(Sch.: t. 198; l. 86'; b. 24'7"; dph. 10'4"; cpl. 70; a. 10 18-pdr. car., 2 9-pdrs.)
The first Shark, a schooner built in the Washington Navy Yard, was launched on 17 May 1821. On 11 May 1821, Mathew C. Perry was ordered to command of Shark, and the ship was ready to receive her crew on 2 June 1821.
Shark sailed from the Washington Navy Yard on 15 July for New York, where she received Dr. Eli Ayers on board for transportation to the west coast of Africa. She cleared New York harbor on 7 August to make her first cruise for the suppression of the slave trade and piracy. Sailing by way of the Madeira, Canary, and Cape Verde islands, she landed Dr. Ayers at Sierra Leone in west Africa in October and returned by way of the West Indies to New York on 17 January 1822.
Shark put to sea from New York on 26 February and joined Commodore James Biddle's squadron for the suppression of piracy and slave trading in the West Indies. On 25 March, Lt. Perry took formal possession of what is now Key West, Fla., in the name of the United States. He called the island Thompson's Island to honor Secretary of the Navy Smith Thompson and named the harbor Port Rodgers to compliment Commodore John Rodgers. Under orders from Commodore Biddle, Shark departed Nassau on 14 August for another cruise to the coast of Africa and returned to Norfolk on 12 December 1822. She again sailed for the West Indies in February 1823, and returned to New York on 9 July for repairs. On 5 October, she sailed from New York carrying Commodore John Rodgers and three Navy surgeons to Thompson's Island to determine the fitness of that place as a naval base. She debarked Rodgers and his party at Norfolk on 16 November 1823 before resuming her cruise in the West Indies. She returned to New York on 13 May 1824.
After repairs in the New York Navy Yard, Shark sailed from New York on 5 October 1825 and cruised in the West Indies and the Gulf of Mexico until 29 August 1826, when she arrived at Norfolk. On 28 November. she departed Norfolk and proceeded to the coast of Africa to protect slaves freed from captured slave ships. After seeing that the liberated Negroes were safely established in Liberia, she returned by way of the Caribbean and arrived at New York on 5 July 1827.
The busy schooner sailed again on 24 July for a cruise to the Newfoundland fisheries to defend American interests there and returned on 6 October. She then resumed her duty in the West Indies, which included anti-slavery and anti-piracy patrols and periodic voyages to West Africa to check the American settlements there.
In 1833, Shark was relieved in the West Indies by the schooner, Experiment, and sailed for the Mediterranean, where she remained for the next five years, cruising extensively in order to protect American commerce. She cleared Gibraltar for the United States on 22 January 1838 and. sailing by wav of the West Indies, arrived at the Norfolk Navy Yard on 24 March.
Shark put to pea from Hampton Roads on 22 July 1839 for duty with the Pacific Squadron. She was the first United States man-of-war to pass through the Strait of Magellan from east to west, a feat accomplished on 13 December 1839 en route to Callao, Peru. During the next five years, she spent much of her time along the coast of Peru to protect American citizens and property during civil disturbances in that country. The Secretary of the Navy noted in 1841 that “all who witnessed the operations of the Shark were inspired with increased respect for the American flag.” She also made infrequent cruises northward to observe conditions in Panama and to receive mail.
On 1 April 1846, Shark was ordered to Honolulu for repairs in preparation for an exploratory voyage up the Columbia River, “to obtain correct information of that country and to cheer our citizens in that region by the presence of the American flag.” She reached the coast of Oregon on 15 July 1846, and soon crossed the bar off the mouth of the Columbia River, for explorations in the valley regions of Astoria and Fort Vancouver. The ship returned to the mouth of the river on 8 September; and, knowing that the bar had changed position since the last survey was made, spent the following day making new observations of the bar and other preparations for crossing. However, her effort to recross the bar ended in disaster on 10 September, for she struck an uncharted shoal and was swept into the breakers by a swift tide. The ship was a total loss, but her entire crew was saved. They embarked on a chartered Hudson's Bay Company schooner, the Cadboro, on 16 November; and reached San Francisco on 27 January 1847. A court of inquiry absolved Lt. Neil M. Howison of all blame for the loss of his ship.