A Greek derivative meaning sailor or ship; a tropical mollusk having a many chambered, spiral shell with a pearly interior.
(Sch.: dp. 185; l. 87’6”; b. 23’8”; cpl. 103’; a. 12 6–pdr. carronades)
The first Nautilus, built in 1799 as a merchant vessel by Mr. Henry Spencer on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, was purchased by the Navy in May, 1803, at Baltimore, Maryland, from Mr. Thomas Tennant; and commissioned 24 June 1803, Lt. Richard Somers in command.
Nautilus sailed to Hampton Roads, whence she got underway on 30 June for the Mediterranean, carrying dispatches for the squadron stationed there assigned to protect the interests of the United States and its citizens residing or trading in that area, and threatened at that time by the Barbary States.
Nautilus arrived at Gibraltar 27 July and departed again on the 31st to deliver dispatches to Captain John Rodgers in John Adams, then returned to Gibraltar to await the arrival of Commodore Edward Preble, in Constitution, and join his squadron. Constitution arrived at Gibraltar 12 September, arid after provisioning, the squadron, less Philadelphia, sailed 6 October with vessels of Capt. Rodgers’s squadron to Tangier. This display of naval strength induced the Emperor of Morocco to renew the treaty of 1786.
On the 31st, the Tripolitans captured Philadelphia and the squadron’s interests were focused on Tripoli and Tullis. Using Syracuse as their rendezvous point, the vessels appeared off Tunis and Tripoli at different times between November 1803, and May 1804. In February 1804, as Lt. Decatur daringly sailed Intrepid into Tripoli harbor and burned the captured Philadelphia, Nautilus cruised off Tunis.
Toward the end of the month Nautilus retired to Syracuse, returning to Tripoli in mid-March. During May and June she repaired at Messina. Departing 5 July, she joined Constitution off Tripoli on the 25th. During August and early September, she took part in the siege of Tripoli and saw action in five general attacks between 3 August and 3 September. For the next five months she continued to cruise off Tripoli arid Tunis, retiring periodically to Syracuse and Malta, whence in February 1805, she sailed to Leghorn to acquire a new mainmast.
Oil 27 April, she arrived off Derne to participate in the attack, capture, and occupation of that town. She remained until 17 May, during which time she provided cover for the forces of Hamet Caramanli, Bashaw of Tripoli, as they went into action against the army of Hamet’s brother Yusuf, who had overthrown Hamet and assumed his title. Departing oil the 17th, Nautilus retired to Malta with dispatches and casualties. At the end of the month she returned to Tripoli and on 10 June hostilities ceased with the signing of a peace treaty.
Nautilus remained in the Mediterranean for a year after the treaty went into effect, conducting operations from Malta and Gibraltar. In the spring of 1806 she was assigned to Algiers for dispatch duty, sailing in June for the United States. Arriving at Washington, D.C., in mid-July, she entered the Navy Yard there and was placed in ordinary. Reactivated in 1808, she was employed on the East Coast until entering the Navy Yard again in 1810. Then altered to a brig, with a battery of 12 18–pdr. carronades, she recommissioned in 1811 and joined the squadron commanded by Stephen Decatur.
The following year war with England broke out and on 17 July 1812, Nautilus gained the dubious distinction of being the first vessel lost on either side. Captured off northern New Jersey by a squadron built around Shannon (38 guns), Africa (64 guns), and Aeolus (32 guns), the brig was taken into possession for the use of the King’s service.