Skip to main content
Related Content
Document Type
  • Ship History
Wars & Conflicts
File Formats
Location of Archival Materials

Missouri I (Steam Frigate)

(Steam Frigate: displacement 3,220 tons; length 229'; beam 40'; draft 191; complement 268; armament: 2 10-inch guns, 8 8-inch guns)

The 24th State, admitted to the Union 10 August 1821, Missouri was named for the Missouri River, an Indian name meaning "muddy waters."


The first Missouri, a 10‑gun side‑wheel frigate, one of the first steam warships in the Navy, was begun at New York Navy Yard in 1840; launched 7 January 1841; and commissioned very early in 1842, Capt. John Newton in command.

Departing New York at the end of March 1842 on a trial run to Washington with sister ship Mississippi, Missouri grounded opposite Port Tobacco, Md., 1 April, and did not arrive in Washington until the 13th. The warship made numerous trial runs out of the Nation’s capital during the spring and summer of 1842, demonstrating the advantages of steam propulsion in restricted waters to the Government, and then departed for a long cruise to the Gulf of Mexico. The frigate returned to Washington 25 April 1843 and then underwent overhaul in preparation for extended distant service.

On, 6 August 1843, Missouri embarked the Honorable Caleb Cushing, U.S. Minister to China, bound for Alexandria, Egypt, on the first leg of his journey to negotiate the first commercial treaty with China. The same day the ship was visited by President John Tyler who came on board for a few hours’ cruise in Hampton Roads, observing the crew working the ship and the powerful twin paddlewheels in action. The President disembarked at Old Point Comfort, and the frigate steamed from Norfolk, via Fayal in the Azores, for Gibraltar on the first power crossing of the Atlantic by an American steam warship.

Missouri arrived Gibraltar 25 August and anchored in the shadow of the historic fortress. On the night of the 26th, the engineer’s yeoman accidently broke a demijohn of turpentine in the storeroom which soon ignited. The flames spread so rapidly that the warship was abandoned, the crew barely escaping with their lives. Minister Cushing was able to rescue his official letter to the Emperor of China, allowing him to later carry out his mission. In four hours, the splendid steam frigate was reduced to a blackened and sinking hulk and finally at 0320 in the morning of the 27th, the forward powder magazine blew up, destroying the still burning skeleton of the ship.

British ship‑of‑the‑line Malabar assisted Missouri in fighting the fire and took aboard some 200 of her men. The Governor of Gibraltar threw open the gates of that base to Missouri survivors in an unprecedented act of courtesy which was recognized by a resolution of appreciation from Congress. The remnants of the once proud frigate, a hazard to navigation, were painstakingly removed by divers, piece by piece, from the shallow waters of the harbor.

06 February 2006

Published: Mon Aug 10 15:07:22 EDT 2015