Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

(Color) "Awful Explosion of the 'Peace-Maker' on board the U.S. Steam Frigate Princeton, on Wednesday, 28th Feby. 1844"

Stockton, Robert F.

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Captain, USN, (1795-1866)

Captain Robert F. Stockton, USN (1795-1866)


Robert Field Stockton was born in Princeton, New Jersey, on 20 August 1795. He was appointed a Midshipman in the U.S. Navy at the age of sixteen, serving at sea and ashore during the War of 1812. After that conflict, Lieutenant Stockton was assigned to ships operating in the Mediterranean, in the Caribbean and off the coast of West Africa. While on the latter station, he helped negotiate a treaty that led to the founding of the state of Liberia. During the later 1820s and into the 1830s, he primarily devoted his attention to business affairs in New Jersey.


In 1838, Stockton resumed active Naval service as a Captain. He served in the European area, but took leave in 1840 to undertake political work. Offered the post of Secretary of the Navy by President John Tyler in 1841, he declined the offer, but worked successfully to gain support for the construction of an advanced steam warship with a battery of very heavy guns. This ship became USS Princeton (1843-1849), the Navy's first screw-propelled steamer, whose construction he oversaw and which he commanded when she was completed in 1843. Captain Stockton was absolved of responsibility for the February 1844 explosion of a gun on board the ship that killed two cabinet officers and several others. With the temporary title of Commodore, Stockton commanded Naval forces in the Eastern Pacific, and was instrumental in taking California from Mexico in 1846-47.


Captain Stockton resigned from the Navy in May 1850 and returned to business and political pursuits. He served as a U.S. Senator from New Jersey in 1851-53, during which time he sponsored a bill to abolish flogging as a Navy punishment. After leaving the Senate, Stockton remained active in business and politics. In 1861 he was a delegate to the unsuccessful conference that attempted to settle the secession crisis. In 1863, he was appointed to command the New Jersey militia when the Confederate Army invaded Pennsylvania. Captain Robert F. Stockton died at Princeton on 7 October 1866.


Four U.S. Navy ships have been named in honor of Robert F. Stockton: USS Stockton (Torpedo Boat # 32), 1901-1916; USS Stockton (Destroyer # 73), 1917-1940; USS Stockton (DD-504), cancelled in 1941 before construction began; and USS Stockton (DD-646), 1943-1973.