The first U.S. Navy ship named for George Washington (1732–1799), Commander in Chief of the Continental Army and the first President of the United States.
In addition, six ships have been named Washington in honor of the first President. The first Washington -- while never part of the Continental Navy -- was a 160-ton schooner named Endeavor, acquired by Gen. Washington in 1775, fitted out and re-rigged as a brigantine, and served in 1775. The second Washington, a row galley, served from 1776–1778. Frigate Washington was launched on 7 August 1776 but never completed, and she was destroyed by fire on 7 May 1778. The third Washington, a lateen-rigged, two-masted galley, also served in 1776. The fourth Washington, a ship-of-the-line, served from 1815–1843. The fifth Washington, a revenue cutter, served from 1833–1837. The sixth Washington, also a revenue cutter, served from 1837–1861.
(Ship: tonnage 624; length 108'; beam 32'6"; draft 14'; complement 220; armament 24 9-pounders and 8 6-pounders; class George Washington)
The first George Washington was built as a merchant vessel at Providence, R.I., in 1793; purchased by the Congress at Providence 12 October 1798 from John Brown and John Francis for use in the developing undeclared war with France; and converted to a warship under the supervision of Capt. Silas Talbot, Capt. Patrick Fletcher in command.
George Washington proceeded in early December to Dominica, West Indies, to join Commodore Barry's squad-on for the protection of American commercial interests in the area. She rendezvoused with Barry in United States at sea 29 December and arrived Dominica next day. For the next months she convoyed American ships in the West Indies, sailing from St. Christopher's Island to Tobago. During this time, in company with revenue cutter Pickering, she recaptured two American ships from the French brig Fair American on 29 April 1799, and schooner Francis on 1 May 1799.
The ship departed the Caribbean in mid-1799, arriving at Newport, R.I., on 12 June 1799, and after a short stay sailed again on 2 July. On this cruise she searched the coast for French privateers as far south as Charleston, and then took station off Santo Domingo protecting American commerce. George Washington returned to the United States in October 1799 for extensive repairs.
George Washington was taken to Philadelphia, Pa., in April 1800 and there prepared for sea under the command of Capt. William Bainbridge. Lacking a strong Navy, the United States attempted to protect its commerce from the Barbary pirates with tribute. Bainbridge sailed with a load of stores and timber for the Dey of Algiers on 8 August. George Washington arrived safely in September, the first American warship to enter the Mediterranean.
Unhappily, Bainbridge had to accede to threats and carry the Dey's presents to the Sultan at Constantinople. He protested vigorously; but, in the face of concentrated guns ashore and the threat of retaliation on American shipping he departed on 20 October. George Washington returned to Algiers on 21 January 1801, and after a visit to Alicant, France, arrived back in the United States on 19 April 1801.
The ship underwent repairs and was again fitted to carry stores and timber to Algiers. Manned with only a partial crew, she sailed on 20 July 1801 and arrived Algiers via Malaga, Spain, on 5 October 1801. After calling at Italian and French ports she returned to Philadelphia about 15 April 1802. George Washington was sold in May 1802 by the Philadelphia Navy Agent, George Harrison.
Updated by Mark L. Evans
20 June 2018