McHenry forwarded the request to Humphreys, who promptly responded. The United States, under construction in his yard, and two other ships were near completion. They required: “421 knees, 1674 feet of 3 inch pine planking, 2993 feet of 4 inch pine planks and 1187 feet of 3 inch planks,” and that timber had already been cut in Georgia and awaited shipment. With Humphreys’ response in hand, McHenry reported to the senate committee that, for an additional appropriation of $177,961.93, the frigates could be completed by the end of 1796. After much intense lobbying and heated debate, the two sides reached a compromise. On April 20, 1796, Congress passed An Act to Provide Naval Armament, an act referred to as the Naval Act of 1796. The act authorized, at the president’s discretion, the completion of three frigates, two of forty-four guns and one of thirty-six guns, but they were not to be armed, manned, or provisioned: three ships, three captains, no navy yards, no live oak preserves, and no additional money. Later that year, in his December Address to Congress, George Washington added his considerable influenced and called for “a gradual increase in the navy.” In spite of the restrictions of the act, Humphreys sprang into action and the shipyards in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston revived.[22]

As the ships approached completion, problems, mainly timber deliveries, persisted. Humphreys complained that by late spring, timbers for the masts had arrived, but “they are not the dimensions I gave, I fear they will not be had this season. By a variety of accidents we have been disappointed in procuring the following sticks for our frigate.” Humphreys turned to the secretary of war for aid. He requested the use of the grounds of FortMifflin, perhaps a mile down the river from his yard, and asked the secretary to make provisions available for workmen sent there to stockpile the arriving shipments of live oak. To Thomas Davis, the pilot of the ship delivering the live oak, Humphreys asked that he “measure and mark the contents of each piece.” He also requested that Davis pile the timbers according to “how they fitted in the floor.” The phrase, “how they fitted in the floor,” indicated that the next two, combined stages in construction, planking and decking had commenced.

The strange terminology of shipbuilding designated the first exterior plank, inserted into a groove or “rabbet” chiseled along the length of the keel, as the garboard strake, and named the first interior plank as the limberstrake. Timber by timber the planking simultaneously ascended the interior and exterior sides of the frame. The simple term “planking” belies the immense physical labor demanded of workers constructing an eighteenth century warship. In places the planks reached the dimensions of twenty-five feet in length, twelve inches in width, and six or more inches in thickness. Depending on whether or not the planks were above or below the waterline (planks below the waterline prohibited the use of iron bolts or nails since iron corrodes quickly in salt water), shipcarpenters used a variety of fasteners: trunnels, bolts, nails, spikes to attach the planks to the ship’s frame. The most curious of these are trunnels, a corruption of the words “tree nails.” Trunnels were three feet long and two inches in diameter, hand-made wooden dowels of oak or popular. Using a hand drill, an augur, carpenters bored holes through the plank and into the frame of the ship, Then, with a mallet, the worker drove the trunnel into the bored hole and finished by sawing the protruding head flush with the surface of the plank. Trunnels had several advantages over metal bolts. They were more readily available and inexpensive relative to copper and iron, and, since wood swells when wet, they held planks securely without the problem of rust and corrosion. In constructing the frigate United States, Joshua Humphreys’ shipcarpenters drove more than forty thousand trunnels.[23]

Besides simply bolting the planks to the frame, carpenters planking a wooden warship encountered another problem. In places both the interior and exterior sides of the ship were curved surfaces. How do you bend an oak timber twenty-five feet long and six or more inches thick?  In fact medieval shipbuilders had solved the problem by a process referred to as steambending. Steambending required three pieces of equipment: a furnace to produce heat, a boiler in which to boil water into steam, and a closed container in which the planks were steamed. The rule for steambending is fairly simple. Only thickness, not length or width, matters. It requires one hour of steaming for each inch of thickness. Six inches equals six hours of steaming. Steaming made rigid timbers pliable and flexible. The catch is that steamed timbers cooled quickly and regain their rigidity. Once cool they cannot be steamed again. The process of steambending points to level of skills: experience, timing, and coordination, beyond the sheer physical strength demanded of shipcarpenters. We have no description of Humphreys’ steambending equipment, but his journals and correspondence contain several references to experiments with bending and furnaces. These and other experiments, along with his unique designs and his willingness to use American materials, attest to Humphreys’ innovative spirit.[24]

As the laborers finished planking a section of the sides of the ship, another gang of workers, caulkers, followed them. Carpenters had already bolted the planks to the frames, leaving a gap of about a half of an inch between each row of planking. Such gapping holes seem to defy logic, but shipwrights knew their craft. If planks were joined without space, the natural swelling that occurs when dry, seasoned wood is immersed in water would create enough stress to burst and splinter them. So, to some extent the natural swelling filled the space left by the planking, but caulking filled the remainder. Caulk, called oakum, was a composite of two substances: cotton fiber and resin, the sap from pine trees. First, the caulker worked the two ingredients into a rope, and, then, using a special tool, a caulker’s mallet, and a blunt chisel, he drove the caulk into the space between planks. (See: Figure 5.) Caulking solved the problem and made the ships relatively watertight, although no wooden ship was absolutely so. Some hulls leaked so badly that they needed constant pumping, a physically demanding task that sailors dreaded.[25]

As planking and caulking continued, other workers decked the ship. First to support the weight of the deck, shipcarpenters bolted timbers called knees to the frame ribs. As much else in the construction of the frigate, the knees were enormous timbers. Each knee, sawn from a single piece of live oak, weighed a thousand pounds and measured twelve feet along its curved edge. When carpenters added the knees and beams to support the lowest of the four decks, the orlop deck, construction reached a critical point. It was at this time that carpenters installed the diagonal riders. These were Joshua Humphreys’ greatest innovation in naval architecture.[26]

Together the pressure of the wind and the resistance of the sea subject the structure of a sailing ship to constant stress. For a warship, the added weight of armament, enlarged crew and necessary supplies, magnified this stress threefold. Over a period of time, the interaction of these forces caused a distortion in the structure of the ship, mainly at the keel, the backbone of the ship. At its most severe, this condition, “hogging,”  “broke the back” of the vessel and either sank it or rendered it unsailable. For more than a century ship’s architects had experimented with various agents and methods to “stiffen” the structure of the ship to counteract this fatally destructive condition. Joshua Humphreys’ brilliantly innovative solution called for the installation of diagonal riders, huge curved timbers, twenty feet long, two feet wide, and a foot thick, weighing several tons each. These, as were the knees, were hewed from a single piece of live oak. Humphreys’ plan added these riders in parallel, diagonal rows bolted from the orlop deck beams to the keel. Six riders, three on each side of the interior hull, ran sternwards from the bow to the centerline, while the remaining ten, five on each side, carried forward from the stern towards the same centerpoint. Humphreys’ design solved the problem of hogging so successfully that other ship architects, especially those in the British Royal Navy, copied or adapted the concept. They remained an integral part of warship construction until superseded by wrought iron riders well into the nineteenth century.[27]

Construction reached a feverish pitch as one deck rose upon the other. After the orlop deck, the lowest deck, carpenters constructed the berthing deck, the living quarters for the crew. Eighteenth century warships were built without consideration for the comforts of the crew. The space between the berthing deck and the one above was less than five feet. Tall sailors beware! Whereas a merchant ship carried as few seamen as possible (less wages for sailors meant greater profits for shipowners), a warship, such as The United States, carried a crew of more than 300 men, the number needed to fight the ship in time of battle. Three hundred living beings dwelled in a tiny wooden kingdom forty feet wide and one hundred and seventy-five feet long for up to a year at a time. Navies issued a hammock to each seaman, which he suspended by hooks from the beams of the deck above, stacks of three, shoulder to shoulder. The seaman in the uppermost hammock might sleep with his nose within inches of the beam above him. When a sailor was on duty, “on watch,” he lowered his hammock, rolled all his worldly possessions into it, and stuffed it in netting rigged as a kind of storage locker, and another seaman’s hammock took his place. Even though the captain and the other ship’s officers had more privacy, they had little more space. The captain’s cabin was designed to reinforce his dignity and authority, but, in time of battle, it too became a fighting space. The ship’s carpenter knocked down the bulkheads (walls), tore out the windows and fixed rear-pointing cannons called chasers in their place.[28]

Above the berthing deck went the heart of the warship, the reinforced gundeck with sixteen gunports on each side. And finally, came the uppermost deck, the spar deck, the sailor’s domain. Here the crew “worked” the ship. The name, spar deck, came from the extra spars, mast, rope and cable stored here within easy reach for times of emergency. But the spar deck was also a fighting deck, for along each side were more gunports reserved for the heaviest weapons, the 32-pound carronades. By April 1797, what had been a bare-ribbed, scaffold-encased apparition at the beginning of the year assumed the visage of a mighty warship.[29]

The completion of the frigate remained the focal point of Humphreys’ attention, but other matters tugged at him. While work on the Algerine frigate continued, Secretary of Treasury Oliver Wolcott first asked Humphreys to submit designs for revenue cutters to serve the port of Charleston and then ordered him to construct these ships. Humphreys even found time to pen a letter to George Washington, now in retirement. “Before you left this city you mentioned you wanted a pump for raising water about sixty feet.” Humphreys offered to locate and arrange transportation of such a pump to the gentleman farmer at Mount Vernon.[30]

While laboring on the construction of the hull of the warship, Humphreys had also given considerable thought to the decoration and painting of the ship, especially the figurehead and stern of the frigate. While these might seem to be trivial details, to naval authorities these are powerful and visual statements of a nation’s naval presence. Joshua Humphreys and Henry Knox asked William Rush, a Philadelphia artist, to submit designs. Humphreys included his own suggestion:

“The sterns, I conceive should be all alike to show one family values and represented by an Eagle in the center with the Constitution around him supported on each Quarter by figures of Liberty and Justice.”

These carved figures powerfully reflect the essence of Federalist naval ideology. They evoked a strong national power and authority under law. They represented armed might that confirmed and preserved liberty and justice of all citizens.[31]

The inculcation of the people of Philadelphia with the symbolic significance of a federal warship had begun long before Humphreys had laid the keel of The United States, or before William Rush carved his figurehead. An ideologically laden float bearing the warship Union had been a centerpiece of the Grand Federal Procession held on July 4, 1788. This parade celebrated both the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the more recent ratification of the Constitution. Francis Hopkinson, Federalist poet and playwright, and committees of Philadelphia’s elite carefully scripted and organized the elaborate extravaganza. They had organized the spectacle into two main divisions: “a chronological pageant of government progress since 1776,” and a “huge mustering of the city’s crafts and trades.” The first division not-so-subtly reminded the people of the accomplishments of the government of the city under the aegis of the elite leaders. The second promised continued economic prosperity under the same leadership now embodied in the new federal government.

Within the twofold division, the organizers subdivided the parade into eighty-eight sections of which the warship Union and the shipbuilders were near the center. Philadelphia’s shipbuilders had constructed an impressive float bearing the thirty feet long, twenty gun, fully rigged warship. But the “captain” and the “crew” of the ceremonial vessel were neither sailors nor seamen; they were Philadelphia’s wealthiest shippers and shipowners.

Behind the ship marched eighty-nine shipwrights led by Joshua Humphreys and Manuel Eyre. They carried a banner representing a draft of a ship on the stocks and an open chest that displayed the tools of their craft; 330 mastmakers, caulkers, and ship joiners followed the shipwrights. All wore sprigs of white oak. This following contingent carried tools of their special skills and their own banner bearing the message, “By These We Support Our Families.” Clearly, Philadelphia’s elite intended to remind the populace that lined the parade route of the connection between their power and hierarchal authority and the good order and prosperity of the whole community.[32]

During the spring of 1797, while work on the frigate neared completion, Philadelphia crackled with political turmoil. As a symbol of Federalist power, the hulk of the frigate became a lightning rod for Anti-Federalist enmity. A rumor, denied by Humphreys, circulated that someone had attempted to set fire to the ship, but guards were appointed “to prevent accident.” Even with the appointment of guards, security remained a problem. Humphreys complained of the, “guards placed for the safety of the frigate, [that] they are frequently drunk….”[33]

On April 6, 1797 the hostility culminated in an incident that both reduced the conflict to an individual, personal level and augured ominously for the continuation of Joshua Humphreys’ career as the Naval Constructor. During the mid-day dinner hour three visitors joined the throngs that came to view the inadequately-guarded ship. One was Benjamin Franklin Bache, the grandson of Benjamin Franklin and heir to the Franklin printing business. Bache, a democrat and an admirer of the FrenchRepublic, edited and published the virulently Anti-Federalist daily newspaper, The Aurora. Bache has insinuated that the Federalist administration had bribed the Southwark shipbuilders to guarantee their political support. This charge carried a kernel of truth. Both George Washington and Henry Knox had paid attention to political concerns in the geographic distribution of the locations for the construction of the frigates. In particular, the increasingly-infuriated Bache targeted the revered George Washington and his successor, the recently inaugurated John Adams, with his vitriolic abuse. Although his pen spared neither Federalist nor lukewarm Republican, the level of Bache’s attack on the two presidents reached a crescendo of vilification that even his biographer labeled “paranoia.” If Bache came to Humphreys’ yard looking for trouble and hoping to provoke an incident, he got both and more.

Here is Bache’s version of the incident:

“On Tuesday between one and two o’clock I took a walk with two friends into Southwark. It was proposed by one of them that we should step on board the frigate, which we did, having first obtained leave of the guard. The workmen were at their dinner. While we were looking at the river from the windows of the upper Cabin, we perceived some piece of cork thrown towards us thro’ The hatchway from below, we concluded that they were thrown out Of playfulness by some acquaintance, or perhaps by some person Belonging to the frigate who might have mistaken us for acquaintances. The intention was probably to provoke us to an altercation or to induce us below on the main deck. We took no notice of the throwing several minutes elapsed without it beingrepeated, and I had quite forgot it. The bell on the upper deck was struck as my friend walked towards it, I stood on the gangway looking at it. Immediately some 12 or 15 workmen came upon the deck from the stage and stood along the gunwale. I supposed at the time that the bell was to sum-mon them to their work but it was probably to get them on deck to stand by the assassin in case of need. I was standing alone, as I thought, still looking at the bell When I felt a violent blow to my head. My first thought was that something had fallen on me; I then received a second blow, and immediately after-wards perceived the cowardly ruffian before me in a menacing attitude. Stunned as I was with the violence of the two blows which must have been struck from behind, I was unable to defend against a third, much less return them. About this period in the assault I heard several broken sentences uttered such as that I had in my paper ‘accused shipcarpenters of being bribed,’ that I had ‘abused the president on the day of his resignation,’ and as I left the vessel ‘that I had printed several TORY pieces in my paper.’My friends succeeded in holding the assailant for a few moments when I challenged him to meet me below, I succeeded. Finally by the interposition of my friends in getting from on board The perpetrator of this cowardly assassination, I have been Informed, is Humphries [sic] son of the builder of the frigate.”[34]

If Bache’s explanation seems disingenuous, it makes sense. It is hard to believe that even a paranoid Bache would deliberately place himself in such imminent physical danger just for the purpose of adding ammunition to his Anti-federalist journalistic campaign.

Here is Clement Humphreys’ terse version of the same incident: “the account given by Bache is totally false.” Humphreys explained the brevity of his response by his fear of being held in contempt of court.[35]

As a proclamation of innocence, Humphreys’ defense left a lot to be desired. The court agreed. The following December, Judge Thomas McKean, the future Republican governor of Pennsylvania, heard the case. He found Clement Humphreys guilty of assault and battery, fined him fifty dollars, and made him post a $2,000 surety bond to guarantee his future good behavior. The Aurora expressed no enduring animosity towards either Joshua Humphreys or the frigate. However, President John Adams added a postscript to the incident when, to annoy his nemesis Bache, he appointed Clement Humphreys as captain of a ship sent to deliver important diplomatic dispatches to France.[36]

While tensions simmered, anticipation mounted, during March and April references to pumps and watering littered Humphreys’ correspondence. Watering signaled the near-completion of a wooden sailing ship. After carpenters completed the hull and caulkers caulked the seams, the shipwrights pumped water into the hold. Paradoxically, as the watered planking swelled, the seams became watertight. Also, several tons of water in the hold of the ship acted as weight, ballast, over the lowest point in the center of gravity to aid the launching of the vessel.[37]

At last the long anticipated day, May, 10, 1797, arrived. After two years of incessant labor by Joshua Humphreys, John Barry, hundreds of local workers, and a cadre of distant woodcutters, the frigate U.S. United States stood poised in its ways ready for launch. Newspapers had advertised the event and a huge crowd, estimated between twenty and thirty thousand, attended. In spite of the presence of a regiment of militia, people crowded the yard and swarmed onto nearby roof tops and the tower of neighboring Old Swedes Church. Boats filled the river. One of these, the brig Sophia, carried a distinguished delegation: Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, Secretary of Treasury Oliver Wolcott, and Secretary of War James McHenry. Only President John Adams failed to attend.[38]

Great danger attended the launching of a fifteen hundred ton ship. Even though parts of the description may be incomprehensible to us, it seems only fair to allow Joshua Humphreys to describe the launching of his own creation in is own words.

“The frigate United States being finished ready for launching – the launching planks – bilge way blocking cross pieces and shores fore and aft wedges all prepared and fitted two of her largest anchors sunk in the yard in front of the ship and two large cables lashed through the hause holes…being thus prepared on the 10th of May at day light in the Morning I proceeded to launch down the bilge ways in order to retallow the launching plank. At 7 O’Clock this being done I began to haul them up this being done I replaced the wedges, cross pieces + shores, took away the second tier of the standing shores aloft at the same time leaving a temporary tier fitted to a plank put on the copper a little above the blocking I then(removed) the wedges in order to take apart of the burthen of the ships from the wales shore which with the keel would bare the whole weight of the ship – after the temporary tier was taken away which was necessary to be done immediately to give sufficient room for fitting up the ship this operation was performed by driving the wedges between the blocking fixed to the bottom and the bilge-way by fifty-five carpenters on each side to give the ship a solid fixed situation in her ways and to take as much weight as possible off the blocks under the keel that might more easy to take the blocks from under the keel, but before they could be all got out the ship began to which strained the spur shores to much as to induce me to believe some accident might possibly happen, under this idea I thought it most prudent to order the spur shores to be taken away and before I could give the word to cut the lashings of the cable the ship gained considerable way Cap Dale (who commanded on board) very prudently ordered them cut, this being the finishing part of the act of launching, the ship was left to herself only to be conducted by her launching to her own element, with at least thirty of her wakmen under her bottom who popped up as she passed over them, where she safely arrived at one O’clock without straining or hogging more than one & a quarter inch as you will see by the inclosed certificate to my great and unspeakable satisfaction. The firmness of the ship is a convincing proof to me of the utility of the octagonal riders in long ships, in Europe where they are not known, it is said large ships hogg in launching nearly two feet, but what confidence to be placed in the ascertion I cannot say.”

What Humphreys failed to report, but the newspapers did, was that near disaster attended the launch. As the huge ship slid down the ways, it gathered such velocity that its momentum carried it clear to the opposite shore of the river where it remained grounded until carried off by the outgoing tide. Humphreys reported the damage as negligible. However, in the euphoria the small glitch went unnoticed. The crowd applauded and celebration followed. Humphreys, John Barry, and the master carpenters shared a toast and “the shipcarpenters and artists dined together afterwards and spent the rest of the day in utmost festivities.”[39]

When heads cleared and euphoria dimmed, cold, hard reality returned. Joshua Humphreys had launched the first American frigate, and two others followed. In Baltimore the Constellation was launched on September 7, 1797 and the Constitution, built at Boston and plagued by an aborted launch, finally caromed into the sea on October 21, 1797. But three skeleton ships remained unmanned, unarmed, and unrigged. During the summer of 1797 another outbreak of Yellow Fever struck Philadelphia. The deadly epidemic hit with greatest virulence in the most congested parts of the city nearest the river. Workmen fled; work went undone. For security the frigate United States was floated down river to Fort Mifflin. A warship, without a war, sat tethered to a dock, instead of being freed to roam the seas, serve a mission, and prove its worth. Yet, within ten days of the launch events began to unfold that created the United States Navy and gave the waiting warship a purpose and a mission. The undeclared war with France that plagued John Adams’ administration gave Humphreys’ ships the opportunity to show their mettle and the validity of his vision: American ships and an American navy.[40]


            Notes on Chapter 3

[1]Thoms M. Doerflinger, A Vigorous Spirit of Enterprise: Merchants and Developments in Revolutionary Philadelphia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), chapt. 7; Ferguson, Ttruxtun, 52-62, and 93; Clark, Gallant, 327, and Brewington, “Maritime,” 108.

Among the Joshua Humphreys Collection housed in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania is the Joshua Humphreys Daybook, 1791-1823. It identifies workers by name, days worked, wages paid, and sometimes tasks performed. It frequently identifies the ship by name. It also tabulates total wages paid an individual over a period of time, usually, but not always, a calendar year.

            [2] William Fowler Jr., Jack Tars and Commodores: The American Navy 1783-1815 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1984), 5-12; Marshall Smelser, The Congress Founds the Navy, 1787-1815 (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1959), 27-31; O’Connor, Origins, 62-64; Harold and Margaret Sprout, The Rise of the American Navy, 1776-1918 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1967), 34-41, and Stanford Sternlicht and Edwin M. Jameson, U.S.F. Constellation: “Yankee Racehorse” (Cockeysville: Liberty Press, 1981), 4-5.

            [3]Symonds, Navalists, 31-35; Fowler, Jack Tars, 19; Smelser, Congress, and O’Connor, Origins, 57-64.

            [4]Also included in the Joshua Humphreys Collection at HSP are three volumes of copies of letters sent by Humphreys. These are identified as “Letterbook, Volume 1, 1793-1797,” “Letterbook, Volume 2, 1797-1800,” and “Letterbook, Volume 3, 1800-1835.” The first two are used here and cited as “Letterbook, Vol.1” and “Letterbook, Vol. 2.” In addition to the three volumes of letterbooks, there is one volume “Joshua Humphreys Correspondence” that consists of copies of letters that Humphreys received between January 1795 and August 1827. (Hereafter cited as “Correspondence.”)

For Humphreys’ innovations in naval architecture see: Thomas Truxtun to Joshua Humphreys, Jan.30, 1795, “Correspondence.”

            [5]Other sources for the dimensions of the ship and Humphreys’ design ideas are: Sternlicht, Constellation, 13, Symonds, Navalists, 36; Fowler, Jack Tars, 19; Smelser, Congress, 72; Clark, Gallant, 370, and Henry Knox to Joshua Humphreys, June 22, 1795 as quoted in Col. Henry H. Humphreys (ret.) “Who Built the First United States Navy?,” Journal of American History Vol. X  Number 1 (1906), 50.

            [6]The list of skilled workers is in an earlier letter, Joshua Humphreys to Robert Morris, Jan. 6, 1793, “Letterbook, Vol, 1.”

            [7]Joshua Humphreys to Henry Knox, Dec. 8, 1794, “Letterbook, Vol. 1.”

            [8]Clark, Gallant, 372-374; Ferguson, Truxtun, 114-115; Smelser, Congress, 74-76, and Joshua Humphreys to Henry Knox, Nov. 13, 1794, “Letterbook, Vol. 1.” For a more extensive description of sawing see: Henry E. Gruppe, The Frigates (Alexandria: Time-Life Books, 1979, 17-81 and Virginia S. Wood, Live Oaking: Southern Timber for Tall Ships (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press), 23-31.

            [9]Clark, Gallant, 373 and Joshua Humphreys to Tench Coxe, no date, “Letterbook, Vol. 1.” The quote is from a letter, Thomas Truxtun to Joshua Humphreys, Oct. 21, 1794 as quoted in Ferguson, Truxtun, 115. Truxtun, who had published a book on navigation and the arrangement of the rigging, masts, and spars for sailing ships, and Humphreys had several, but apparently professional and amicable, disagreements. Humphreys thought Truxtun’s masting conservative. Truxtun’s biographer writes of Humphreys, “He was never as dogmatic as Truxtun, and he demonstrated a much more secure grasp of mechanical principles. Humphreys, in his methodical way, was a creator and innovator. His friend (Truxtun) without peer as a ship commander, was always a little too willing to give advice and opinions on subjects he had not mastered;” Ferguson, Truxtun, 116. Gruppe and Wood state that the quotation daming live oak is from the shipbuilder-turned woodcutter, John Morgan, which would make more sense; Gruppe, Frigates, 17 and Wood, Live Oaking, 28.

            [10]For an extended discussion of the seasoning of timber for American ships and the attendant problems see: Fowler, Rebels, 5-10. See also, Joshua Humphreys to John Barry, Oct. 1800 as quoted in Clark, Gallant, 466. A detailed account of all the repairs made on The United States between its launching 1797 and 1800 are in “Records of the Building of the United States, 1797-1800,” Joshua Humphreys Papers, HSP.

            [11]Parts of Humphreys’ correspondence with Paul Revere over the problem of copper sheeting and bolts are detailed in: Paul Revere to Joshua Humphreys, Jan. 21, 1801, “Correspondence.” For a more extensive discussion on the use of copper in ship construction see: Arthur L. Cross, “On Coppering Ships’ Bottoms” American Historical Review XXXIII (1927-1928), 79-81.

            [12] Clark, Gallant, 374; Gruppe, Frigates, 18; Wood, Live Oaking, 5; Peter Goodwin, The Construction and Fitting of the English Man of War, 1650-1850 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1987), 5 and Joshua Humphreys to Henry Knox, Dec. 8, 1794, “Letterbook, Vol. 1.

            [13]For a comprehensive description of the construction of an eighteenth century frigate and an explanation of shipbuilding technology see: Goodwin, Construction.

            [14]Clark, Gallant, 377; Joshua Humphreys to Gurney and Smith, Dec. 8, 1794, “Letterbook, Vol. 1”; Joshua Humphreys to Josiah Fox, May 18, 1795, “Letterbook, Vol. 1”, and Thomas Truxtun to Joshua Humphreys, April 19, 1795, “Correspondence, Vol. 1.”

            [15]Joshua Humphreys to ?, no date, “Letterbook, Vol. 1”; Joshua Humphreys to James Markele, May 26, 1796, “Letterbook, Vol. 1,” and Joshua Humphreys to Henry Knox, Dec. 20, 1794, “Letterbook, Vol. 1.”

            [16]Goodwin, Construction, 5-13.

            [17]Joshua Humphreys to Tench Francis, June 26, 1795, “Letterbook, Vol. 1,” and Fisher Ames speech, Second Session, Fourth Congress, as quoted in: Symonds, Navalists, 40.

            [18]Joshua Humphreys to Henry Knox, Dec. 4, 1795, “Letterbook, Vol.1,” and Clark, Gallant, 374-378.

            [19]Ferguson, Truxtun, 116; Symonds, Navalists, 41; O’Connor, Origins, 63-64; Bernard C. Steiner, The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry: Secretary of War under Washington and Adams (Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Co., 1907), 180-181, and Letters, Timothy Pickering to Joshua Humphreys, Sept. 14, 1798 and Oct. 9, 1798, “Calendar of Pickering Papers,” Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. III, (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1896).

            [20]Donald Barr Chidsey, The War in Barbary: Arab Piracy and the Birth of the United States Navy (New York: Crown Publishers, 1971), 30; Symonds, Navalists, 39; Gruppe, Frigates, 19; Clark, Gallant, 379-380; Joshua Humphreys to Tench Francis, March 28, 1797, “Letterbook, Vol.”; Copy of a letter, Tench Francis to William Pennock, April 14, 1797, “Letterbook, Vol.1,” and O’Connor, Origins, 62-64.

            [21]Joshua Humphreys to James Hackett, no date, “Letterbook, Vol. 1,” and Joshua Humphreys to Thomas Truxtun, no date, “Letterbook, Vol. 1.”

            [22]Jack K. Bauer, “Naval Shipbuilding Programs, 1794-1860” Military Affairs (Spring 1965), 30; Sprout, Rise, 55-59; Gruppe, Frigates, 19; Sternlicht, Constellation, 13; Ferguson, Truxtun, 121-138; Symonds, Navalists, 44-45; O’Connor, Origins, 63-66, and Smelser, Congress, 78-83.

            [23]Goodwin, Construction, 39-59; Joshua Humphreys to “Secretary of War”, Feb. 3, 1797, “Letterbook, Vol. 2,” and Joshua Humphreys to Thomas Davis, Feb. 13, 1797, “Letterbook, Vol. 2.”

            24Joshua Humphreys to ?, no date, “Letterbook, Vol. 1,” and “Report on the Progress made in building the Frigates,” Dec. 20, 1794, “Letterbook, Vol. 1.” For a description of steambending on a wooden ship, including photographs of steambent planking see: Maynard Bray, “Rockland, North End Shipyard: Some Techniques” Wooden Boat Vol. 58 (July-August 1983), 58-59, and Peter H. Spectre, “Schooner Heritage” Wooden Boat Vol. 58 (July-August 1983), 53.

            [25]Goodwin, Construction, 39-59, and Joshua Humphreys to Josiah Fox, July 22, 1796, “Letterbook, Vol. 1.”

            [26]Most of the historians of the creation of the United States Navy credit Joshua Humphreys for a number of innovations in naval architecture. They especially point to his idea of the diagonal riders. For examples see: Eddy, “Defended,”American Neptune, 174; Chapelle, History, 85; Smelser, Congress, 72; Martin, Most, 5; Gruppe, Frigates, 16; “Old Ironsides,” National Geographic, June 1997, Vol. 191, No. 6, 38-53, and “Six Ships that Shook the World,” Invention and Technology, Fall 1997, Vol. 13, No. 2, 24-37. The photographs and illustrations in these last two sources are helpful in understanding naval architecture.

            [27]Gruppe, Frigates, 16; “Old Ironsides,” 45-51, and “Six Ships,” 26-30.

            [28]For an interesting and informative first hand account of life aboard a nineteenth century warship see: Herman Melville, White Jacket or the World in a Man-of-War (Chicago: Northwestern Press, 1970). Before he deserted in 1850, Melville sailed aboard the U.S. United States. He derisively referred to the ship as the “U.S. Neversink” and the captain as “Captain Claret.”

            [29] “Old Ironsides,” 45-47.

            [30]Joshua Humphreys to ?, Feb. 15, 1797, “Letterbook, Vol. 2”, David Stodder to Joshua Humphreys, Dec. 12, 1796, “Correspondence, Vol. 1,” 32, and Joshua Humphreys to George Washington, April 27, 1797, “Letterbook, Vol. 2.”

            [31]Joshua Humphreys to Sect. of War, no date, “Letterbook, Vol. 1,” and Clark, Gallant, 382.

            [32]Historians have focused on parades and other public ceremonial displays as a means of interpreting the political ideology especially of those who are historically voiceless. For descriptions of the Grand Federal Procession see: Paul A. Gilje, “The Common People and the Constitution: Popular Culture in New York City in the Late Eighteenth Century”, in New York in the Age of the Constitution, ed. by William Pencak and Paul A. Gilje (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1992), 48-59; Simon Peter Newman, Parades and the Politics of the Street: Festive Culture in the Early American Republic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997) 40 and 42; Susan G. Davis, Parades and Power: Street Theater in Nineteenth Century Philadelphia (Berkley: University of California Press, 1986) 117-121, and Pennsylvania Gazette, July 9, 1788. The quotation is from Davis, Parades, 118.

            [33]Joshua Humphreys to Sect. of War, March 26, 1797, “Letterbook, Vol. 2;” James Tagg, Benjamin Franklin Bache and the Philadelphia Aurora (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991) 311-323, and Harry M. Tinkcom The Republicans in Pennsylvania, 1790-1801: A Study in National Stimulus and Local Response (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1950), 177-178.

            [34]Tagg, Benjamin, 328-329, and The Aurora, April 6, 1797. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has either bound or microcard copies of The Aurora for its entire publication period both under Benjamin Bache and, after his death, by William Duane.

            [35]Tagg, Benjamin, 329, and the Gazette of the United States, April 10, 1797, also part of the HSP collection.

            [36]Tagg, Benjamin, 347.

            [37]Joshua Humphreys to Tench Francis, March 2, 1797, “Letterbook, Vol. 2;” Joshua Humphreys to John Vaughn, March 11, 1797, “Letterbook, Vol. 2,” and Joshua Humphreys to James McHenry, March 22, 1797, “Letterbook, Vol.2.”

            [38] Clark, Gallant, 384; Fowler, Jack Tars, 27, and Smelser, Congress, 107.

            [39]Joshua Humphreys to Sect. of War, May 10, 1797, “Letterbook, Vol. 2;” Smelser, Congress, 107; Sprout, Rise, 50; Fowler, Jack Tars, 27; O’Connor, Origins, 66, and Clark, Gallant, 384-386.

            [40]For an extensive discussion of the Yellow Fever epidemic and its effect on the inhabitants of the Philadelphia waterfront see: John H. Powell, Bring Out Your Dead: The Great Plague of Yellow Fever in Philadelphia in 1793 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1949), 18-47; Sternlicht, Constellation, 13; Symonds, Navalists, 69; Ferguson, Truxtun, 137-138; Clark, Gallant, 388-392, O’Connor, Origins, 66; Sprout, Rise, 60; Gruppe, Frigates, 23-24; Smelser, Congress, 107, and Fowler, Jack Tars, 27.

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