USS Adams (1799)

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Name: USS Adams
Laid down: 1797
Launched: 8 June 1799
Commissioned: 1799
Fate: Scuttled 1814
General characteristics
Type: Frigate
Displacement: 530 long tons (539 t)
Length: 113 ft (34 m)
Beam: 34 ft (10 m)
Depth: 10 ft 8 in (3.25 m)
Complement: 220 officers and men
Armament: • 28 × 12-pounder guns

The first USS Adams was a 28-gun (rated) sailing frigate of the United States Navy. She should not be confused with USS John Adams.


She was laid down in 1797 at New York City by John Jackson and William Sheffield and launched on 8 June 1799. Capt. Richard Morris took command of the ship.

Quasi-War with France

The frigate departed New York in mid-September 1799 and headed for the West Indies to protect American shipping from attacks by French privateers, during the Quasi-War with France. She arrived at Saint Christopher on 10 October and soon began cruising nearby waters in search of French men of war and any prizes which had been captured by warships flying French colors.

Later that month, she recaptured the brig Zylpha and assisted USS Insurgent in taking an unidentified 4-gun French privateer and freeing an English brig and a schooner from Boston which that vessel of prey had seized.

On 12 November, she again teamed with Insurgent in recapturing the 14-gun English brig Margaret. On the 15th, they took the French privateer Le Onze Vendémiaire. On the 20th, they cooperated in liberating the schooner Nancy which had struck her colors on the 18th.

On 10 January 1800, Adams and USS Eagle made the French schooner La Fougeuse their prize and, late in the month, Adams recaptured the schooner Alphia. Two more French schooners, L'Heureuse Rencontre and Isabella fell into her hands in February. The following month, she freed the sloop Nonpareil and she did the same for the schooner Priscilla in April.

But Adams most successful month came in May when she recaptured an unidentified schooner and teamed up with Insurgent once more in freeing a British letter of marque. During the same month she also recaptured another schooner named Nancy, one called Grinder, and an unidentified brig while capturing the brig Dove and the schooner Renommee.

In need of repairs, Adams returned to New York in July 1800, but early in the fall headed back to the Caribbean under the command of Capt. Thomas Robinson. However, on this cruise she did not have the success which she had enjoyed under Capt. Richard Morris but for the most part was limited to patrol and escort duty. She did manage to recapture the British schooner Grendin, but the date of the action is unknown. On 23 March, the Secretary of the Navy ordered her home and she was laid up at New York.

First Barbary War

However, trouble in the Mediterranean prevented her respite from being long. The Barbary states on the northern coast of Africa were capturing American merchantmen attempting to trade in that ancient sea and enslaving their crews. Adams was reactivated in the spring of 1802 under the command of Capt. Hugh George Canfield. On 10 June 1802, she departed New York and headed for the Strait of Gibraltar carrying orders for Commodore Richard V. Morris, her first commanding officer who was now in command of the American Mediterranean Squadron. She arrived there on 22 July and remained in that port blockading the Tripolitan cruiser Meshuda lest she escape and prey on American shipping. It was not until 8 April 1803 that she was freed of this duty. She then joined the rest of Morris' squadron in operations off Tripoli.

However, as a squadron commander, Morris seemed to have lost the dash and daring he had displayed in operations against the French in the West Indies while in command of a single ship. His indecisiveness in the Mediterranean prompted Washington to order his recall and he sailed for home in Adams on 25 September. The frigate carried Morris to Washington and was placed in ordinary at the navy yard there in November 1803.


Reactivated under command of Capt. Alexander Murray in July 1805, Adams cruised along the coast of the United States from New York to Florida protecting American commerce. In the autumn of the following year she was again laid up in Washington and - but for service enforcing the Embargo Act in 1809 - remained inactive at the nation's capital until the outbreak of the War of 1812. In August 1811 she became the receiving ship at the Washington Navy Yard.

War of 1812

In June 1812, Adams was cut in half amidships and lengthened 15 feet in the course of being completely rebuilt as a sloop-of-war. Commanded by Capt. Charles Morris, she was ready for action by the end of the year, but was bottled up in the Chesapeake Bay by blockading British warships until she finally managed to slip out to sea on 18 January 1814. She cruised in the eastern Atlantic and along the African coast and took five merchantmen prizes before putting in at Savannah, Georgia, in April.

Underway again in May, she headed for the Newfoundland Banks and ultimately sailed eastward to waters off the British Isles. During this cruise, she took five more merchant ships chased two more into the River Shannon, and barely managed to escape from a much larger British warship. Near the end of her homeward passage, she ran aground on the Isle au Haut on 17 August 1814 and was damaged seriously. Skillful seamanship aided by a rising tide managed to refloat the ship and despite heavy leaking she made it into the Penobscot River and reached Hampden, Maine. There on 3 September 1814, during the Battle of Hampden, she was scuttled and set ablaze to prevent capture by a British squadron under the command of Rear-Admiral Griffiths supporting British offensive operations in Maine.

Post-war and refitting

File:USS Adams Drydock B.jpg
USS Adams (1874) in dry dock. The hull is from the original Adams (1799).

For more than 50 years, the hull of the Adams lay bleaching and forgotten. After the Civil War ended, a new building program was launched by Congress and in 1874 attention again turned to the Adams. It was found that her hull was still intact, which had been built of wood, part of which was solid oak 32 inches thick. The Adams was recommissioned on July 21 1874 (see USS Adams)[1].

See also


  1. From a Los Angeles area newspaper article, Last of Those Sailing Men o' War, 1953

This article includes text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.