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Pocahontas I (Screw Steamer)

(ScStr: t. 558; l. 169'6"; b. 26'3"; dph. 18'6"; a. 4 32-pdrs., 1 10-pdr., 1 20-pdr. P.r.)

An Algonquin princess, daughter of Powhatan, who saved Capt. John Smith's life while he was a prisoner of her father's warriors. She subsequently married John Rolfe and died in England in 1617. Counties in Iowa and West Virginia and towns in Arkansas, Iowa, and Virginia are named for Pocahontas.


The first Pocahontas, a screw steamer built at Medford, Mass. in 1852 as City of Boston, was purchased by the Navy at Boston 20 March 1855; and commissioned as Despatch 17 January 1856, Lt. T. M. Crossan in command.

Despatch, carrying naval passengers and cargo, departed New York 4 April for the Gulf of Mexico, returned 12 June, and decommissioned 4 July for installation of improved boilers and condensers. The ship was in custody of the Coast Survey Service January through March 1857.

Recommissioned 1 March 1858, Despatch departed New York on the 6th to cruise along the Gulf coast seeking ships attempting to smuggle slaves into the nation. She headed north in December, arriving Norfolk on the 20th where, following a run to Washington to tow Plymouth to Norfolk, she decommissioned 2 January 1859.

Rebuilt at the Norfolk Navy Yard, the ship was enlarged to 694 tons, reclassified a second class sloop, renamed Pocahontas 27 January 1860, and recommissioned 19 March 1860, Comdr. S. F. Hazzard in command. The revitalized warship got under way for the Gulf on the 27th. Arriving Vera Cruz 16 April, she joined the Home Squadron and cruised along the Mexican coast protecting American citizens and commerce and carrying diplomatic despatches.

Departing Vera Cruz during the secession crisis, Pocahontas arrived Hampton Roads 12 March, and on 5 April was assigned to the small joint Army-Navy force sent to Charleston Harbor to provision the federal garrison at Ft. Sumter. However, she did not reach Charleston Harbor until the afternoon of the 13th, as Major Anderson was surrendering the beleaguered United States fort. The next day she helped evacuate the Union troops and returned north.

During the first months of the Civil War, Pocahontas patrolled the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers and Chesapeake Bay protecting water approaches to Washington against possible Confederate naval attack. She seized steamer James Guy off Machodoc Creek, Va. 21 May and fired on and damaged Confederate side wheel steamer, CSS George Page in Aquia Creek, Va., 7 July.

Assigned to the newly established South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, Pocahontas departed Washington 15 October for Newport News, Va. and sortied from Hampton Roads on the 29th with Flag Officer Samuel F. Du Pont's fleet. The joint Army-Navy task force captured Port Royal Sound 7 November, winning for the Union what Du Pont called "the most important point to strike, and the most desirable to have first and to hold...." Port Royal, he continued, alone admits the large ships "and gives us a naval position on the sea coast as our Army is holding across the Potomac." Subsequent Union naval operations along the Confederate coast fully substantiated Du Pont-s appraisal of Port Royal's strategic value.

During the following months, Pocahontas operated along the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, performing blockade duty, reconnoitering rivers and inlets, and supporting amphibious operations. She helped to capture Tybee Island, Ga. 24 November and assisted in towing ships of the "Stone Fleet" to Maffitt's channel and sank them 20 through 26 January, 1862 to block the approaches to Charleston from the sea.

From 28 February through 15 March she participated in an expedition which captured St. Simon's Island and Brunswick, Ga., and Fernandia, Fla. She then continued blockade duty through the spring and early summer. On 14 August Pocahontas and tug Treaty fought Confederate troops ashore along some 20 miles of the Black River while trying to capture steamer Nina. Later that month she was ordered north for repairs and arrived Philadelphia Navy Yard on the 31st.

Assigned to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, Pocahontas departed Philadelphia 2 October and reported to Admiral Farragut at Pensacola, Fla. on the 18th. The steamer performed blockade duty off Mobile Bay where she captured British steamer Antona with a valuable cargo of munitions and merchandise 6 January 1863. On 5 March her guns destroyed blockade running sloop Josephine, previously forced aground by Aroostook near Ft. Morgan. After repairs at New Orleans, 6 July to 19 August, Pocahontas sailed north. Damaged severely in a storm during the passage, the steamer arrived 7 September and decommissioned a week later for repairs.

Recommissioned 16 March 1864, Pocahontas sailed for the gulf 14 April and arrived New Orleans 9 May. On blockade duty for the remainder of the year, she cruised along the coast of Louisiana and Texas, operating primarily off Sabine Pass. After repairs at New Orleans 22 December 1864 to 23 April 1865, the steamer returned to the Texas coast where she served until departing Galveston 6 July for the east coast. After stops at Pensacola and Port Royal, Pocahontas arrived New York 25 July and decommissioned at the New York Navy Yard on the 31st. Sold at New York 30 November 1865, the ship was reduced to a bark and served as Abby Bacon until 1868.

Published: Fri Aug 21 10:06:00 EDT 2015