Featured Article and Did You Know That?.....

November 2000


In 1794, Congress authorized the building of six frigates, primarily for use against the Barbary Coast pirates. One of those frigates was the Chesapeake, built at Gosport (now Norfolk), Virginia. Construction began immediately, but was halted the following year when peace treaties were signed with some of the Barbary nations. Construction began again in 1798, however, when France began seizing U.S. ships.

Unfortunately, the Chesapeake became known as a "hard luck" ship. She was launched on December 2, 1799 under the command of Captain Samuel Barron. It was reported that when the blocks were removed from under the ship, she started, but went only a few feet and that one of the workmen was killed during the attempted launch.

Chesapeake's first wartime cruise began on May 24, 1800. Captain Barron was ordered by Benjamin Stoddert, Secretary of the Navy (and a native of Charles County) to Georgia, South Carolina, Delaware, and then to return to port no later than December since the one-year enlistment of more than half of the crew expired then. Captain Thomas Truxtun, the senior officer at Norfolk, countermanded Secretary Stoddert's directive and ordered that the ship remain at sea until the following June. The crewmen, whose term of service was to expire in December, rebelled. Those deemed to be the worst offenders were flogged and then put ashore at St. Thomas. Captain Barron died in 1810, at the relatively early age of 45.

The Chesapeake was called to service again in 1802 after Tripoli declared war on the U.S. This time, she was the flagship of Commodore Richard Morris. Within a few days of their departure, the mainmast broke. After their arrival in the Mediterranean, things got no better and in 1804 Captain Morris was court martialed for injudicious conduct and dismissed from the service by President Jefferson.

After spending an undistinguished ten months in the Mediterranean, the ship returned to the U.S., this time under the command of Captain James Barron, the brother of Captain Samuel Barron. The Chesapeake saw no further service until 1807 when it would become embroiled in one of the worst scandals of its time.

In 1807, Captain James Barron was assigned the Chesapeake as his flagship for his new appointment as Commander of the Mediterranean Squadron. Captain Barron made little or no preparations for the upcoming voyage of the ship. When the Chesapeake left port, it was confronted by the British ship Leopard, the captain of which demanded the return of three British deserters believed to be on board. Neither the crew nor the guns of the Chesapeake were ready to defend themselves. The Leopard fired three shots into the Chesapeake, boarded her, and took off four crewmen (only one of whom was a British deserter). Three crewmen were killed and 18 wounded. The end result was that Captain Barron was court martialed and suspended from all naval command for five years.

The next commander of the Chesapeake was Stephen Decatur, Jr. who would later be killed in a duel by none other than Captain James Barron who harbored a grudge against Decatur for having served at his court martial. Decatur commanded the Chesapeake from 1807 until 1809 when he was ordered to turn her over to Captain Isaac Hull. From 1809 until 1812, the Chesapeake was in moth balls at the Boston Navy Yard. From 1812 to 1813, the Chesapeake, under the command of Captain Samuel Evans patrolled the Atlantic in search of British merchant ships. Captain Evans, who had previously been partially blinded while serving at Tripoli, began losing sight in his other eye while in command of the Chesapeake and would never again serve at sea.

The next, and last American commander of the Chesapeake was Captain James Lawrence who was assigned on April 9, 1813. Captain Lawrence asked to be assigned to the Constitution instead, but his request was denied. He was ordered to sea as soon as repairs were completed on the Chesapeake. On June 1, 1813, just off the coast of Boston, the British frigate Shannon was waiting, anxious for a confrontation with an American ship. Indeed, the commander of the Shannon sent a boat with a challenge to Captain Lawrence, but before the challenge could be delivered, the Chesapeake coincidentally left port and was immediately attacked.

Many of the crew aboard the Chesapeake had already stated they would not fight until they had received prize money from a previously captured ship. The battle between the Chesapeake and the Shannon was over in 15 minutes. 146 crewmen of the Chesapeake were killed or wounded including Captain Lawrence whose last orders were "Don't give up the ship!". These words would become the rallying cry for the War of 1812. Oliver Hazard Perry, who was a friend of Captain Lawrence, had the motto sewn onto a private battle flag which was flown during the Battle of Lake Erie.

Among those killed on the Chesapeake was Pollard Hopewell, Jr., a midshipman from St. Mary's County. Pollard Hopewell, Jr. was the only child of Pollard Hopewell and his wife, Catherine Hebb who were married December 19, 1785. Pollard, Jr. was born sometime between 1786 and 1789. He was orphaned at an early age. His father died in 1796 and his mother died on August 5, 1799. Pollard, Jr. was left in the care of his uncle, James Hopewell. As far as I have been able to determine, Pollard, Jr. never married. It would seem almost destined for a boy who had a short, sad life to die on this "hard luck" ship.

The Chesapeake served in the Royal Navy until 1816. It was dismantled in 1820 and its timbers used as building materials for houses in Portsmouth, England. The gun deck timber was used to build "Chesapeake Mill" which still stands in Wickham, Hampshire, England.

Only one other naval ship has borne the name Chesapeake and because of the fate of the original ship, its Captain successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Navy to change the name.

Written by: Linda Reno, 9/10/2000

Did you know that....

Basil Hayden, a native of St. Mary's County who moved to Kentucky, was the creator of the "Old Grandad" whiskey?

Janet Herbert Wilkinson, whose family lived in St. Mary's and Charles County, was known as "Daughter of Maryland, Wife of Mississippi, and Mother of Texas"?


The Maryland Line, comprised of many men from St. Mary's County, was called upon by George Washington to cover the retreat ot the American forces at the Battle of Long Island. The small force of 400 withstood the repeated charges of over 30,000 British troops and refused to surrender. 256 of these brave men lie buried beneath the pavement and buildings at Third Avenue and Eighth Street in Brooklyn, New York?


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