An Indian tribe formerly occupying the territory extending from Narragansett Bay and the Pawtucket River, R.I., to the Atlantic Ocean, including Nantucket Island and Martha's Vineyard, Mass. The name means "eastern people."
(ScFr: dp. 4,215; l. 355'; b. 45'2"; dr. 19'; s. 18 k.; a. 10 8" sb., 2 100-pdrs., 2 24-pdr. how., 2 12-pdr. how., 1 60-pdr. r. pivt.; cl. Wampanoag)
Wampanoag—a screw frigate—was laid down on 3 August 1863 by the New York Navy Yard, N.Y.; launched on 15 December 1864; sponsored by Miss Case, daughter of Capt. Augustus Ludlow Case, second-in-command of the navy yard; and commissioned on 17 September 1867, Capt. J. W. A. Nicholson in command.
Commerce raiding by CSS Alabama and CSS Florida, both built in English yards, reached a point in 1863 where continued peaceful relations between the United States and Great Britain were seriously jeopardized. As a result, Congress responded by authorizing construction of a new class of screw frigates as part of the naval procurement bill of that year. These vessels, designed to be the fastest in the world, were intended for use in hit-and-run operations against British ports and commerce in the event of war. Wampanoag was the lead ship of this class.
Wampanoag contained numerous design features unprecedented in American naval construction. Her hull —designed by clipper ship architect B. F. Delano— was unusually long and tapered relative to the vessel's beam. Her machinery, developed by controversial Naval Engineer B. P. Isherwood, was unique for its geared steam engine in which slow-moving machinery coupled to fast-moving propulsion gear. Tremendous debate caused by this design delayed construction, preventing Wampanoag from being completed in time to serve in the Civil War.
The screw frigate finally left New York for sea trials on 7 February 1868. On 11 February, she commenced speed tests, running flat-out in rough weather from Barnegat Light, N.J., to Tybee Island, Ga. She covered the distance of 728 statute miles in 38 hours for an average sustained speed of 16.6 knots, at one point making 17.75 knots. Another naval vessel, American cruiser Charleston, did not equal this record for 21 years.
From 22 February 1868 to 8 April, Wampanoag was deployed as flagship of the North Atlantic Fleet. On 5 May 1868, she decommissioned at the New York Navy Yard. Wampanoag was renamed Florida on 15 May 1869.
The controversy generated by the frigate's unconventional design reached a peak in 1869 when a naval commission examined and condemned the vessel. Rear Admiral R. M. Goldsborough, Commodore Charles S. Boggs, and Engineers E. D. Robie, John W. Moore, and Isaac Newton judged the ship unacceptable for active duty in the Navy. They complained of her unusually large machinery spaces, heavy coal consumption, and found particular fault with her narrow breadth relative to her length. The commission said this caused inordinate rolling and straining of the vessel. As a result, Florida remained in ordinary at New York for five years before departing on 5 March 1874, bound for New London, Conn., to become a receiving and store ship at the naval station there.
Florida remained at New London, rotting, until February 1885. She was sold, at New York, on 27 February 1885 to Edwin LeBars.
This drawing of the controversial steamer Wampanoag illustrates what was, for her time, the extraordinary amount of hull space devoted to machinery in this high-performance ship. Eight coal-burning fire-tube boilers, four of them with superheaters, are arranged in two boiler rooms; between them are two compound reciprocating engines which turn Wampanoag's four-bladed 19-foot propeller. (Drawing from Frank M. Bennett, The Steam Navy of the United States (Pittsburgh, Pa., 1895))