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Adams I (Frigate)


The first and second ships named Adams were named for John Adams, the second President of the United States and an ardent champion of the Navy (see John Adams for his biography). The third Adams (DM-27) was named for Lt. Samuel Adams (1912-1942).


(Frigate: tonnage 530; length between perpendiculars 113'; beam 34'; depth of hold 10'9"; complement 220; armament 24 12-pounders, 4 9-pounders)

The first Adams, a frigate rated at 28 guns, was laid down in 1797 at New York City by John Jackson and William Sheffield and launched on 8 June 1799. Capt. Richard Valentine Morris took command of the ship.

The frigate departed New York in mid-September 1799 and headed for the West Indies to protect American shipping from attacks by French privateers. She arrived at Saint Christopher on 10 October and soon began cruising nearby waters in search of French men of war and any prizes which had been captured by warships flying French colors.

Later that month, she recaptured the brig Zylpha and assisted Insurgent in taking an unidentified 4-gun French privateer and freeing an English brig and a schooner from Boston which that vessel of prey had seized.

On 12 November 1799, she again teamed with Insurgent in recapturing the 14-gun English brig Margaret. On the 15th, they took the French privateer Le Onze Vendmiaire. On the 20th, they cooperated in liberating the schooner Nancy which had struck her colors on the 18th.

On 10 January 1800, Adams and Eagle made the French schooner La Fougeuse their prize and, late in the month, Adams recaptured the schooner Alpha. Two more French schooners, L'Heureuse Rencontre and Isabella fell into her hands in February. The following month, she freed the sloop Nonpareil and she did the same for the schooner Priscilla in April.

Adams' s most successful month, however, came in May 1800 when she recaptured an unidentified schooner and teamed up with Insurgent once more in freeing a British letter of marque. During the same month she also recaptured another schooner named Nancy, one called Grinder, and an unidentified brig while capturing the brig Dove and the schooner Renomme.

In need of repairs, Adams returned to New York in July 1800, but early in the fall headed back to the Caribbean under the command of Capt. Thomas Robinson. On that cruise, however, she did not have the success which she had enjoyed under Capt. Richard Morris but for the most part was limited to patrol and escort duty. She did manage to recapture the British schooner Grendin, but the date of the action is unknown. On 23 March, the Secretary of the Navy ordered her home and she was laid up at New York.

However, trouble in the Mediterranean prevented her respite from being long. The Barbary states on the northern coast of Africa were capturing American merchantmen attempting to trade in that ancient sea and enslaving their crews. Adams was reactivated in the spring of 1802 under the command of Capt. Hugh George Canfield. On 10 June 1802, she departed New York and headed for the Strait of Gibraltar carrying orders for Commodore R. V. Morris, her first commanding officer who was now in command of the American Mediterranean Squadron. She arrived there on 22 July and remained in that port blockading the Tripolitan cruiser Meshuda lest she escape and prey on American shipping. It was not until 8 April 1803 that she was freed of this duty. She then joined the rest of Morris' squadron in operations of Tripoli.

As a squadron commander, however, Morris seemed to have lost the dash and daring he had displayed in operations against the French in the West Indies while in command of a single ship. His indecisiveness in the Mediterranean prompted Washington to order his recall and he sailed for home in Adams on 25 September. The frigate carried Morris to Washington and was placed in ordinary (a decommissioned status) at the navy yard there in November 1803.

Reactivated under command of Capt. Alexander Murray in July 1805, Adams cruised along the coast of the United States from New York to Florida protecting American commerce. In the autumn of the following year she was again laid up in Washington and-but for service enforcing the Embargo Act in 1809-remained inactive at the nation's capital until the outbreak of the War of 1812. In August 1811 she became the receiving ship at the Washington Navy Yard.

In June 1812, Adams was cut in half amidships and lengthened 15 feet in the course of being completely rebuilt as a sloop-of-war. Commanded by Capt. Charles Morris, she was ready for action by the end of the year, but was bottled up in the Chesapeake Bay by blockading British warships until she finally managed to slip out to sea on 18 January 1814. She cruised in the eastern Atlantic and along the African coast and took five merchantmen prizes before putting in at Savannah, Ga., in April.

Underway again in May 1814, she headed for the Newfoundland Banks and ultimately sailed eastward to waters off the British Isles. During that cruise, she took five more merchant ships, chased two more into the Shannon River, and barely managed to escape from a much larger British warship. Near the end of her homeward passage, she ran aground on the isle of Haute on 17 August 1814 and suffered serious damage. Skillful seamanship, aided by a rising tide, managed to refloat the ship and despite heavy leaking she made it into the Penobscot River and reached Hampden, Maine. There on 3 September 1814, she was scuttled and set ablaze to prevent capture by a large and powerful British squadron.

James L. Mooney 


Adams, a newly constructed 200-ton brig, was purchased during the summer of 1812 by General William Hull, the Army commander at Detroit (now in Michigan) to add to the defenses of that forward outpost. However, before the ship could be armed, Hull surrendered her along with Detroit on 16 August 1812.

The British armed the prize and commissioned her as HMS Detroit. She and HMS Caledonia gave the British undisputed control of Lake Erie. All changed early on the morning of 9 October 1812 when a boat expedition commanded by Lt. Jesse D. Elliott captured the two vessels right under the muzzles of the guns at Fort Erie. Caledonia made it safely to the temporary American base at Black Rock, but Detroit, owing to light wind, was swept away by the Niagra River's strong current and was forced to anchor within range of British guns. An artillery duel ensued.

Elliott brought all his guns to his engaged side and continued the cannonade until his supply of ammunition was exhausted. Thereupon, he cut the cable; and the brig drifted down the river. She grounded on Squaw Island within range of both British and American batteries.

Elliott and his men abandoned her; and, almost immediately, some two score British soldiers took brief possession of the brig. American guns soon drove them out with great loss, and both sides began pounding her with gunfire. The Americans finally set fire to and destroyed the battered hulk.

Raymond A. Mann 

Published: Fri Sep 16 00:02:28 EDT 2016