USS Nautilus (1799)

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Career (USA) 100x35px
Name: USS Nautilus
Laid down: 1799
Acquired: Purchased, May 1803
Commissioned: 24 June 1803
Fate: Captured by Royal Navy, 6 July 1812
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Emulous
Acquired: By capture 6 July 1812
Fate: Sold or broken up 1817
General characteristics


Rerigged as Brig 1810
Displacement: 185 long tons (188 t)
Tons burthen: 213 (bm}

87 ft 6 in (26.67 m) (overall)

71 ft 6 in (21.79 m) (keel)
Beam: 23 ft 8 in (7.21 m)
Depth of hold: 9 ft 10 in (3.00 m)
Propulsion: Sail
Complement: 103 officers and enlisted
Armament: • 12 × 6-pounder carronades
From 1811 :
• 12 × 18-pounder carronades
British service:
12 x 12-pounder carronades + 2 x 6-pounder guns

Nautilus was a schooner launched in 1799. The United States Navy purchased her in May 1803, renaming her the USS Nautilus; she thus became the first ship to bear that name. She served in the First Barbary War. She was altered to a brigantine. The British captured Nautilus early in the War of 1812 and renamed her HMS Emulous. After her service with the Royal Navy, the Admiralty sold her in 1817.

Nautilus was built in 1799 as a merchant vessel by Henry Spencer on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The Navy purchased her at Baltimore, Maryland, from Thomas Tennant. She was commissioned 24 June 1803, under Lieutenant Richard Somers.

First Barbary War

Nautilus sailed to Hampton Roads, whence she got underway on 30 June for the Mediterranean, carrying dispatches for the U.S. Mediterranean Squadron stationed there assigned to protect the interests of the United States and its citizens residing or trading in that area, and threatened at that time by the Barbary States.

Nautilus arrived at Gibraltar on 27 July and departed again on the 31st to deliver dispatches to Captain John Rodgers in John Adams, then returned to Gibraltar to await the arrival of Commodore Edward Preble, in Constitution, and join his squadron. Constitution arrived at Gibraltar on 12 September, and after provisioning, the squadron, less Philadelphia, sailed 6 October with vessels of Capt. Rodgers's squadron to Tangier. This display of naval strength induced the Emperor of Morocco to renew the treaty of 1786.

On 31 October 1803, the Tripolitans captured Philadelphia and the squadron's interests came to focus on Tripoli and Tunis. Using Syracuse as their rendezvous point, the vessels appeared off Tunis and Tripoli at different times between November 1803 and May 1804. In February 1804, while Lt. Stephen Decatur daringly sailed Intrepid into Tripoli harbor and burned the captured Philadelphia, Nautilus cruised off Tunis.

Toward the end of the month Nautilus retired to Syracuse, returning to Tripoli in mid-March. During May and June she repaired at Messina. Departing 5 July, she joined Constitution off Tripoli on the 25th. During August and early September, she took part in the siege of Tripoli and saw action in five general attacks between 3 August and 3 September. For the next five months, she continued to cruise off Tripoli and Tunis, retiring periodically to Syracuse and Malta, whence in February 1805, she sailed to Livorno to acquire a new mainmast.

On 27 April 1805, with Oliver Hazard Perry in command, she arrived off Derne to participate in the attack, capture, and occupation of that town. She remained until 17 May, during which time she provided cover for the forces of Hamet Caramanli, former Bashaw of Tripoli, as they went into action against the army of Hamet's brother Yusuf ibn Ali Karamanli, who had overthrown Hamet and assumed his title. Departing on the 17th, Nautilus retired to Malta with dispatches and casualties. At the end of the month, she returned to Tripoli and on 10 June hostilities ceased with the signing of a peace treaty.

Nautilus remained in the Mediterranean for a year after the treaty went into effect, conducting operations from Malta and Gibraltar. In the spring of 1806 she was assigned to Algiers for dispatch duty, sailing in June for the United States.

Between wars

Arriving at Washington, D.C., in mid-July, she entered the Washington Navy Yard there and was placed in Ordinary. Reactivated in 1808, she was employed on the East Coast until entering the Navy Yard again in 1810. The Navy then altered her to a brig, giving her a battery of twelve 18-pounder (8 kg) carronades. The Navy recommissioned in 1811 and she joined Stephen Decatur's squadron.

The War of 1812 with Britain broke out on 18 June 1812, Nautilus gained the dubious distinction of being the first vessel lost on either side. A squadron built around the Third Rate Africa (64 guns) and the two Fifth Rate frigates, Shannon (38 guns) and Aeolus (32 guns), captured her off northern New Jersey. Nautilis was 24 hours out on a cruise from New York when Shannon and Aeolus captured her on 6 July. At the time of her capture she mounted 16 guns, had crew of 106 men and was under the command of Lt. William M. Crane.

British service

The Admiralty bought Nautilus for ₤3,252.17s.2d and took her into service under the name Emulous, having just lost the Cruizer class brig-sloop Emulous on 2 August.[1] On 25 August she captured the privateer schooner Science, of 74 tons, 5 guns and 52 men, under the command of Capt. W. Fernald, from Portsmouth, on a cruise. Then on 21 September 1812 Emulous captured the brig Ambition, from Baltimore bound for Boston.

On 2 February 1813 she was commissioned under the command of Commander William Mackenzie Godfrey, on the Halifax station.[1] On 21 or 24 September, the Canadian privateer Dart drove the American privateer Orange, a chebacco boat of two guns and 11 men, on to Fox Island in Machias Bay on the coast of Maine.[2][Note 1] There the boats of Emulous and Bream, under the command of Lieut. Wright of Emulous, destroyed her.[3]

At the beginning of October, Emulous captured two small American privateers in Passamaquaddy Bay, between Maine and New Brunswick. One was a schooner called the Orion, of one gun and 16 men; the other was a row boat with 17 men and small arms. On 22 July 1814, Godfrey removed to Arachne.

On 4 August 1814, Emulous recaptured the schooner Four Brothers, of 330 tons bm, R. Sinclair, master.

Post-war and fate

Capt. John Gore then took command on 23 July 1814 and remained until 3 February 1815. In June 1815 she came under the command of Commander John Undrell, still on the Jamaica station.[1] His replacement was the newly-promoted Commander Thomas Wrenn Carter,[1] who removed to Carnation in April 1816. Her last commander was Lieutenant Caleb Jackson (acting).

Emulous arrived at Deptford on 19 June 1816 to pay off and was laid up there.[1] The Admiralty sold her for ₤900 in August 1817.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Winfield (2008), pp. 321-2.
  2. Michael Phillips' Ships of the Old Navy - Emulous (1812). [1]
  3. Snider (1928), pp.83 & 93.


  • Snider, G.H.J. (1928) Under the Red Jack: Privateers of the Maritime Provinces of Canada in the War of 1812. (London:Martin Hopkinson & Co.).
  • Winfield, Rif (2008). British Warships in the Age of Sail 1793–1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth. ISBN 1861762461. 
  • This article includes text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.

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