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As the big strong frigates inspired by Joshua Humphreys were
taking shape, Josiah Fox and William Doughty continued designing
ships. Fox had worked with Doughty before while at the Wharton-Humphrey
yard. In the years that followed Josiah Fox became a significant
designer in the development of our sailing navy. During the conflict
with the Barbary Coast pirates, the US thought to give the pirates
three of our ships, in the hopes of persuading them to stay away
from American ships, naval and commercial. One of these 'tribute
vessels' was designed by Fox, built by James Hackett of Portsmouth,
New Hampshire in 1794. It was a 32 gun frigate, Fox's answer to
Humphreys' 44 gun frigates.
The Fox frigate stretched 122 feet on gun deck, 32 feet of molded
beam, and 10 feet depth of hold. By comparison, Constitution
was 174 feet on the gun deck, 43 feet of molded beam, and 14 feet
dept of hold. Launched in 1797, Chapelle says the tribute vessel
was, 'a very handsome ship as was usual with Fox's designs.' While
this frigate has no famous history, it shows Fox was highly regarded
by the Navy for his designs, his draftsmanship, and his capacity
to draw to certain requirements.
Between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 Americans sympathetic
to Britain and those sympathetic to France wrestled in a political
war over the course of our new country. So the French decided
to take what they could. The ruling body of France, the Directory,
issued orders that permitted French warships to take any vessel
with British goods on board. This was aimed directly at American
commercial ships. The Directory also said that any American serving
on an enemy ship would be hanged as a pirate. Any American ship
without a role d'equipage would be seized. A role
d'equipage was a list of crew and passenger names; American
ships rarely had such a list. These directives by the French were,
according to historian G. Daughan, the same as a declaration of
war. And yet, not a declaration, so that this conflict with France
is called the Quasi-War with France.
All of this lead the merchants of the important American ports
to build their own frigates. Five great ships resulted: the Philadelphia,
New York, Essex, Boston, and John
Adams. The city of Philadelphia came to Josiah Fox to design
their Philadelphia. Now Fox had an opportunity to prove
Benjamin Stoddert wrong in choosing Humphreys' designs over his.
Fox returned to his contention that ships slightly smaller than
Constitution were best.
The merchants of Philadelphia gave Fox freedom in design. One
of his innovations was a cutwater which was advanced for its time,
resembling the cutwaters of frigates built 20 years later. The
spar deck bulwark ran from stem to stern with no lowering amidships.
The mizzen spanker had spar extensions, increasing the sail area
considerably. This additional sail is sometimes called a ringtail.
By now, Josiah Fox had designed and supervised the construction
of John Adams, a 28 gun frigate, the Chesapeake, a 38
gun frigate with a tragic history, and the Philadelphia, launched
With the Revolutionary War over, Fox and Doughty were discharged
from the Navy. When Thomas Jefferson became President he was more
concerned with protecting our coast than our shipping along foreign
coasts. The naval officers who had served in the Revolutionary
War noticed that Danish and French gunboats had success against
the British fleet. They then advised the Jefferson Administration
to fund gunboats for our coast. From 1803 till 1811, one hundred
sixty eight gunboats were drawn and built, the early ones by Fox.
As a whole, these gunboats were an odd collection. They ranged
from 45 to 75 feet on deck. Nearly all of them carried one 32
or 24 pound cannon at the bow, with a small carronade on a truck
carriage, aft of the mast. A carronade was a short cannon for
short range fighting, named after the metal works where they were
By 1804 Fox was back as a Navy employee, designing gunboats.
Joshua Humphreys was never appointed as a constructor or designer
in the gunboat era, possibly because of his thriving shipyard
business. He did survey locations for possible navy yards, should
another war come to America. Here we have gunboat no. 5, designed
||Gunboat no. 5, designed by Fox
During the Revolutionary War, privateers were built at their
owners' expense for the capturing of enemy merchant ships, which
were arming and feeding the British forces. Nearly all the privateers
were fast and modestly armed. Privateers were not designed to
fight it out with British frigates, but to seize goods on merchant
s hips and run to port, selling the goods for a profit. Nearly
all the privateers were designed like the Prince de Neufchatel,
seen below. When I was a mere lad in 1959 m mother bought me a
plastic model of this ship, not knowing what she had brought home
from the hobby store.
||Prince de Neufchatel
When the War ended, these privateers became the revenue cutters
of the 1790s. They were the ships of the United States Revenue
Marine, enforcing revenue laws, chasing slave ships, performing
life-saving and salvage work, carrying government dispatches and
diplomats across the sea. As the United States Revenue Marine
was under the authority of the Treasury, in 1797 the Secretary
of the Treasury commissioned Josiah Fox to design a new class
of cutter. The term 'cutter' came from the British cutters which
did similar service against smugglers, however our cutters were
schooners, ketches and sloops. The name was retained to confuse
all of us retired pirates in Duckland.
Fox created the plans for Pickering, and several cutters
were probably built from the same plans, with builders changes
effected during construction. Fox had shown the way to a new generation
of ship. The Pickering and its imitations were shaped
the same as the privateers, with more guns and more crew. Speed
was everything in a revenue cutter, so the model cutter had to
establish speed, then create room and structure for sails, crew,
and arms. American cutters were well known for being overcanvassed,
according to captains on both sides of the Atlantic. The Pickering
was a schooner, 58 feet on the keel, 20 foot beam, and 9 foot
depth of hold. Now Fox had been trained at the Plymouth Royal
Dockyard in 1786, the largest and best dockyard in the world,
according to historian James Dodds. Fox had learned the British
genius for volume at a speed, for size and weight and arms. So
when the Secretary of the Treasury commissioned Fox to draw plans
for revenue cutters, he turned from bulging frigate hulls to slender
deadrise hulls. This would have been quite a change for lesser
It is possible Fox saw the American schooner Sultana,
built for the Royal Navy in America, the same year Fox was at
Portsmouth, 1786. Royal Navy surveyors had been taking lines off
captured American schooners since 1757, according to British historian
David MacGregor. Here you can see the deadrise of the Sultana
and a later revenue cutter, designed to follow the lines and directions
||Sultana and a later revenue cutter.
Fox's plans set the standard and the direction for the many cutters
built later. We don't have plans for Pickering, although
we do have drawings for the cutters designed along the lines Fox
first laid down. Unfortunately, as is the case with other Fox
designs, tragedy followed Pickering. She was lost as
sea near the end of 1800.
But Josiah Fox had set a new direction. In 1804 Congress authorized
two more 16 gun ships. They gave Fox complete freedom in design.
He said that he designed these ships 'on the principle of an English
cutter.' Chapelle says the only evidence of an English cutter
was the greater deadrise than before and the long deep keel. Fox
had set a direction toward deadrise and speed, so these brigs
were actually halfway from his frigate hull to the revenue cutters.
One ship was called, Wasp, built at the Washington Navy
Yard, under the scrutiny of Fox himself.
Wasp was 105 feet between stem and stern, 30 feet of beam, 13'
9" depth of hold which was later enhanced by raising the
deck to gain a foot of hold. The sail rig of Wasp was
changed to a ship sloop, square sails with a spanker on the mizzen
mast. Another ship built to these plans was called, Hornet,
built in Baltimore and rigged as a brig.
Fox lavished much time and energy on these two ships. He made
extensive deck measurements, drawing detailed plans of spars and
rigging tackle. Many alterations were made during construction,
which might indicate Fox believed these two ships would make his
reputation. He had always insisted he should have the credit for
Constitution and Constellation, not Humphreys.
He never received the praise for the big frigates built by Humphreys,
so with complete freedom in design and construction maybe he thought
Wasp and Hornet would be his calling card to
Wasp was launched in 1806, her rig changed to a ship
sloop the next year. Hornet was actually launched in
1805, but the builder had made mistakes in placing the channels.
The curved knees of the cathead were changed to vertical knees,
and the bridle port was 2 feet aft of the designed position. The
masts of Hornet were placed forward of the masts on Wasp.
All of these changes had to be dealt with, so Hornet
was not ready for action until 1811. This may have happened because
builders were given great freedom in certain areas of the design
and the Hornet was not built under Fox's eyes.
||Channel, Cathead of Constitution.
Both vessels were known to be as fast as Fox had hoped they'd
be. Chapelle says this deep V design 'made it possible to stow
the inside ballast low, that it gave sail-carrying power without
spoiling the lines for speed, and that it added to the capacity
of the vessels. These two sloops were looked upon as superior
vessels of their class, and though their designs were never repeated
(exactly), they influenced the characteristics of the big ship
sloops built in the War of 1812.'
However, the life of Josiah Fox changed in that year. Having
been involved in the political debates of the times, he was not
appointed naval constructor of the Washington Navy Yard. That
went to William Doughty. Fox went into business, with some success.
In 1827 his feud with Joshua Humphreys became public again. Fox
claimed he drew the lines for the first frigates of the country.
Humphreys denies this, so according to historian Ian Toll, letters
are written in newspapers and submitted to the Department of Navy
by relatives of Humphreys and Fox making their respective claims.
By the way, the first frigate built on the plans in dispute was
the United States. This is the same ship on which Herman Melville
served, providing him with the material for the novels White
Jacket and Billy
Josiah Fox set the standard for draftsmanship and proportions
in frigates, cutters, and gunboats. He died in Ohio in 1846. He
is deserving of more respect and fame than he'll ever receive.