George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 2 January 1796]

2. Equally fine with yesterday. Saw the Stem of the Frigate raised.

On 27 Mar. 1794 Congress passed “An Act to provide a Naval Armament,” providing for the construction of six frigates, to be built in various shipyards around the country. This measure was designed to protect American shipping from marauding Algerines (1 STAT. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 350–51 [27 Mar. 1794]). The frigate mentioned here was being built at Southwark, near Philadelphia. It was the United States, 44 guns, and was to be commanded by Commodore John Barry. After the treaty with the Dey of Algiers in 1795, three of the frigates, including the United States, were ordered to be completed immediately, and work on the other three was to be put off for an indefinite period (ASP, Naval Affairs, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:6, 18, 25). The visit to the shipyard with GW that George Washington Parke Custis later recalled was probably this one: “I well remember visiting with Washington the United States Frigate at Southwark, when her Keel was laid, & stem & starnpost only up. The Chief expressed his admiration at the great size of the Vessell that was to be. Commodore Barry was present, & Mr. [Joshua] Humphreys [naval constructor] explained to the President, several of his cabinet, and other persons who were present, the great principle which he had originated & was now by consent of the authorities putting into successful practice, all of which met with Washington’s approbation, & he expressed himself on the return in his coach, much gratified with all he had seen & heard in this, his First visit to an American Navy Yard” (HUMPHREYS description begins Henry H. Humphreys. “Who Built the First United States Navy?” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 40 (1916): 385–411. description ends , 391).

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