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History of USS Ganges

The principle river of India, flowing into the Bay of Bengal. A merchant name retained.


(Ship: Tonnage 504; Length 116'4"; Beam 31'4"; Depth 15'8"; Complement 220; Armament 26 9-pounders)

Originally a fast sailing merchantman, Ganges was built in Philadelphia in 1794 for the West Indies trade; purchased at Philadelphia 3 May 1798 when hostilities with France became imminent; and hastily fitted out to become the first man-of-war to fit out and get to sea under the second organization of the Navy.

Ganges sailed from Philadelphia 24 May 1798 under Captain Richard Dale, directed to "seize, take and bring into a port of the United States" French armed ships "committing depredations" within one marine league of the coast between the Capes of Virginia and Long Island. On 13 July further orders authorized her to take any French armed ship wherever found, but she continued patrol between Cape Henry and Long Island for the protection of the large seaport cities. On 30 July Ganges was directed to return to Philadelphia for refitting, but put into New York instead because of fever and plague at the former city.

In mid-September 1798 Captain Thomas Tingey relieved Captain Dale and on 7 December his ship was ordered to the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola to join the squadron protecting the Jamaican trade. Cruising in these waters with General Pinkney and South Carolina, she guarded American merchantmen from piratical seizure by armed ships of France and "all armed vessels acting without commission."

On 6 January 1799 off the Island of Tortuga, Ganges fell in with the sloop Ceres, off her course for no apparent reason and suspected of heading for illegal trade at Cap François. The captain was detained, questioned, and reported to intelligence. The incident occasioned the following passage from Tingey's letter of concern to Benjamin Stoddert, the Secretary of the Navy: "There is one kind of business carried on here at present, which I conceive behoves us much to suppress. Many American vessels are said to have arrived here, with provisions, etc., in a day or two their papers are changed by a pretended sale, and they go off for French ports - in some instances, without shifting or discharging their cargoes - return here with French produce, assume their American papers, and clear from this for home. I shall endeavor to ascertain and identify some of the actors in this nefarious business and give you information."

On 21 February officers of the 44-gun English frigate Surprise boarded Ganges off Cape Nichola Mole, Hispaniola, and demanded all Englishmen aboard. Tingey firmly replied: "A public ship carries no protection but her flag. I do not expect to succeed in a contest with you; but I will die at my quarters before a man shall be taken from the ship." The crew gave three cheers, ran to quarters, and called for "Yankee Doodle"; Surprise departed.

Having returned home for repairs in March, Ganges was ordered to convoy Kingston, carrying American Consul General Dr. Stevens, to talk with Toussaint in Haiti. She then cruised the Caribbean from Havana to Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Kitts, St. Bartholomews, Santo Domingo, Barbuda, and Jamaica.

On 16 June Ganges, with Norfolk, captured French privateer Vainquere (formerly British Harlequin) off Saint Bartholomews. Eighty-five men were taken prisoners and the prize sent to Norfolk under Captain Pitcher. In July she captured the small Eliza; on 5 August La Rabateuse, a French "letter of marque" laden with sugar and cotton; and on 16 August retook American schooner John from the French.

The hurricane season approached and it was thought Ganges should return to the United States, but Tingey proudly reported his ship could withstand the Caribbean storms: "No ship in the service ... will be found better able to sustain this violence than the Ganges - nor a crew that can, with more alacrity, bring a ship to a state of preparation to bear heavy weather.... Believe me Sir, that she has outsailed every ship and vessel of the United States."

On 20 August Ganges captured a small French "letter of marque" off St. Thomas. She later captured L'Eugene with 28 men and on 2 October recaptured American schooner Laurel, called L'Esperance by the French.

Ganges returned to Philadelphia in the fall and Captain Tingey was relieved by Captain John Mullowny on 16 November. That December she sailed for the West Indies, again convoying American merchantmen until May 1800 when she returned to the States.

On 25 May 1800 Captain Mullowny received orders to proceed to Havana, and Ganges shortly departed Philadelphia for another eventful cruise. On 19 July she captured schooner Prudent; on the 20th recaptured American brigantine Dispatch; and the 21st, the third successful day in a row, took schooner Phoebe. 0n 28 July Ganges captured French privateer La Fortune. In September, her crew ridden with fever, she returned to the United States.

Sailing again 31 January 1801, Ganges proceeded with a convoy for Havana. En route she was severely damaged by a storm and put into Basseterre Roads, St. Christopher. Here, Commodore John Barry surveyed the ship on 2 March and found her "unfit for sea." Being unable to continue her voyage, Ganges remained on the Guadeloupe station until May, then proceeded north with a convoy which reached Philadelphia early in June. On 10 June 1801, under provision of the Peace Establishment Act, the Navy agent at Philadelphia was ordered to prepare Ganges for sale. She was sold prior to December 8 for $21,000.


25 July 2002