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HMS Macedonian versus USS United States
|Ordered:||28 September 1808|
|Laid down:||May 1809|
|Launched:||2 June 1810|
|Fate:||Captured by the USS United States in 1812|
|Tons burthen:||1,082 bm|
|Complement:||306 officers and men|
|Armament:||28 long 18pdrs, 16 32pdr carronades, 2 12pdrs, 2 9drs, 1 18pdr carronade|
Macedonian was built at Woolwich Dockyard, England, in 1809, launched on 2 June 1810, and commissioned in the same month, with Captain Lord William FitzRoy in command. Among the original crew was the 13-year-old Samuel Leech, who later wrote a memoir of his experiences.
Macedonian first delivered a company of soldiers to Lisbon, Portugal, then remained in the area, guarding against the possibility of French naval attack. During this period, FitzRoy made personal profit by falsification of records of ships' stores, for which he was court-martialled in March 1811 and dismissed from the service (he was quietly reinstated in August, presumably due to his aristocratic rank).
FitzRoy's replacement, William Waldegrave, was an interim appointment whose command lasted for only a few weeks before he was himself replaced by John Surnam Carden. One of Carden's first actions was to hire a band, a move popular with the crew, but he did not get along with the first lieutenant David Hope.
In January 1812, Macedonian was ordered to secretly deliver some bills of exchange to Norfolk, Virginia, and to bring back an equivalent quantity of gold and silver currency, as part of a scheme to keep the Bank of England solvent. During the visit, Carden socialized with the notables of Norfolk, including then-Captain Stephen Decatur, but bungled the mission by inadvertently revealing what was planned, and had to return to Lisbon empty handed. Captain Carden dined frequently with Decatur and his wife Susan and jokingly bet a beaver hat on the outcome of a battle of their ships. They had come to consider one another friends.
In September, Macedonian was ordered to accompany an East Indiaman as far as Madeira, then to cruise in search of prizes as long as his supplies permitted. The frigate left Madeira on 22 October, but only a few days later, on the morning of 25 October, encountered USS United States, commanded by none other than his erstwhile dinner host Decatur. The United States had just declared the War of 1812 on Britain, and both captains were eager to achieve personal glory in a fight.
Unfortunately for Macedonian, United States was one of the new 44-gun frigates, and her broadside was 864 pounds of metal, vs Macedonian's 528 pounds. USS United States hove round, turning downwind and making HMS Macedonian chase her. Within a few minutes of closing, fire from the United States's 24 pounder cannons brought down all three of Macedonian's masts, and riddled the hull. United States then pulled away temporarily, leaving Carden and Hope time to contemplate their lack of options. Finally, with the United States preparing to rake the British vessel again, Carden struck his colors, making the Macedonian the second Royal Navy vessel of the war to surrender to Americans.
Decatur was careful to preserve Macedonian, sending over a detail to help repair it. This took a full 2 weeks. Decatur then brought the captured ship into Newport, Rhode Island, on 4 December 1812, causing an immediate national sensation. USS Constitution had previously beaten HMS Guerriere, but Guerriere had been too badly damaged to save. Macedonian was a sizable and welcome addition to the then tiny US Navy.
The US took Macedonian into the United States Navy immediately, retaining the name as USS Macedonian.
- James T. de Kay, Chronicles of the Frigate Macedonian, W.W. Norton, New York, 1995.
- Robert Gardiner, "Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars", Chatham Publishing, London 2000.
- Donald L Canney, "Sailing Warships of the US Navy", Chatham Publishing, London, 2001.