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Frigate President

Frigate President versus HMS Little Belt

Engagement of frigate President and British ship Little Belt, 11 May 1811. Lithograph by William Elmes. (2015-050-020)

Frigate President was launched on 10 April 1800 under the command of Captain Thomas Truxtun. The ship was one of six frigates authorized by Congress with passage of the Naval Act of 1794President, built by naval constructor Christian Bergh at East River, New York, set sail on its maiden voyage on 5 August 1800 for the Mediterranean, where it served as flagship for Commodore Richard Dale in 1801–1802. President also cruised in the Mediterranean in 1804–1805 participating in actions against Tripoli.

President cruised off the eastern coast of the United States from 1809–1812, where it took 11 merchant ships and the British Navy schooner High Flyer. In April 1811, with Commodore John Rodgers in command, President, in company with frigate Congress, slipped out of Boston Harbor to patrol British trade routes in the North Atlantic. On the evening of 11 May, President exchanged several shots with British ship Little Belt. Although each of the ship’s commanders claimed the other fired first, the incident increased tensions between Britain and the United States. For the British public, it was an insult as great for the American public as was the HMS Leopard versus frigate Chesapeake incident that took place in 1807. President sustained only one injury while Little Belt took nine deaths during the battle and sustained 23 injuries. Two of the wounded Britons died the following day. The British sloop was badly damaged during the engagement.

Upon commencement of the War of 1812President set sail from New York on 21 June 1812 in company with United StatesCongressHornet, and Argus on a cruise in the North Atlantic. Two days later, the squadron heard the homeward bound West India Fleet was steering east, and they directed course accordingly. At about 6 a.m., they gained sight of British frigate HMS Belvidera standing toward the American squadron. At 11:30 a.m., Belvidera hoisted its colors, as did the American ships. At 4:20 p.m., President commenced firing its bow guns with three shots taking effect in Belvidera’s counter and the fourth struck the muzzle of the ship’s chase gun. Five minutes later, Belvidera opened fire on President and, shortly afterward, one of President’s guns exploded, killing or wounding 16 people, including Rodgers whose leg was broken. It was evident that President was able to run alongside the enemy ship, so the British commander cut away all its anchors except its best bower. At 6:30 p.m., Congress commenced firing, but its shots fell short. To escape the American ships, Belvidera’s yawl, barge, gig, and jolly boats were thrown overboard or cut away. By 8 p.m., the pursuing frigates had dropped two miles behind, and by 11:25 p.m., they were three miles behind. The commanders of the American frigates decided to end the pursuit and rejoin their consorts. President later returned to Boston for refitting.

On 3 October 1812, President set sail from Boston for the North Atlantic. On 31 October, United States frigates President and Congress spotted British 36-gun frigate HMS Galatea. As the British ship came closer, the two American frigates displayed their colors. At about noon, President tacked, as if to get into the wake of Galatea, who was afraid it would come between the two American ships. The British ship was relieved when Congress also tacked. Galatea eventually escaped and, being 93 men short of its complement, could scarcely have resisted the attack of the American frigates. President returned to Boston at the end of the year.

On 30 April 1813, President hoisted its sails for a cruise off the European coast. During the voyage, on 23 September, it captured British schooner Highflyer. It later sailed to the West Indies, returning to New York in February 1814. While there, President was blockaded by the powerful British Navy for nearly a year. President attempted to escape the blockade with Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr., in command, but was captured off the coast of New York by British ships EndymionMajesticPomone, and Tenedos. Decatur and the crew were made prisoners and taken to Bermuda. The Royal Navy took the American frigate into service as HMS President until the gallant ship was broken up in 1817 at Portsmouth, England.


Suggested Reading

Selected Imagery

Frigate President

U.S. frigate President entering the harbor of Marseille. Painting by Antoine Roux, 1806. (NH 108180)

Frigates President and Congress chasing HMS Galatea, October 1812

On 31 October 1812, United States frigates President and Congress engaged British 36-gun frigate HMS Galatea. (USN 903309)

Figurehead of frigate President

View of the figurehead of frigate President. (NH 108179)

Frigate President

United States frigate President, 44 guns, flagship of the American squadron. (NH 592)

President engaging the British Squadron

United States frigate President engaging the British Squadron, 1815. Painting by Fitz Henry Lane. (2014.136.82)

Frigate President Chasing HMS Belvidera, June 1812

Frigate President, along with frigate Congress, Hornet, and brig Argus, 21 June 1812. (USN 903302)

Frigate President

United States frigate President. Engraving by Jean-Jerome Baugean, 1814. (84-135-K1)

Sail plan of President in the War of 1812

Sail plan of frigate President during the War of 1812. (NH 108181)

Engagement between U.S. frigate President and British ship Endymion

Engagement between U.S. frigate President and British ship Endymion, 15 January 1815. Lithograph by John Hill, 1815. (2015-050-25)

Commodore Stephen Decatur Jr.

Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr., was frigate President’s last American commander. Painting by V. Zveg, 1976. (76-238-A)

Published: Mon May 06 10:17:02 EDT 2024