USS Chesapeake

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One of the six original frigates authorized in 1794 to form the US Navy. Intended to be a 44-gun ship, its completion was delayed and it was actually built as a 36-gun frigate. On 1 June 1813, while under the command of James Lawrence, the Chesapeake left Boston Harbour to fight the British 38-gun frigate Shannon, lying offshore. It is a myth that Lawrence did so as a result of a challenge to come out and do battle from the British frigate: one was issued but arrived after Lawrence had sailed. However, in sailing as he did Lawrence not only disobeyed orders but departed from any kind of sensible strategy, and after two destructive broadsides, the captain of the Shannon, Captain Sir Philip Broke (1776–1841), led a boarding party aboard the Chesapeake. Lawrence was killed and the Chesapeake, short of officers and with an untrained crew, surrendered after an action which lasted only fifteen minutes and which subsequently became one of the best-known frigate actions in naval history. The Chesapeake was taken to Halifax after its capture and later to Britain. Since Britain had recently suffered many humiliating defeats in such frigate actions, this success made Broke extremely popular in Britain and also had a salutary effect on naval gunnery and training which were largely remodelled on his methods.

In 1996 it was found that some of the timbers from the Chesapeake, auctioned in 1819, had been used to construct the Chesapeake Mill, which had been built in a Hampshire village in 1820 and which is still standing.

Subjects: Maritime History — Warfare and Defence.

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