A town in Virginia where the climactic battle of the American Revolution was fought in the autumn of 1781.
(Sloop: displacement 566; length between perpendiculars 117'8"; beam 32'11"; depth of hold 15'6"; complement 150; armament 14 32-pounders, 2 12-pounders; class Dale)
The first Yorktown, laid down in 1838 by the Norfolk Navy Yard and launched in 1839, was commissioned on 15 November 1840, Cmdr. John H. Aulick in command.
Yorktown departed Hampton Roads on 13 December 1840, bound for the Pacific. After calling at Rio de Janeiro from 23 January to 5 February 1841, the sloop rounded Cape Horn and arrived at Valparaiso, Chile, on 20 March.
The ship operated along the Pacific coast of South America until 26 May 1841, when she sailed from Callao, Peru, bound for the Pacific isles. Looking after the interests of the American whaling industry and of the nation's ocean commerce, she called at the Marquesas, the Society Islands, New Zealand, and the Hawaiian Islands. After completing her mission in the South and Central Pacific, she departed Honolulu on 6 November and headed for the coast of Mexico.
Yorktown called at Mazatlan before heading south to resume operations along the coast of South America. She continued her cruising (primarily out of Callao and Valparaiso) through the early fall of 1842, when she departed Callao on 23 September, bound for San Francisco, where she arrived on 27 October.
Shifting to Monterey on 11 November 1842, the sloop called again at Mazatlan on the 22nd before she proceeded to Valparaiso. Yorktown remained at that port until she got underway on 2 May 1843 for the east coast of the United States. After rounding Cape Horn and calling at Rio de Janeiro, she arrived at New York on 5 August. Six days later, the sloop was decommissioned.
Placed in active service once more, on 7 August 1844, with Cmdr. Charles H. Bell in command, Yorktown departed New York on 11 October, bound for Funchal, Madeira. After proceeding thence to Porto Praya, the sloop joined the Africa Squadron on 27 November.
Yorktown ranged up and down the west coast of Africa, going as far south as Capetown, Cape Colony, as she labored to curtail the slave trade. In the course of her patrols, the vigilant sloop captured slave-ships Pons, Panther, and Patuxent.
On 2 May 1846, Yorktown departed Porto Praya and returned to the east coast of the United States, reaching Boston on the 29th. There, on 9 June, the sloop was once again decommissioned.
Subsequently recommissioned at Boston, she sailed on 22 November 1848 for her second deployment with the African Squadron. Still engaged in hunting down slave ships, Yorktown cruised along the African coast, carefully observing each ship she encountered for any sign of the illicit traffic in human flesh. On 6 September 1850, she struck an uncharted reef at Isle de Mayo in the Cape Verde Islands. Although the ship broke up in a very short time, not a life was lost in the wreck.
Robert J. Cressman
31 December 2015