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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND


Peacock


A bird noted for its colorful tail feathers.


I


(Sloop-of-War: tons 509; length 117 feet, 11 inches; beam 31 feet 6 inches; draft 16 feet 4 inches; complement 140 officers and men; armament two (2) 12-pounders, twenty-two (22) 32-pounder carronades)


The first Peacock was authorized by Act of Congress 3 March 1813; laid down 9 July 1813 by Adam & Noah Brown at the New York Navy Yard; and launched 19 September 1813.


Peacock departed New York 12 March 1814 to deliver supplies to the naval station at St. Mary’s, Ga. The sloop-of-war then patrolled off Florida, spotting the British brig Epervier and a convoy of three merchant ships at dawn on 29 April. Peacock gave chase and, about four hours later, the enemy brig took in sails and cleared for action. At five minutes before eleven, Peacock opened fire within pistol shot of Epervier. The battle was close and savage. In a forty-five minute action, Peacock's gunfire cast down the brigs' fore top mast, cut away the fore rigging and put twenty holes between wind and water. When Epervier struck her colors, the British warship had suffered eight dead, fifteen wounded, three guns dismounted and five feet of water in her hold. In return, Peacock suffered severe damage to one mast and two men wounded, a relative success made more memorable by the discovery of $120,000 in specie in the captured brig's lock room.


After repairing damage to the prize the next day, the two ships sailed northeast that evening. During the afternoon of 1 May, with the two ships near Amelia Island just south of St. Mary's, the two British frigates and a brig on blockade station gave chase. Peacock and Epervier -- the latter with a prize crew of seventeen men -- split up, Peacock running south before the wind. Ultimately chased by one of the British frigates' on three seperate occassions, Peacock (and her greatly relieved crew) arrived safely in Savannah on 4 May. In addition to a good deal of prize money doled out to the crew, Warrington later received a gold medal by a resolution of Congress, with the commissioned officers receiving silver medals with swords given to each of the midshipmen and the sailing master.


Peacock departed Savannah on 4 June on her second cruise; this time proceeding to investigate the Bahamas before following the trade route east across the Atlantic to sail the coasts of Ireland and Spain. She returned to New York, via the West Indies, on 29 October 1814, having captured fourteen prizes -- of which twelve were burned or sunk and two sent in as cartels.


Peacock, in company with sloop Hornet and storeship Tom Bowline, departed New York for her third cruise on 23 January 1815. Chased by a British frigate off South America, the American ships split up, with Peacock sailing alone to the southeast. She rounded the Cape of Good Hope and cruised in the Indian Ocean that spring, where she captured and burned three prizes, including the British merchant ship Union with a cargo of sugar. On 30 June, Peacock fell in with a small 14-gun East India Company cruiser in the Straits of Sunda. When Nautilus claimed peace had been signed at Ghent the previous December, Warrington suspected a ruse and demanded the brig strike her colors. The British refused and Peacock responded with a broadside, killing or wounding fifteen. After boarding Nautilus, Warrington, in what must have been a meloncholy affair, confirmed peace had been signed. He freed the prize and returned home, arriving in New York on 30 October. A court of inquiry was held in Boston a year later, exonerating Captain Warrington of all blame.


Peacock left New York again on 13 June 1816, bound for France, with Honorable Albert Gallatin and party aboard. After pulling into Havre de Grace 2 July, she proceeded to join the Mediterranean Squadron, remaining there until her crews' enlistment expired and she returned to Norfolk on 17 January 1819. Following six months of repair work, the sloop conducted a second Mediterranean cruise until 8 May 1821, when she departed for home. Peacock then went into ordinary at the Washington Navy Yard 10 July.


The yard period did not last long, however, as Peacock recommissioned on 3 June 1822 and sailed south to the West Indies where she joined Commodore David Porter’s West India Squadron. Although she served mainly as the squadron flagship at Key West, Florida, where the sloop-of-war coordinated the fleets of schooners and galleys that searched the keys for pirates, Peacock did conduct several operations. On 28 September, for example, she helped raid a pirate camp at Funda Bay, burning two pirate boats, capturing five others and liberating "89 sacks of coffee concealed in the woods..." The following spring, Peacock captured a pirate schooner and a sloop before a "malignant fever" struck down her crew in September. Retiring from the West Indies, Peacock pulled into Norfolk on 28 November to recover.


In March 1824, the sloop proceeded south towards the Pacific and, after passing Cape Horn, Peacock cruised along the west coast of South America for over two years, keeping a close eye on the affairs of the Spanish colonies then struggling for independence. In September 1825, Peacock sailed to the Sandwich Islands, where an agreement on commerce and navigation was negotiated with the Hawaiian Kingdom. From 24 July 1826 until 6 January 1827, the sloop visited the Society Islands and other Pacific island groups, sending numerous reports back to the Secretary of the Navy regarding the whaling industry, the fur trade of the northern Pacific, and American trade in the southern Pacific. On the return cruise to South America, Peacock was struck by a whale, causing serious hull damage. Nevertheless, she reached Callao on 14 May 1827, from which she departed 25 June for home.


Arriving at New York in October 1827, the sloop decommissioned and was broken up and rebuilt at the Navy Yard during 1828 in preparation for duty with a surveying expedition to the South Pacific. While her size and configuration stayed about the same, the newly rebuilt sloop-of-war was only fitted out with ten guns, eight long 24-pounders and two long 9-pounders. The second Peacock Although plans for the exploratory voyage stalled in Congress, Peacock was fitted out for regular naval service service that summer and departed on a long West Indies cruise on 26 September 1829. She operated as part of Commodore Elliott’s squadron, protecting American ships and encouraging the nation’s trade in the West Indies until returning to Boston on 25 April 1831.


Peacock departed again on 8 March 1832, this time for the Brazil station, from which she departed some months later in company with Boxer, on a diplomatic mission to the Far East. Onboard Peacock was the Honorable Edmund Roberts, who signed a treaty of amity and commerce with the Kingdom of Siam on 20 March 1833. The two warships then proceeded to Arabia, where Roberts negotiated a treaty of amity and commerce with the powerful Sultan of Muscat on 21 September 1833. The treaty opened up East African commerce to American merchant ships, particularly the ivory and spice trade via Zanzibar. Returning to the United States, Peacock was laid up at New York on 31 May 1834.


The sloop departed New York on 25 April 1835, in company with Enterprise, on her second voyage to the Far East. The squadron delivered the ratified treaties to Siam and Muscat, and during the latter visit, Peacock ran aground on a coral reef in the Arabian Gulf. The ship was only floated off by throwing her heavy cannon and round shot overboard. The squadron then visited various ports along the coast of Asia, in efforts to protect American commerce in these waters. Peacock also stopped at Honolulu in the Sandwich Islands on 7 September 1836, where she inquired about the whaling industry, before sailing for home, pulling into Norfolk on 2 November 1837.


The following year, as Congress had finally authorized the South Seas Surveying and Exploring Expedition in 1836, Peacock joined sloop Vincennes, brig Porpoise, store-ship Relief and two schooners, Sea Gull and Flying Fish, at Hampton Roads in the summer of 1838. Under the command of Lt. Charles Wilkes, and joined by noted naturalists and botanists, the expedition sailed on 15 August, arriving at Porto Praya in the Cape Verde Islands on 7 October. After surveying shoals reported in these areas, the expedition headed south and west, rounding Cape Horn in January 1839.


The expedition lost its first ship in May of 1839 when Sea Gull was lost in a storm off the coast of Chile. The squadron then explored and mapped waters in the Tuamotu Archipelago and around Tahiti, Society Islands, in August before surveying Samoan waters in October and November. Peacock spent the winter in New Zealand, while Vincennes attempted a cruise to Antarctica, before the entire squadron sailed to Fiji in early 1840. The ships then proceeded to the Sandwich Islands, where the squadron spent the winter surveying and mapping Oahu and Hawaii. Sailing to the Pacific northwest in April 1841, the squadron commenced surveying work along the coast of California and the Oregon that summer.


Arriving off the mouth of the Columbia river on 17 July, Peacock attempted to cross the bar the next day but ran hard aground in the channel at about eleven in the morning. The crew tried to bring the ship by the wind, but the heave of the sea forced her on end. The ebb tide then stove in one of the ships boats and the ship was repeatedly lifted and dropped on the reef, causing severe hull damage and flooding. Although the pumps kept the ship from sinking, the pounding continued into the night. At first light the crew began moving ashore in the surviving boats, successfully saving the entire crew, as well as the charts and papers of the expedition by the evening of the 19th. Heavy tides battered the sloop to pieces that night and the following morning, as put by Captain William L. Hudson, "... all that was seen of the poor Peacock, that had carried us safely through so many hazards for the last three years, was the cap of her bowsprit, and very soon after that disappeared."