USS Nightingale (1851)

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Career (US) 100x35px
Name: Nightingale
Owner: Davis & Co.; Sampson & Tappan’s Pioneer Line of Australian Packets
Ordered: Capt. A.F. Miller, Boston, MA
Builder: Samuel Hanscomb Jr., Portsmouth, NH
Cost: $43,500
Launched: 1851
Notes: Tea trade from China to London and New York; passengers from Boston and New York to Australia
Owner: [?] Salem MA, then Rio de Janeiro
Acquired: 1860
Captured: 1861, by USS Saratoga, Africa Squadron, with slaves, off Kabenda, Africa
Owner: U.S. Government
Acquired: 1861
Commissioned: 18 August 1861, as coal and store ship
Decommissioned: 20 June 1864, Boston Navy Yard
Renamed: USS Nightingale
Refit: Fitted out as ordnance ship in Pensacola, 1863
Owner: Western Union Telegraph Co., San Francisco
Acquired: 1865 or 1866
In service: For use in laying telegraph cable across the Bering Straits
Owner: Samuel G. Reed & Co., Boston MA
Acquired: 1868
Owner: George Howes, San Francisco
Acquired: 1876
Notes: Sailed from San Francisco to New York with a cargo of oil [?}
Career (Norway)
Owner: S.P. Olsen, Kragerø, Norway
Port of registry:  Norway
Acquired: 1876 or 1878
Fate: Abandoned at sea in the North Atlantic, 1893, en-route from Liverpool-Halifax, NS[1]
General characteristics
Type: Extreme clipper
Displacement: 1,066 long tons (1,083 t)
Length: 177 ft (54 m)
Beam: 36 ft (11 m)
Draft: 19 ft (5.8 m)
Propulsion: sail
Sail plan: Rig reduced to barque, 1885-1886[1]
Speed: Unknown
Complement: 186
Armament: 4 × 32–pounders

USS Nightingale (1851) was originally the captured clipper ship Nightingale, which operated as a slave trader. It was captured in Africa by Saratoga, taken as a prize, and was later purchased by the United States Navy in 1861.

During the American Civil War, because of her large size, she was assigned as a supply ship and collier to support the fleet of Union Navy ships on the blockade of the ports and waterways of the Confederate States of America.

Figurehead of Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale

The Nightingale was built "as an exhibit at the World's Fair in London, to which she was to carry passengers, and was most luxuriously fitted out for that purpose."[2]

"Her original name, Sarah Cowles was exchanged for Nightingale in honour of Jenny Lind, "The Swedish Nightingale" who at the time was touring the United States."[1]

Nightingale's Jenny Lind figurehead ended up in the hands of a Swedish antique dealer in 1994. He spent 13 years researching its history. "Svärdskog discovered that the ship had undergone repairs in Kragerö [Norway] in 1885, during which the figurehead had been removed. He was later told by an inhabitant of the farm on which it was found that a relative had bought the 'scarecrow' in Norway, where it had been taken from a ship. The American statue of the Swedish opera singer had thereby quite by coincidence found its way to Sweden."

"Nightingale’s Jenny Lind and the Great Republic's (1853) eagle are the only two figureheads saved from extreme clipper ships."[3]

Tea races with Challenger

"Her first voyage was on the famous "tea and silk" course, between Shanghai and London, then employing the fastest ships afloat; and a race was arranged between her and the British clipper Challenger, from Shanghai to London, stakes of two thousand pounds being placed by their respective owners on the result. The Nightingale was defeated, and her commander, chagrined at the result, and being somewhat in years, resigned, leaving the ship in London Docks, in charge of the chief officer, and took a Cunarder home. The owners of the Nightingale, Messrs. Sampson and Tappan, Boston, made light of the pecuniary loss, but greatly deplored the lowering of the flag, and immediately arranged another race, for similar stakes, between the same vessels, over the same course. After consultation with Commodore R. B. Forbes and other leading shipowners, Captain Samuel W. Mather — trained and rapidly advanced by Commodore Forbes, who greatly appreciated him,— then about twenty-nine years of age, of New England birth, and familiar with the China seas, was chosen to command her. Her passage out from London to Angier Point, Java, at the mouth of the China Sea, was by far the fastest ever made. On her return from Shanghai, over the contested course, she beat the Challenger to the English Channel by more than a week. The international maritime competition, now pursued in sport, was then conducted in sober earnest by the largest, fastest merchantmen, along business lines, for nautical supremacy for commercial advantages."[4]

Passenger trade to Australia

"In the spring of 1853 the Nightingale, still commanded by Captain Mather, because of her speed and general record was chartered by the Australian Pioneer Line, R. W. Cameron and Co., to carry mails, passengers, and freights to Melbourne, with the understanding that she was to proceed from there to China ports, where she would load with tea and silk for London. The gold fever in Australia was reaching its height, and the Nightingale's accommodations were speedily taken." [4]

Slave voyages from Angola to Cuba

"In the fall of 1860 she arrived in England from New York, and soon it became known around the docks that she had become a slaver, although ostensibly she was loading for St. Thomas with a cargo of guns, powder, and cotton cloth."[2]

"She sailed several times from Cabinda, Angola, to Cuba with a total of 2,000 Africans in irons."[5]

Rescuing Africans intended for the slave trade

About midnight on 20–21 April 1861, two boats from sloop of war Saratoga pulled silently toward a darkened ship anchored near the mouth of the Congo River at Cabinda, Angola. After clambering aboard Nightingale, a suspected slaver from Boston, Massachusetts, the American sailors and marines found 961 negros — men, women, and children — chained between decks. The prize, a clipper ship designed and built at Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1851 by Samuel Hanscomb, Jr., was preparing to load more slaves before getting under way for America.

Saratoga installs a prize crew

Saratoga's skipper — Commander Alfred Taylor — placed a prize crew on Nightingale, commanded by the leader of the boarding party, Lieutenant James J. Guthrie. The captured clipper got under way on the 23rd for Liberia, a nation founded in 1822 by the American Colonization Society as a refuge for freed slaves.

Fever strikes the crew en route to Monrovia

En route, a fever raged through the ship killing 160 negroes and one member of the crew. After arriving Monrovia on 7 May, Nightingale landed her passengers, fumigated living quarters, and sailed for home on the 13th. During the first part of the passage, fever seriously weakened the crew, at one point leaving only 7 of her 34 man crew fit for duty. Two more sailors died before the scourge began to subside, enabling the ship to reach New York on 15 June.

Purchased by the U.S. Navy at the prize court

Nightingale was condemned by the New York prize court; purchased by the Navy which was then expanding to blockade the Confederate coast, and commissioned on 18 August 1861, Acting Master David B. Horne in command.

Converted to a store ship during the American Civil War

Fitted out as a coal and store ship, Nightingale — laden with coal — got underway south the same day, stopped at Hampton Roads on the 21st, and pushed on toward Key West, Florida the following morning. But for occasional voyages north for coal and supplies, she served on the U.S. Gulf Coast through the first years of the American Civil War.

She was with Union ships Preble, Richmond, Vincennes, and Water Witch in the Mississippi River near Head of Passes when the Confederate ironclad ram Manassas — accompanied by steamers Ivy and James L. Day — attacked on 12 October.

Running aground during battle action

During the action she ran aground, but the Southern ships did not press their advantage. The ship was refloated a few days later and she sailed to New York with prisoners of war, and booty.

Nightingale returned to the Gulf late in the year with a cargo of coal and supplies for the Union Blockaders. During most of 1862, she served the East Gulf Blockading Squadron operating out of Key West. Early in 1863, she became an ordnance ship at Pensacola, Florida, and continued this duty until returning to Boston, Massachusetts on 9 June 1864.

Arctic exploration with the Western Union Telegraph Expedition

The Nightingale was the flagship of the 1865-1867 Western Union Telegraph Expedition, which explored British Columbia, Alaska, and Siberia with the aim of laying telegraph cable across the Bering Strait.

"Captain C. M. Scammon, U. S. R. M. Chief of Marine ... [commanded] flagship Nightingale."[6]

"The Nightingale, a fine, large clipper ship belonging to the expedition, had brought up on her decks from San Francisco two small flat-bottomed steamers, one intended for the navigation of the Yukon River in Russian America, and the other for the Anadyr."[7]

Final decommissioning and foundering

Decommissioned at the Boston Navy Yard on 20 June, she was sold at public auction there on to D.E. Mayo on 11 February 1865 and remained in merchant service until she foundered in the North Atlantic Ocean on 17 April 1893.

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Bruzelius, Lars (1996). "Nightingale". Sailing Ships: Nightingale (1851). The Virtual Maritime Archives. Retrieved April 17, 2010. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Some ships of the clipper ship era, Their builders, owners, and captains. Boston, MA: Printed for the State Street Trust Company. 1913. p. 37. 
  3. Savage, James (Nov. 21, 2007). "Jenny Lind 'scarecrow' expected to fetch thousands". The Local, Sweden's News in English (Stockholm, Sweden: The Local Europe AB). Retrieved April 17, 2010. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Mather, Frank J (1904), "A Clipper Ship and Her Commander", The Atlantic Monthly 94: 649, 
  5. Svärdskog, Karl Eric (April 17, 2010). "Jenny Lind: The Mystery of Nightingale's Figurehead". Retrieved April 17, 2010. 
  6. Collins, Perry McDonough; Western Union Telegraph Company (1866). Statement of the origin, organization and progress of the Russian-American telegraph, Western Union extension, Collins' overland line, via Behring Strait and Asiatic Russia to Europe. Rochester: "Evening Express" Print. Office. p. 13. 
  7. Bush, Richard James (1871). Reindeer, dogs, and snow-shoes: A journal of Siberian travel and explorations made in the years 1865, 1866, and 1867. New York: Harper & Bros.. p. 441. 

This article includes text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.