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Originally built as a merchant marine ship for the East India Trade, the
America is best known as a swift commerce destroyer in the War of 1812. Comissioned by the prominent
family of Salem, Massachusetts and built by Retire Becket, the America was highly profitable for her shareholders before being reworked as a warship. Armed with twenty guns and 150 crewmembers, the America completed five cruises during the war, capturing twenty-seven British vessels as well as tremendously valuable cargo.
"Of the forty privateers sent out from Salem in the War of 1812, the America, with the possible exception of the Grand Turk, was the most successful. She is reputed to be the fastest sailing craft during that struggle and her numerous escapes from British cruisers seem to bear out this reputation."
Maclay's History of American Privateers
ORIGINAL SHIP SPECIFICATIONS
WAR OF 1812 SPECIFICATIONS
The following is an excerpt from "The Historical Magazine, and Notes and Queries Concerning the Antiquities, History, and Biography of America", (Boston: Jan 1874. Vol. 3, Iss. 1; p. 38 )
IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN THE SHIP'S HISTORY
Captain Benjamin Crowninshield
First captain of the America. Fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill A cousin of the senior partner, George Crowninshield. A man of small physique, bu of great energy of character and experience as a sea captain. --
Salem vessels and their Voyages
(May 27, 1766 - Nov. 26, 1817) The older brother of Benjamin Crowninshield, George Crowninshield went to sea as a captains clerk soon after ending his formal school at age eleven. Around 1800 he began assisting his father (also named George) in the commercial enterprise George Crowninshield & Sons. The America is considered to be the most profitable ship controlled by the firm. George was said to love dressing extravagantly. He was seen around Salem wearing a shaggy beaver hat, tasseled Hessian boots and an exotic looking waistcoat. Three times he was said to jump overboard to save crew men from drowning. He was also a noted volunteer fireman; many stories of his bravery in this arena exist.
-- source Dictionary of American Biography
Captain John Cheever
The last and most well known captain of the America. He was placed in charge of the ship when he was just twenty-two years old in 1813. He also captained the Sapphire, a ship belonging to the Mayor of Salem. Cheever was involved in civic projects including the extension of Crowninshield wharf. Served as a railroad agent and also held an interest in whaling boats. It was said that he was "as slick a skipper as ever gave slip to a British frigate." -- sources Putnam and History of American Privateers.
Builder of the Privateer America
The shipyard of Retire Becket was situated between Phillips Wharf and Webb's Wharf in an area that is known as Becket's beach. The Becket family operated a shipyard at this site from 1655 until 1800 when Retire Becket moved his shipbuilding operation eastward in Salem. Other vessels build by Retire Becket include the pleasure boat Cleopatra's Barge (also for Geo. Crowninshield), the Active
THE AMERICA MADE A BIG SPLASH IN THE NEWS PUBLICATIONS OF ITS DAY
RESOURCES FOR ADDITIONAL RESEARCH
History of the American Privateers and Letters of Marque
, published by the author, 1856
accessible through Google books
Maclay, Edgar Stanton
. History of American Privateers. D. Appleton and Company, 1899accessible through Google books
Pirates and privateers of the Americas
Santa Barbara, Calif. : ABC-CLIO, c1994.
Morse, John G. "The Privateer America" The New England Magazine Volume 17, Issue 3, November 1894.
accessible through the
Library of Congress American Memory Collection
Putnam, George Granville.
Salem vessels and their voyages.
Salem, Massachusetts, The Essex Institute, 1930
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