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USS Philadelphia (1799)
USS Philadelphia
Career (United States)
Name: USS Philadelphia
Laid down: November 14, 1798
Launched: November 28, 1799
Commissioned: April 5, 1800
Fate: Captured October 31, 1803, re-captured and burned by the US Navy February 16, 1804
General characteristics
Class & type: Philadelphia-class frigate
Tonnage: 1240
Length: 157 ft (48 m) between perpendiculars[1]
Beam: 39 ft (12 m)
Depth: 13 ft 6 in (4.11 m)
Complement: 307 officers and crew
Armament: • 28 × 18-pounder guns
• 16 × 32-pounder carronades

USS Philadelphia was a 1240-ton, 36-gun sailing frigate of the United States Navy. Originally named City of Philadelphia, she was built in 1798–1799 for the United States government by the citizens of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Funding for her construction was the result of a funding drive which raised $100,000 in one week, in June 1798.[2] She was designed by Josiah Fox and built by Samuel Humphreys, Nathaniel Hutton and John Delavue. Her carved work was done by William Rush of Philadelphia.[3]

She was laid down about November 14, 1798, launched on November 28, 1799, and commissioned on April 5, 1800, with Captain Stephen Decatur, Sr. in command.[4]

Service history

Putting to sea for duty in the West Indies to serve in the Quasi-War with France, she arrived on the Guadeloupe Station in May 1800 and relieved the frigate Constellation. During this cruise she captured five French armed vessels and recaptured six merchant ships that had fallen into French hands.

Returning home in March 1801, she was ordered to prepare for a year's cruise in the Mediterranean in a squadron commanded by Commodore Richard Dale. At his own request, Decatur was relieved of the command of President by Captain Samuel Barron. The squadron arrived at Gibraltar on July 1, with Commodore Dale in the frigate President. Philadelphia was directed to cruise the Straits and blockade the coast of Tripoli, the Pasha Yusuf Karamanli having threatened to wage war on the United States.

Philadelphia departed Gibraltar for the United States in April 1802, arriving in mid-July.[5] In ordinary until May 21, 1803 when she recommissioned, she sailed for the Mediterranean on July 28. She arrived in Gibraltar on August 24 with Captain William Bainbridge in command, and two days later recaptured the American brig Celia from the Moroccan ship-of-war Mirboka (24 guns and 100 men), and brought them both into Gibraltar.


Philadelphia in the harbor of Tripoli, February 16, 1804

During the First Barbary War the Philadelphia cruised off Tripoli until October 31, 1803, when she ran aground on an uncharted reef off Tripoli Harbor. Under fire from shore batteries and Tripolitan gunboats, the Captain, William Bainbridge, tried to refloat her by casting off all of her guns in order to make her lighter, when this failed they tried to get rid of all other unnecessary equipment on the ship, but this too failed. They then sawed off the foremast in one last desperate attempt to lighten her. All of these attempts failed and Bainbridge decided to surrender; and her officers and men were made slaves of the Pasha.

The Philadelphia was too great a prize to be allowed to remain in the hands of the Tripolitans, so a decision was made to recapture or destroy her. Under the guise of a ship in distress in need of a place to tie up after having lost all anchors in a storm, on February 16, 1804 a volunteer assaulting party of officers and men under Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, Jr. boarded her from the ketch Intrepid and after making sure that she was not seaworthy burned her where she lay in Tripoli Harbor. Horatio Nelson, known as a man of action and bravery, is said to have called this "the most bold and daring act of the age."[6][7]

Her anchor was returned to the United States on April 7, 1871, when the Pasha presented it to the captain of the visiting Guerriere.

See also


  1. Chapelle 1949, p. 549
  2. Canney, 2001 p.52
  3. Toll, 2006 pp.52–54
  4. Tucker, 1937 p.17
  5. Tucker, 1937 p.39
  6. Tucker, 1937 p.57
  7. MacKenzie, 1846 pp.331–335


  • Cooper, James Fenimore (1826
    Stringer & Townsend, New York). History of the Navy of the United States of America. pp. 508. OCLC 197401914.
  • Hill, Frederic Stanhope (1905
    G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London). Twenty-six historic ships. pp. 515. OCLC 1667284.
  • Tucker, Spencer (2004
    Naval Institute Press, 2004, Annapolis, Maryland). Stephen Decatur: a life most bold and daring. pp. 245. ISBN 1-55750-999-9.
  • Mackenzie, Alexander Slidell (1846
    C. C. Little and J. Brown, 1846). Life of Stephen Decatur: a commodore in the Navy of the United States.
  • Toll, Ian W. (2006
    W. W. Norton & Company, New York). Six frigates: the epic history of the founding of the U.S. Navy. pp. 500. ISBN 978-0-393-05847-5.
  • Canney, Donald L. (2001
    Chatham Publishing / Naval Institute Press). Sailing warships of the US Navy. pp. 224. ISBN 1-55750-990-5.

Further reading

  • Chapelle, Howard I. (1935) The American Sailing Navy,
    W.W. Norton and Co.,New York, p. 400, Book
  • London, Joshua E. (2011) Victory in Tripoli: How America's War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation
    John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New Jersey, p. 288, ISBN 0-471-44415-4, Book
  • Oren, Michael B. (2007)Power, Faith, and Fantasy Chapter 3,
    W.W. Norton and Co., New York, ISBN 0-393-05826-3
  • Willis, Sam (2007).Fighting Ships: 1750–1850,
    Quercus Books, London
  • Zachs, Richard (2005). The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805
    Hyperion, New York

External links

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