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USS Congress was a frigate of the United States Navy and one of the six original frigates authorized for construction by the Naval Act of 1794. Designed by Joshua Humphreys as a 36-gun ship, she was built at a shipyard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire by James Hackett. Congress was launched on 15 August 1799, and saw service during the Quasi War with France and patrolled the Mediterranean during the First Barbary War.

During the War of 1812 she captured or assisted in the capture of twenty British merchant ships. At the end of 1813, due to a lack of materials to repair her, she was placed in ordinary for the remainder of the war. In 1815 she returned to service for the Second Barbary War and made patrols through 1816.

In the latter part of her career, she made patrols in the West Indies to suppress piracy and transported U.S. diplomats to Spain and Argentina. Congress spent her last ten years of service as a receiving ship. A survey of her condition was performed in 1834 which found her unfit for repair and she was broken up the same year.

Construction

In 1785 Barbary pirates, most notably from Algiersmarker, began to seize American merchant vessels in the Mediterranean. In 1793, eleven more American ships were captured and their crews and stores held for ransom. In order to combat this problem, proposals were made for warships to protect American shipping, which resulted in the Naval Act of 1794. The act provided funds to construct six frigates, but included a clause that if peace terms were agreed to with Algiers, the construction of the ships would be halted.

Congress was originally designated as "Frigate F" and subsequently named by President George Washington. Her keel was laid down in 1795 at a shipyard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Naval Constructor James Hackett was in charge of her construction, but in March 1796 a peace treaty was signed with Algiers and all work on the ship was suspended.

Congress remained at the shipyard, incomplete, until relations with France deteriorated in 1798 with the start of the Quasi War. Funds were approved to complete her construction and she was finally launched on 15 August 1799 under the command of Captain James Sever. Congress was built to the same dimensions as her sister ship being in length and in width.

Armament

The Naval Act had specified 36-gun frigates, but, because of her large dimensions, Congress was re-rated to a 38.Sources disagree on the rating of Congress. Officially in congressional documents she was a 36-gun frigate. ("Number of vessels in service, and estimates of repairing and fitting for service those in ordinary, including frigate Constellation", S. Doc. 91, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 12th Congress, 1st session, 1812.)

Chapelle, considered the authoritative source on the U.S. Navy during this period, states Congress was re-rated a 38 during construction by Humphreys. (Chapelle (1949), p. 128.) Canney references Chapelle when rating Congress a 38-gun frigate, but also questions "... exactly what Humphreys had in mind with rating these ships as 44- or 36-gun frigates when the number of ports certainly did not correspond to the rating and, in fact, the ships rarely carried their rated batteries, reflecting contemporary European practice." (Canney (2001), p. 28.) Other sources, such as Lardas & Bryan, use the official ratings and note, "The US Navy officially carried only three rates of frigate during the period 1794–1826: 44-gun, 36-gun, and 32-gun. The rating was independent of the size of the ship or the weight of its armament, but important in terms of crew size, pay, and money spent to support the ship." (Lardas and Bryan (2008), p. 31.) The "ratings" by number of guns were meant only as an approximation, as Congress could carry up to 48 guns. Ships of this era had no permanent battery of guns as modern Navy ships carry. The guns and cannons were designed to be completely portable and often were exchanged between ships as situations warranted. Each commanding officer outfitted armaments to their liking, taking into consideration factors such as the overall tonnage of cargo, complement of personnel aboard, and planned routes to be sailed. Consequently, the armaments on ships would change often during their careers, and records of the changes were not generally kept.

During her first cruise in the Quasi War against France, Congress was noted to be armed with a battery of forty guns consisting of twenty-eight and twelve . For her patrols during the War of 1812, she was armed with a battery of forty-four guns consisting of twenty-four 18 pounders and twenty .

Quasi War

After fitting-out in Rhode Island, Congress set off on her maiden voyage 6 January 1800 with Captain Sever in command, sailing in company with Essex to escort merchant ships to the East Indiesmarker. Six days later she lost all of her masts during a gale. Because her rigging had been set and tightened in a cold climate, the rigging had slackened once she reached warmer temperatures. Without the full support of the rigging, all the masts fell during a four-hour period, killing one crew member trying to repair the main mast.

The crew rigged an emergency sail and limped back to the Gosport Navy Yardmarker for repairs. While there, some of Sever's junior officers announced that they had no confidence in his ability as a commanding officer. A hearing was held, and Captain Sever was cleared of any wrongdoing and remained in command of Congress, though many of his crew soon transferred out to .

Remaining in port for six months while her masts and rigging were repaired, she finally sailed again on 26 July for the West Indiesmarker. On 29 August, she recaptured the merchant ship Experiment, seized three days previously by a French privateer. Congress patrolled near Santo Domingomarker until 1801, when a peace treaty with France was ratified on 3 February, and she returned to Boston in April.

In accordance with an act of Congress passed on 3 March 1801 and signed by President John Adams, thirteen frigates then currently in service were to be retained. Seven of those frigates, including Congress, were to be placed in ordinary. En route to the Washington Navy Yardmarker, she passed Mount Vernonmarker on her way up the Potomac and Captain Sever ordered her sails lowered, flag at half mast, and a 13-gun salute was fired to honor the recently deceased George Washington. Congress was decommissioned at Washington along with and .

First Barbary War

In response to an 1801 demand from Yusuf Karamanli of Tripoli for $225,000 in tribute from the United States, Thomas Jefferson sent a group of frigates to defend American interests in the Mediterranean. The ships were organized into two squadrons commanded by a captain who held the courtesy title of commodore. The first squadron, called the Mediterranean Squadron, was under the command of Richard Dale in , and the second under the command of Richard Valentine Morris in . Neither squadron was successful in blockading shipping of the Barbary States, leading to the dismissal of Morris in 1803.

Congress was recommissioned in April 1804 with Captain John Rodgers in command. She arrived at Gibraltarmarker on 11 August joining the ships of the Mediterranean Squadron, among them her sister ships Constellation, and President. Rodgers succeeded Samuel Barron as Commodore in November, subsequently taking command of Constitution. Stephen Decatur took command of Congress and she was at hand during the Battle of Derne, which finally produced a peace treaty with Tripoli on 3 June 1805.

Sailing in company with a squadron of thirteen U.S. Navy vessels, Congress arrived at Tunisiamarker on 1 August 1805 and was assigned to carry the Tunisian ambassador back to Washington, arriving there in November. Afterward, she was placed in ordinary at the Washington Navy Yard, and served as a classroom for midshipman training through 1807.

War of 1812

Commodore Rodgers


After undergoing a period of repair in 1811, Congress was recommissioned under the command of Captain John Smith, and in early 1812 she made several brief cruises along the eastern coast of the United States. When war was declared on 18 June, Congress was assigned to the squadron of Commodore Rodgers, which patrolled the North Atlantic from June to August. Other ships in this squadron included, , , , President and .

A passing American merchant ship informed Rodgers about a fleet of British merchantmen en route to Britain from Jamaica. Congress sailed along in pursuit, but was interrupted when President encountered HMS Belvidera on 23 June. President was unable to capture Belvidera and subsequently the squadron returned to the pursuit of the Jamaican fleet. On 1 July they began to follow a trail of coconut shells and orange peels the Jamaican fleet had left behind them. Sailing to within one day's journey of the English Channel, the squadron never sighted the convoy and Rodgers called off the pursuit on the 13th. During their return trip to Boston, Congress assisted in the capture of seven merchant ships, including the recapture of an American vessel.

Making her second cruise against the British with President, Congress sailed from Boston on 8 October. On the 31st of that month, both ships began to pursue , which was escorting two merchant ships. Galatea and her charges were chased for about three hours, during which Congress captured the merchant ship Argo. In the meantime, President kept after Galatea but lost sight of her as darkness fell. Congress and President remained together during November but they did not find a single ship to capture. On their return to the United States they passed north of Bermuda, proceeded towards the Virginia capes, and arrived back in Boston on 31 December. During their entire time at sea, the two frigates captured nine prizes.

Congress and President were blockaded in Boston by the Royal Navy until April 1813 when they slipped through the blockade and put to sea. Congress parted with President a month later and patrolled off the Cape Verde Islandsmarker and the coast of Brazil. She captured four small British merchant ships during this period and returned to the Portsmouth Navy Yardmarker for repairs in late 1813. By this time of the war, materials and personnel were being diverted to the Great Lakesmarker, which created a shortage of resources necessary to repair Congress. Due to the amount of repairs she needed, it was decided instead to place her in ordinary, where she stayed for the remainder of the war.

Second Barbary War

Soon after the United States had declared war against Britain in 1812, Algiersmarker took advantage of the United States' preoccupation with Britain and began intercepting American merchant ships in the Mediterranean. Five days after the end of the war with Britain, President James Madison requested that Congress declare war on Algiers; and it voted favorably on his recommendation on 2 March 1815. Work preparing two American squadrons promptly began – one at Boston under Commodore William Bainbridge, and one at New York under Commodore Steven Decatur.

Congress was assigned to the squadron under Bainbridge and underwent repairs and refitting before she departed on 3 July. Sailing in company with , United States and seven other ships, they rendezvoused with Decatur's squadron at Gibraltarmarker on 6 October.

By the time of Congress s arrival, however, Decatur had already secured peace treaties with Algiers and several other Barbary States. With the war now over, Congress remained in the Mediterranean throughout 1816 to ensure the treaties were enforced. Her duty in this period was uneventful and she sailed for home in October.

Later career

From October 1822 to April 1823, Congress was part of a squadron under the command of Commodore James Biddle and later David Porter, where she operated against piracy in the West Indies. During the second half of 1823, she carried the United States Ministers to Spain and the Argentine Republic.

Beginning in 1824, Congress spent the next ten years either serving as a receiving ship or sitting in ordinary. First at the Norfolk Navy Yard, she was later towed to the Washington Navy Yard for repairs. In November 1829, she returned to the Norfolk Navy Yard. A survey of her condition was performed in 1834 which found her unfit for repair and Congress was broken up the same year.

Notes

  1. Allen (1909), pp. 41, 42.
  2. An Act to provide a Naval Armament. (1794). Library of Congress. Retrieved 27 August 2009.
  3. Toll (2006), p. 61.
  4. An Act to provide a Naval Armament. (1794). Library of Congress. Retrieved 27 August 2009.
  5. Beach (1986), p. 29.
  6. Toll (2006), p. 136.
  7. Roosevelt (1883), p. 53.
  8. Cooper (1856), p. 133.
  9. Allen (1909), pp. 151, 152.
  10. Allen (1909), p. 153.
  11. Toll (2006), p. 139.
  12. Toll (2006), p. 140.
  13. Allen (1909), p. 221.
  14. Allen (1909), p. 255.
  15. Allen (1909), p. 258.
  16. Toll (2006), p. 173.
  17. Cooper (1856), p. 216.
  18. Cooper (1856), pp. 219, 220.
  19. Cooper (1856), pp. 221, 222.
  20. Toll (2006), p. 282.
  21. Abbot (1896), Volume I, Part II, Chapter IV.
  22. Cooper (1856), pp. 244, 245.
  23. Cooper (1856), pp. 246, 247.
  24. Roosevelt (1883), pp. 106, 107.
  25. Abbot (1896), Volume I, Part II, Chapter VIII.
  26. Toll (2006), pp. 419, 420.
  27. Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume II, p. 4.
  28. Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume II, p. 6.
  29. Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume II, p. 20.
  30. Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume II, p. 22.
  31. Cooper (1856), p. 448.
  32. Toll (2006), p. 474.


References

Bibliography




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