In the plan to increase the useable size of the new US Navy, beyond the six initial frigates and a number of vessels converted for combat use, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert sent letter around to recruit agents to represent the Navy who then were to seek out contractors to build additional vessel for use – there was also a “subscription program”, but this is another topic.
The Navy Agent in Middletown, CT, was Nehemiah Hubbard Jr, a RevWar vet and intimately involved in that war with procurement and as a Pay Master. In Middletown after the war, he became directly involved in banking, and quite the influential local, perfect for the Navy to recruit for the job. Mr. Hubbard obtained Seth Overton (Sr) as the contractor later in 1798 and the vessel was built over the winter into the early half of 1799. The ship was launched on 6 June 1799 with a degree of fanfare, enough that the papers reported on her sliding into the river which shares her name.
There had been multiple changes to her design from what Sec. Stoddert had first suggested; input from Overton (of course) his subcontractors, Capt. Tryon’s wishes, and further suggestions by local ship builders consulted for insight all resulted in a different vessel than what most historical accounts state, all of which refer to the original Stoddert plans. Three-masted, ship-rigged, she was to be a sloop of war – that is to say, from the Amercian point of view, one deck of guns fewer than 28 in number – essentially a small frigate. She was named Connecticut by Sec. Stoddert, and she was rated for 24 guns although, as was common in those days, she was pierced for some extra… In this case, the vessel carried 26 guns. And although historians state that she had all 12 pounders, the ship’s logs make a comment early on that leave me to think that only a few were of that size, and it is likely that the battery was mostly 9-pounders… although this is merely an educated guess. The ship ultimately had two decks (independant of an orlop), a length of 125 feet, a breadth of 32′ 2″, and a dept of 16′ 1″. She was actually rated 548 – 36/95 tons, not the 492 tons originally planned for and almost always quoted as being her size. The crew – seamen, boys, Marines, officers numbered around 180, but this fluctuated given prize crews, a couple of deaths, a couple of people removed from duty, &c.
She sailed down the Connecticut River and found herself stuck at the mouth in Saybrook on account of the substantial sand bar chronic for that location. It was considered too much to dredge usefully and larger vessels would need to be towed through a drifting gap in bar if one was there at any given point, or more likely, to wait for a tide sufficiently high to take advantage of the moment to sail over the bar. In time, she made it over and arrived at her home port of New London in August 1799, there to take on her guns, powder, complete recruitment, receive orders. On Tuesday, 15 October, with pleasant weather and winds WNW, the USS Connecticut sailed for the Windward Islands in the Caribbean with three vessels in convoy.
The USS Connecticut was attached to the convoy headed by Thomas Truxtun in the USS Constellation, but by the time Connecticut had arrived, Truxtun sailed his ship back home for repairs, leaving Capt. Richard V. Morris in the USS Adams, 22 guns, in charge. The Connecticut was to cruise largely between Puerto Rico and Guadaloupe, with usual naval charge to “sink, take, or destroy” the enemy. During her one year tour (enlistments for the Navy were for one year at first), she captured four enemy vessels (the most famous being the privateer brig L’Italie Conquise), recaptured six American vessels in the hands of the enemy, and caused the destruction of two more enemy vessels by running them aground in chase, setting fire to one to prevent her from being used again while the other was so badly damaged that it would never sail again.
The Connecticut was arguably the fastest large vessel in the Navy at this time, drooled over, it seems, by other captains for just that reason. The port of call during this tour was Basseterre in St-Kitts, where the prizes (captured enemy vessels) were brought. By later in 1800, Capt. Truxtun had returned to take command of his squadron, and in September he ordered Capt. Tryon to sail for home, convoying a group of Amercian merchantmen along the way for their safety.
Upon arriving back in New London, Capt. Tryon took a leave of absence and Capt. Richard Derby of Salem, Massachusetts took command, refitting and recruiting for another cruize. In March 1801, the undeclared war had come to an end and plans to use the Connecticut to cruize off Batavia in company with the USS Ganges to protect American shipping interests there came to a halt when Congress decided to downsize the Navy, selling off roughly 1/3 of the vessels in auctions in NYC. Capt. Derby sailed the ship into NYC in company with the USS Trumbull to put them up for sale, placing his crew aboard the USS Essex then in harbour.
The Connecticut was sold for 19,300$ to private hands and into the merchant service, exchanging hands periodically and home ports, until her being declared in 1808 as unseaworthy and subsequently destroyed in NYC.