The First Frigate of the United States Navy

March 27, 2023

The First Frigate of the United States Navy

On March 27, 1794, the United States Congress authorized construction of the original six frigates of the United States Navy. Designed by the renowned naval architect Joshua Humphreys, these six ships were powerful enough to take on any British or French frigate and fast enough to engage in battle. On May 10, 1797, the U.S.S. United States, a wooden hulled, three-masted frigate, was the first of the six ships to be launched. 

When the War of 1812 began on June 18, the U.S.S. United States was commanded by Captain Stephan Decatur. (Decatur had actually supervised the construction of the U.S.S. United States in the Philadelphia shipyard Gurney and Smith as a young adult and had later served as a midshipman aboard the United States during the Quasi-War with France.) On October 25, 1812, the USS United States spotted the HMS Macedonian off the Canary Islands. Decatur's ship damaged the Macedonian's hull, dismasted, and captured her. 

The U.S. Frigate United States Capturing His Britannic Majesty's Frigate Macedonian

Though strategically insignificant, the loss of the Macedonian was a major blow to the Royal Navy’s prestige and aura of invincibility. The United States crew were celebrated as heroes when they returned home with the captured Macedonian and all were awarded a portion of the Macedonian's $200,000 prize value. The victory marked an important American triumph over British sea power, so much so that scenes of the two frigates in battle were painted, engraved, and sold to an American public eager to celebrate the win. 

Newly added to our inventory is the 1815 engraving The U.S. Frigate United States Capturing His Britannic Majesty's Frigate Macedonian. Engraved by Samuel Seymour and published by James Webster in Philadelphia, this scene was based on the similarly-titled oil painting, Engagement between the United States and the Macedonian, by Thomas Birch. Add this beautifully detailed engraving to your collection today and celebrate this iconic early naval ship and history.






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