Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Thomas Tingey, 28 June 1802

From Thomas Tingey

Navy Yard Washington 28th June 1802


I have the honor to enclose You, a memorandum of the particular dimensions, of the Frigate United States agreably to Your request of this morning.

Having it in contemplation to cover the Dock with a roof over the Ships—it would be adviseable to take out all the lower masts, before entering it—and for this purpose Sheers should be erected at the Dockhead—by which means the three Masts of each Ship may be taken out, in three hours or less, and with the most perfect safety—An excellent model of such a machine is now in the Navy office, brought from Toulon by Commodore Dale—This particular appendage to the Navy Yard here, is now much wanted: as there is always great risque in Sheers erected on Deck, for the purpose of taking in, and out Masts, of such dimensions as those of our Frigates—

The waste of time is also great, as is the danger of moving the Sheers on deck, and the labour too operose to be effected with a few people.—I dare affirm that the expence of taking out the Masts, which must necessarily be shifted, of the Ships now here, ere they can proceed to Sea; will by the last mentioned method, far exceed the cost of erecting the Machine I would advise: and which would last many, very many Years.

It is presumeable the Ships by being thus—and otherwise judiciously lightened, to come into Dock may be brought to 17 feet draft of water, or under. The tight work therefore of the entering bason, need not at the extreme, exceed in height 40 feet. Stopping at this height for the Ground or Solid work, the laves of the Roof need not exceed 15 feet more perpendicular height, to admit Line-of-Battle-Ships, of two-decks.

The depth of water, at the Bar in the Patowmac, near the mouth of Matawoming Creek (the shoalest I believe in the river) is at high water, common tides 23 ft 6 in to 23 ft 9 in—and I should feel no apprehension of danger, or doubt of success, in the attempt at a favorable time, of conducting any one of our largest Ships up—on a future occasion, without lightening in the smallest degree, in point of expence.

Feet in.
Extreme length of the Frigate United States
from the ’aft’r-side of the Taffrel-rail, to the extent
of the Figure-head
197. 4
Extension of the Bowsprit beyond the Figure   35. 8
ft 233.    
ft. in.
Perpendicular height of the Taffrel, above the  
waters edge
28. 6
Present draft of water abaft  20.   
Perpendicular height of the Taffrel,
from the tread of the Keel
}  48. 6
ft. in.
Perpendicular height of the Main-masthead,
above the waters edge
Ship’s present mean draft of water  18. 6
Extreme height of the surface of the Main-cap
above the tread of the Keel a mid-ships
} 110.6
Extreme breadth of the Ship outside 45.  

Ever happy, with energy to execute your commands

I have the Honor to be with unfeigned respect Sir Your Obedt Servt

Thos: Tingey

RC (CSmH); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esquire President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 28 June and so recorded in SJL.

Thomas Tingey (1750–1829) was born in London and held a warrant officer’s commission in the Royal Navy before the American Revolution. Settling in Philadelphia, he spent many years as a merchant captain trading in the West and East Indies. In 1798, Tingey accepted a captain’s commission in the U.S. Navy. He commanded the frigate Ganges in 1799, then was directed to oversee construction of a 74-gun ship at the nascent Washington Navy Yard in 1800. He was appointed superintendent of the navy yard the following year and remained in that post until his death (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; Michael A. Palmer, Stoddert’s War: Naval Operations During the Quasi-War with France, 1798–1801 [Columbia, S.C., 1987], 81; NDQW description begins Dudley W. Knox, ed., Naval Documents Related to the Quasi-War between the United States and France, Naval Operations, Washington, D.C., 1935–38, 7 vols. (cited by years) description ends , Jan.-May 1800, 113–14; Dec. 1800-Dec. 1801, 293; Taylor Peck, Round-Shot to Rockets: A History of the Washington Navy Yard and U.S. Naval Gun Factory [Annapolis, 1949], 11–12, 91–3, 255).

YOUR REQUEST OF THIS MORNING: TJ’s exchange with Tingey was the germination of a larger plan by the president to consolidate navy operations at Washington by constructing a massive covered dry dock, capable of holding up to 12 frigates. TJ argued such a facility would provide an effective and secure means to preserve supernumerary navy vessels laid up from active service. The scheme would occupy a considerable amount of TJ’s attention during the latter half of 1802, which included commissioning plans from Benjamin Henry Latrobe and mentioning the proposed work in his annual message to Congress on 15 Dec. 1802. Ultimately, the dry dock plan failed to secure the support of Congress, whose members generally deemed it too costly and too visionary to succeed (Eugene S. Ferguson, “Mr. Jefferson’s Dry Docks,” American Neptune, 11 [1951], 108–14; Peck, Round-Shot to Rockets, 14–19; ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Naval Affairs, 1:104–8; TJ to Nathaniel Macon, 17 July 1802; TJ to Latrobe, 2 Nov. 1802; Robert Smith to TJ, 8 Dec. 1802).

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