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Essex I (Frigate)

A town and county in Massachusetts.


(Frigate: displacement 850; length 140'; beam 31'; draft 12'3"; complement 300; armament 40 32-pounder carronade, 6 12-pounder)

The first Essex was launched 30 September 1799 by Enos Briggs, Salem, Mass., at cost of $139,362 subscribed by the people of Salem and Essex County, Mass. On 17 December 1799 she was presented to the United States and accepted by Captain Edward Preble.

With the United States involved in naval action against France on 6 January 1800 Essex, Captain Edward Preble, departed New York in company with Congress to rendezvous with and convoy merchant ships returning from Batavia, Dutch East Indies. Congress was dismasted only a few days out, and Essex was obliged to continue her voyage alone, making her mark as the first U.S. man-of-war to double the Cape of Good Hope, both in March and in August 1800 prior to successfully completing her convoy mission in November.

Captain William Bainbridge commanded Essex on her second cruise whereon she sailed to the Mediterranean with the squadron of Commodore Richard Dale. Dispatched to protect American trade and seamen against depredations by the Barbary Powers, the squadron arrived at Gibraltar on 1 July 1801 and spent the ensuing year convoying American merchantmen and blockading Tripolitan ships. Following repairs at the Washington Navy Yard in 1802, Essex resumed her duties in the Mediterranean under Captain James Barron in August 1804. She participated in the successful attack on the town of Derne on 27 April 1805 and remained in these waters until the conclusion of peace terms in 1806.

Returning to the Washington Navy Yard in July, she was placed in ordinary until February 1809 when she was recommissioned for sporadic use in patrolling American waters and a single cruise to Europe. When war was declared against Britain on 18 June 1812, Essex, commanded by Captain David Porter, made a successful cruise to the southward. On 11 July near Bermuda she fell in with seven British transports and by moonlight cut out and seized one of them. On 13 August she encountered and captured the sloop Alert after an engagement. By September when she returned to New York, Essex had taken 10 prizes.

Essex sailed in South Atlantic waters and along the coast of Brazil until January 1813 when Captain Porter undertook the decimation of English whale fisheries in the Pacific. Although her crew suffered greatly from a shortage of provisions and heavy gales while rounding Cape Horn, she anchored safely at Valparaiso, Chile, on 14 March, having seized schooners, Elizabeth and Nereyda in course. The next 5 months brought Essex 13 prizes, including Essex Junior, (ex Atlantic) who cruised in company with her captor to the Island of Nukahiva for repairs.

In January 1814 Essex sailed into neutral waters at Valparaiso, Chile, only to be trapped there for 6 weeks by the British frigates, Phoebe and Cherub. Porter determined to gain the open sea, but a heavy squall crippled Essex forcing her return to the harbor. The enemy, disregarding the neutrality of the harbor, proceeded to attack the disabled ship. The engagement which followed was one of the most remarkable in naval history. For 2- hours, Essex resisted with intrepidity the enemy's superior fighting power; however, the loss of 155 men forced the gallant frigate to surrender.

Essex was repaired by the British, sent to England, and in 1833 served as a prison ship at Kingston, Jamaica. On 6 June 1837 she was sold at public auction.

Published: Thu Nov 07 16:15:22 EST 2019