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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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Bourbon

A noble family which, between the 16th and the 19th centuries, produced monarchs who reigned over various countries in western Europe. But for an interruption between 1793 and 1815 due to the French Revolution and the ascendancy of Napoleon, members of the family occupied the French throne from 1589 to 1848. Louis XVI was the Bourbon King of France during the American Revolution, and it was under his aegis that France supported the patriot cause and contributed so greatly to the winning of American independence.

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(Fr: dimensions unknown; a. 28 guns)

On Thursday, 23 January 1777, the Continental Congress ordered "that two frigates, one of 36, and the other of 28 guns, be immediately undertaken in the state of Connecticut." Little is known of the smaller of these warships, and some of the extant records of the vessel appear to be contradictory.

To begin, we do not know when the task of building the ship began. No record of her keel laying has been found, and we have no evidence that any effort to construct the ship had been made before the autumn of 1779 when the Marine Committee appointed Capt. Thomas Read to outfit and command the ship. One authority on the early American Navy, Howard I. Chapelle, tells us that Bourbon's keel was not laid down until "...early in 1780...."

Again, most records identify Bourbon as the 28-gun frigate ordered by Congress; but she has been, nevertheless, frequently rated as a 36-gun warship.

We know for sure that Bourbon was built at Chatham (now Middletown), Conn., and that by the end of March of 1780, she was almost ready for launching. Yet Congress's recurring financial difficulties caused work on the frigate to be suspended soon thereafter, and she remained on the stocks until after a peace settlement recognizing American independence had been negotiated. This dropped naval strength far down the almost bankrupt new nation's list of priorities.

In the spring of 1782, Congress wanted to sell Bourbon as she then existed, but the Agent of Marine, Robert Morris, felt strongly that she would be of little value while still high and dry and received authority to prepare her for launching. The frigate finally entered the water on 31 July 1783, was advertised for sale in the following September, and presumably was sold soon thereafter. No trace of her subsequent history has been found.

James L. Mooney


5 December 2001