An Indian chief (1550–1618), father of Pocahontas; he headed a confederation of tribes in tidewater Virginia in the late 16th and early 17th century.
(SwStr: t. 2,415; dp. 3,765; l. 253’8”; b. 45’; dr. 18’6”; s. 11 k.; cpl. 289 Y a. I XI-inch D.sb., 10 IX-inch D.sb., 5 12-pdrs.)
The first Powhatan was launched 14 February 1850 by the Norfolk Navy Yard and commissioned 2 September 1852, Capt. William Mervine in command.
After shakedown out of Norfolk, Powhatan joined the Home Squadron as flagship of Commodore John T. Newton and sailed for New York where she was visited by the Secretary of the Navy, John P. Kennedy. She departed New York 16 October 1852 for Vera Cruz with the new Minister to Mexico, Judge Alfred Conkling, on board and returned to Norfolk 27 November via Havana and Pensacola.
Powhatan, under Comdr. William J. McCluney, was next assigned to the East India Squadron and arrived on station via Cape of Good Hope 15 June 1853. Her arrival in Chinese waters coincided with an important phase of Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s negotiations for commercial relations with the Japanese and the opening of two ports. She was Perry’s flagship during his November visit to Whampoa. On 14 February 1854 she entered Yedo (Tokyo) Bay with the rest of the squadron and was Perry’s flagship when the treaty was signed 31 March. During August 1855 Powhatan accompanied HMS Rattler in a successful raid against Chinese pirates off Kulan and reached the U.S. 14 February 1856 with the new treaty.
Powhatan remained active throughout the Civil War. She served as Flag Officer Pendergrast’s flagship at Vera Cruz during October 1860. In April 1861, while under the command of Lt. David Dixon Porter, she assisted in the relief of Fort Pickens, Fla., and in the establishment of the blockade of Mobile 26 May, capturing schooner Mary Clinton 29 May. During July and August Powhatan joined the blockade of the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi, retaking schooner Abby Bradford 15 August. From late August to October she pursued the CSS Sumter throughout much of the West Indies. Powhatan operated off Charleston, S.C. from October 1862 to August 1863, captured schooner Major E. Willis 19 April and sloop C. Routereau 16 May, and deployed for a second time to the West Indies from November 1863 to September 1864 as flagship of Rear Admiral Lardner. She participated in the successful reduction of Fort Fisher, N.C. 24–25 December 1864 and in its capture 13–15 January 1865. In October 1865 she sailed from Boston with Tuscarora and Vanderbilt, escorting monitor Monadnock to California via Cape Horn. She arrived at San Francisco on 22 June 1866.
After the war Powhatan was the flagship of the South Pacific Squadron 1866–1869, Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren commanding it from 12 December 1866 to 14 July 1868. In March 1866 she was sent to Valparaiso to protect American interests during the Spanish attack. From 1869 to 1886 she was attached to the Home Squadron and was flagship from 15 September 1869 until 30 December 1870 and again from 4 July 1877 until 10 December 1879. She ended her long and conspicuous career by making numerous cruises in Cuban waters to protect American commerce: July–August 1880, February–May 1882, January–May 1883, January–May 1885, and January–February 1886.
Powhatan decommissioned 2 June 1886 and was sold 30 July 1886 to Burdette Pond of Meriden, Conn., and scrapped 5 August 1887.