Oldest US Naval Ships

8 Oldest US Naval Ships

The United States Navy, a component of the US Armed Forces, is in charge of defending the US as well as securing American soil against foreign military aggression.

The US Navy ships are a crucial part of American defense. If a war were to break out, US Navy ships would be necessary to help save the country from being invaded by other countries or terrorists. This includes submarines, aircraft carriers, and destroyers.

The U.S. Navy has a proud history of excellence and innovation, which has led to a level of technological expertise in shipbuilding that is second to none. The fleet of ships that have served America in times of need are some of the nation’s greatest technological achievements, both for themselves and for society at large.

The United States Navy has a rich history of ship construction since its creation. Below, we have compiled a list of the eight oldest US Navy ships still active, as well as historical data for those already decommissioned.

8. USS Mississippi

Year Built: 1917
Type: Missile Cruiser
Namesake: State of Mississippi
Complement: 55 Officers, 1,026 Enlisted

USS Mississippiphoto source: history.navy.mil

The USS Mississippi, also known as BB-41, was a battleship of the U.S. Navy. She was commissioned in 1817 and saw active service during World War II, though she was decommissioned in 1956.

Following the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor in early 1942, Mississippi re-joined the Pacific Fleet. She spent the majority of 1942 in the South Pacific after traveling along the American west coast for much of the year.

In 1943, she took part in operations against Kiska Island, in the Aleutians, and in the seizure of the Gilbert Islands. On November 29, 1943, while performing the latter operation, Mississippi experienced a second turret explosion that claimed the lives of 43 people.

After repairs, she took part in the invasion of Kwajalein in February 1944 and attacked islands controlled by the Japanese in February and March.

She was a member of the group that invaded Peleliu and Leyte later that year and won the Battle of Surigao Strait against a Japanese task force.

Mississippi provided artillery to assist the attack during the invasion of Okinawa from March to June 1945 and the Lingayen landings in January 1945.

In both operations, suicide planes caused damage to the battleship.

Did You Know?

USS Mississippi was awarded eight battle stars for participation in World War II.


7. USS Jamestown

Year Built: 1844
Type: Flagship
Namesake: Jamestown, Virginia
Complement: 186 Officers and Sailors

photo source: history.navy.mil

The first Jamestown was built at the Navy Yard in Gosport, Virginia, and launched in 1844. On December 12, 1844, it was commanded by Comdr. Robert B. Cunningham.

She left Hampton Roads on June 25, 1845, to serve as Commodore Charles W. Skinner’s flagship while he oversaw American naval ships battling the slave traffic off the western coast of Africa. The sloop landed at Boston on August 6th, 1846, at the conclusion of her first tour.

It has been transformed into a transport and storage ship over time. On September 3rd, 1866, she was recommissioned to serve in Panama as a store and medical ship. Jamestown was sent north on April 2, 1867, due to a fever on board, and was cleaned up in San Francisco.

She joined the North Pacific Squadron and worked at Sitka, Alaska, as a guard and storeship from 11 September 1867 until 30 May 1868. Jamestown witnessed the raising of the American flag. The US Flag at Sitka on October 18, 1867, following the US’s acquisition of Alaska from Russia, marked one of the key steps in the US’ rise to global supremacy.

Did You Know?

On September 9, 1892, the USS Jamestown in Hampton Roads was given to the Treasury Department to serve as the Marine Quarantine Hospital. It was destroyed by fire at Norfolk Navy Yard on January 3rd, 1913, after being returned to the Navy Department.


6. USS Sea Gull

Year Built: 1818
Type: Steamship
Namesake: Gull/Seagull
Complement: 72 Officers and Sailors

USS Sea Gullphoto source: navsource.org

The Connecticut Steam Boat Company, located in Hartford, Connecticut, constructed the Sea Gull originally as the river steamer Enterprise. She performed her initial test run in July 1819 after being launched in November 1818.

She was bought by the US Navy in December 1822 and given the new name Sea Gull so that she could be used as a shallow-water ship to hunt down pirates off the coast of Cuba.

She then traveled to Santo Domingo to join the West Indies Squadron under Commodore David Porter. She worked as a guard ship at Thompson’s Island in May 1823. In Key West, on September 13, 1823, Lt. William H. Watson died, and Lt. Ralph Voorhees took command.

Sea Gull carried on with the squadron’s operations up until July 1825, when she was told to head back to the east coast.

After a survey, she was determined to be unfit for future maritime service and converted to a receiving ship at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She worked there before being sold in 1840.

Did You Know?

The USS Sea Gull was the United States Navy’s second steamer and its first to actively operate as a warship.


5. The Demologos

Year Built: 1814
Type: Steam Powered Warship
Namesake: Robert Fulton
Complement: 200 Officers and Enlisted

The Demologosphoto source: usni.org

The Demologos is also known as the ‘Fulton’ named after its builder, Robert Fulton, who died before it was completed.

Although it was decided not to equip her for service after the War of 1812 ended, Fulton was given to the Navy in June 1816 and put into service at Brooklyn Navy Yard. Until her magazine blew on June 4, 1829, when 30 men were killed, numerous others were injured, and the Fulton was completely destroyed, it was housed over and employed as a receiving ship.

Did You Know?

The first warship to use a steam engine for propulsion was the Demologos.


4. USS Peacock

Year Built: 1813
Type: Sloop of War
Namesake: Peacock
Complement: 140 Officers and Enlisted

USS Peacockphoto source: Wikimedia

The Peacock, a ship constructed in the New York Navy Yard in 1813, was intended to obstruct enemy trade, defend American merchants, and convey political figures. The vessel and its crew distinguished themselves against the British brig HMS Epervier during the War of 1812.

The Peacock was the vessel used on several diplomatic trips to convey signed trade agreements to the Kingdoms of Siam, Arabia, and Muscat.

In the final naval battle of the war, the sloop-of-war USS Peacock captured the East India Company brig Nautilus, bringing an end to the War of 1812.

When the Peacock was sent to explore and survey the furthest reaches of the enormous Pacific Ocean, it created history by being the first ship the United States had ever equipped for scientific investigation. Before World War II, the Navy did not seize another enemy ship.

Did You Know?

In 1828, The Peacock underwent reconstruction in order to be utilized for exploration. The new ship was essentially the same as the original, except that it had 10 cannons instead of twenty-two.


3. USS Independence

Year Built: 1814
Type: Warship
Namesake: Declaration of Independence
Complement: 790 Officers and Enlisted

photo source: history.navy.mil

The USS Independence, the country’s first ship of the line, was commissioned and launched on June 22, 1814, at the Boston Navy Yard in Massachusetts.

She armed herself right away and joined the frigate Constitution at a post to guard the approaches to Boston Harbor, where she stayed until the end of the war with Britain. It was the USS Independence.

The Navy’s initial ships of the line were the largest and most powerful vessels at the time. The Navy dispatched the Independence as part of a sizable, well-equipped squadron to North Africa in order to ultimately destroy the reign of the Barbary Coast Pirates.


2. USS Essex

Year Built: 1799
Type: Frigate
Namesake: Essex County, Massachusetts.
Complement: 315 Officers and Enlisted

photo source: history.navy.mil

The USS Essex frigate was constructed by Enos Briggs in Salem, Massachusetts, and launched on December 17, 1799. She was the first American to participate in the French-American Quasi-War.

In the Mediterranean during the First Barbary War (1801–05), she defended American trade and sailors. In June 1812, while engaged in combat in the Atlantic, the United States annexed Great Britain.

Along with seizing HMS Alert in August of 1812, she was the first American ship to successfully thwart a British whaling fleet during the War of 1812. Navy ships entered the Pacific Ocean in February 1813.

Did You Know?

The USS Essex became the first U.S. Navy vessel to double (sail around) the Cape of Good Hope to defend cargo ships heading to the East Indies.


1. USS Constitution

Year Built: 1797
Type: Frigate
Namesake: United States Constitution
Complement: 450 Officers, including 55 Marines and 30 boys

USS Constitutionphoto source: defense.gov

Launched for the first time in 1797, the USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned ship and the official ship of state for the United States of America.

With a renowned military record, the Quasi-War with France, and, most significantly, the War of 1812—the undefeated ship was never boarded or defeated in battle—the Constitution best represents America’s early capacity to project force overseas.

The frigate is composed of three thick masts made of timber, which gave it its famous nickname, “Old Ironsides.”

Did You Know?

After being retired from active duty in 1882, the USS Constitution was made public in Boston Harbor in 1905.

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