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"Jamestown" (U.S. Sloop of War)

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The first ship named "Jamestown" was a sloop of war launched in 1844 at the Gosport Navy Yard, Virginia, the first American warship to be given that name. Classed as a “ship sloop”, a.k.a. “sloop of war” the “Jamestown” was built at Norfolk Navy Yard in 1843-44 to a design by Naval Constructor Foster Rhodes. Her 1844 battery consisted of four 8-inch shell guns and eighteen 32-pound muzzle-loading cannon. Her registry (not overall) dimensions were: length 157’ 6” between perpendiculars (rudder post to stem rabbet at main deck), beam 35’ , and depth in hold of 16’ 2” for a register (not actual) tonnage of 985 tons.

Leaving Hampton Roads on June 25, 1845, she was the flagship of Commodore Charles W. Skinner, then in command of U.S. naval vessels operating off the western coast of Africa to suppress the slave trade. The sloop returned to the U.S. and ported in Boston on August 6, 1846.

While the "Jamestown" was moored in Boston, the Cunard Line steamer "Hibernia" arrived with news of the the second consecutive year that blight had ruined the potato crop in Ireland and the resulting Irish famine, and Bostonians responded immmediately. Mayor Josiah Quincy hosted a meeting attended by about four thousand people at Fanueil Hall on February 18, 1847. A New England Relief committee was formed, which included Robert Bennet and John Murray Forbes. R. B. Forbes began to lobby for the "Jamestown" which was lying idle in Charlestown Navy Yard. On March 3, by U.S. Congressional resolution, R. B. Forbes was authorized to take command of the "Jamestown," while Captain George Coleman McKay was authorized to command USS "Macedonian," then at New York Navy Yard.

$151,000 and tons of food were donated and loaded onto the vessel by the Boston Labourers Society (mostly Irish), free of charge. R.B. Forbes supervised this and the refitting of the ship, including removal of all but two of its cannon."When the "Jamestown" left Boston at 8:30 a.m. on March 28, 1847, she carried 800 tons of provisions worth $40,038. The cargo comprised various grains, such as oats, rye, flour, indian corn, and beans but also 400 barrels of port, 100 tierces of ham and some mutton, as well as some dried local apples. There were also 28 barrels of clothing and 800 empty sacks to be used for distributing the barreled train in smaller units." 

R. B. Forbes completed the Atlantic crossing in a record 17 days. Forbes wrote a book about it, and had Lane draw a lithograph as frontispiece. The “Jamestown” proved to be an excellent sailer, but slightly top-heavy unless carefully ballasted and trimmed. Her passage from Boston to Ireland was very fast, due to hard driving.

After the Civil War, the “Jamestown” was placed in ordinary, forgotten by the public, and never returned to active service. Her last years were spent as a marine hospital in New York Harbor, still afloat in 1932.

This is taken from "Jamestown" account, summarized and prepared for Forbes House Museum by John Colhoun, Erik Ronnberg's research, and Catherine Shannon's account (via Forbes House).



Howard I. Chapelle, “History of the American Sailing Navy” (NY: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1949), pp. 440, 443 (hull Plan), 494 (spar dimensions), 544 (index notes).

Lieut. George F. Emmons, U.S.N., “The Navy of the United States, from the Commencement, 1775 to 1853” (Washington: Gideon & Co., 1853), pp. 100, 101.

Related tables: "Hibernia" (Steam Ship) »  //  Forbes, Robert Bennet »  //  Ship (Full-Rigged) »

Wheel of the "Jamestown"
Wooden ship's wheel
Collection of the Forbes House Museum, Milton, Massachusetts

Gift to R. B. Forbes from the U.S. Navy to commemorate voyage of the "Jamestown."

Also filed under: Forbes, Robert Bennet »

The Jamestown
George M. Atkinson
Collection of the Forbes House Museum, Milton, Mass.

Scene depicts the "Jamestown" being towed out of Charlestown Navy Yard. Plaque reads: "To Captain R. Bennett [sic] Forbes / From his English friends. / The "Jamestown" American Sloop of War as she left Boston under his command / bound to CORK with DONATIONS of FOOD / freight free for the Irish. / 1847."

Also filed under: Forbes, Robert Bennet »

"Splendid Naval Victory"
Danvers Courier as published in unidentified publication
Robert Bennet Forbes scrapbook
vol. 1, p. 4
Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum (SCR 4)

"SPLENDID NAVAL VICTORY. We have received intelligence by the arrival of the Caledonia of one of the most splendid naval victories ever achieved under the American flag..." This article is a humorous metaphor, comparing Forbes' mission to bring food to the starving Irish to a naval assault on the city of Cork.

The Voyage of the "Jamestown" on her Errand of Mercy
Robert Bennet Forbes
Eastburn's Press

Link to Google Books.

U.S. Sloop of War, "Jamestown"
George W. Atkinson
Lithograph, hand-colored
16 1/2 x 20 1/2 in., on sheet 18 1/8 x 22 1/2 in.
Courtesy American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass.

One of these lithographs was given to R. B. Forbes at an event held on the 19th of April at the Cork Temperance Institute.

"U.S. Sloop of war, Jamestown: Capt. R. B. Forbes. This print, commemorative of the splendid generosity of the American government in dismantling a ship of war for a mission of peace and charity, & of the noble-hearted citizens who humanely & benevolently responded to the call of Irish distress, is respectfully dedicated to the President, House of Representatives, Congress and people of the United States of America, by their obedt. servants, George M. W. Atkinson, William Scraggs, Cove of Cork 13th April, 1847"

Also filed under: Forbes, Robert Bennet »

USS Jamestown 1844-92
W. Deguire (attr.)
Oil on canvas
U.S. Naval Academy Museum
Citation: "Historical Materials." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum.§ion=%22Jamestown%22+%28U.S.+Sloop+of+War%29 (accessed June 19, 2024).
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