A Ship Named Connecticut

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 operations 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 American 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 cruise.  In March 1801, the undeclared war had come to an end and plans to use the Connecticut to cruise 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 broken up in NYC.


7 thoughts on “A Ship Named Connecticut

  1. Really interesting topic! I basically stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have genuinely loved searching your weblog posts.

  2. Great to see you back in action with the USS Connecticut. I think my three greats grandfather, Philip Gildersleeve should be given credit as being her Master Carpenter.

  3. I also just realized it doesn’t say where the Connecticut was built, which was at Stevenson’s Wharf at the end of what is now Indian Hill Ave. in Portland. Portland back then was called Chatham, and was a part of Middletown.

  4. Good morning Rick!
    Yes, I’ve a great deal of evidence on all of that. Most of it will wait to come out when the book is finally ready, but the contractor for the building of the ship was Seth Overton, who in turn hired as subcontractors both Philip Gildersleeve and John Button. Philip was the primary man – the job foreman, if you will. The design of the vessel seems to have been mostly the brain child of Seth but there was direct input by all the parties involved, including Navy Agent Nehemiah Hubbard, Capt. Moses Tryon, both subcontractors, sundry others who were consulted for this point or that…
    Stevenson’s wharf seems to have been on the north side of the end of Shipyard Lane – now Indian Hill Ave. This is across from Stevenson’s house which still stands. The shipyard is currently open space rolling down to the Connecticut River and is privately owned with more than a few “No Trespassing” signs. And at the time of the ship being built (1798-1799), Chatham was no longer a part of Middletown but a township in its own right (1767).

    Please stay in touch! We should meet for lunch sometime soon and hash over the project!


  5. My apologies. I think that information was already there and I missed it. Sorry. Yes, lunch would be great. Do you know how the “Connecticut” was rigged? Brig, Bark, Ship-rigged? A frigate would imply three masts, but I’m not sure if that’s always the case. Some of there definitions were loose in those days.

    • No apologies necessary! Ship rigged, rated for 24 guns but carried 26, and considered a “sloop-of-war” which by American standards meant only one deck of guns, usually the top-most deck (or spar deck), and less than 28 guns. By appearances she was essentially an undersized frigate. The Navy record for how she was to have appeared is based on the original letter from Sec. of the Navy Stoddart to Navy agent in Middletown Nehemiah Hubbard… But the design changed during the building process as Hubbard was told to make changes as was to be found necessary by the appointed captain, the contractor and subcontractors, and any local experts found worthy to be consulted. I have the records of how she finally appeared and it is surely different than the original expectations, she finally being made somewhat sleeker and for speed than the lumbersome floating fortress I think Stoddart had envisioned. The believe also is that she carried 12-pdrs but I have a theory that she may have had mostly 9-pdrs with a few 12 pdrs also on deck… But that is more due to educated guessing from what can be inferred from the record than anything concrete. I haven’t decided how I will express that when the BIG book is ever completed.


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