January 21, 2015

USS President

When the War of 1812 was declared, the U.S. had a very small naval force compared to the British. The USS President played a crucial role during the war and was even involved in raising tensions between the U.S. and the British before the War of 1812.

The Naval Act of 1794 authorized the construction of six U.S. frigates in which the USS President was the last one built in 1800. In May 1811, President was at the centre of the Little Belt Affair where the HMS Little Belt was fired on after being mistaken for the HMS Guerriere, which had impressed American sailors. This incident contributed to increased tensions between the U.S. and Great Britain that eventually led to the War of 1812. 

USS President 
During the war, President made a number of extended cruises, patrolling as far away as the English Channel and Norway. During her service, she captured an armed schooner and several merchant ships. However, by February 1814, the British forced President into New York Harbor where she remained until January 1815 under a close blockade. In December 1814, Stephen Decatur assumed command of President and began planning the ship’s escape.

On January 14, 1815, the British were forced to loosen their blockade during a snowstorm, allowing President to slip out of the harbour. Unfortunately, the ship ran aground causing damage but due to strong winds, President was unable to head back to the harbour and was forced out to sea. President attempted to escape the British fleet but was damaged by the HMS Endymion as two more British ships joined the fight. Seeing that his ship was outgunned, Decatur surrendered on January 15, 1815.

After the War of 1812, the British decided to keep President and rename it HMS President. The ship was broken up in 1818 but the British launched a replica in 1829 and kept the name HMS President as a political statement. The new President continued to serve in the Royal Navy until 1903 before being decommissioned.

If you want to know more detail about this ship and others from the War of 1812, you can read The Naval War of 1812 by Theodore Roosevelt. This book has many detailed accounts of naval battles from the war.

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