Page:The Clipper Ship Era.djvu/27

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7
American Shipping up to 1812

navy by reason of her speed and beauty, and on her first voyage she had the honor of conveying Lafayette to France, At the close of the war she was sold by the Government and became a merchantman famous in the China and India trade. Several of the privateers were built and fitted out at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Newburyport, Massachusetts. Those in which Nathaniel Tracy was interested captured no less than 120 vessels, amounting to 23,360 tons, which with their cargoes were condemned and sold for 3,950,000 specie dollars; and with these prizes were taken 2220 prisoners of war. Many other instances of this nature might, of course, be mentioned, but the important point is the fact that in the latter part of the eighteenth century and the early part of the nineteenth, as well, the fastest vessels owned or built in the United States and Great Britain were from French models.[1]

  1. When peace was declared in 1783, the Government of the United States sold or otherwise disposed of all its vessels, a fact that was quickly taken advantage of by the Barbary corsairs. They at once began to prey upon American merchant shipping in the Mediterranean and even in the Atlantic, and made slaves of the captured crews. The French and English, too, in their wars with each other, by no means respected the neutrality of American commerce, the former being the worse offenders. It was not, however, until 1794 that Congress again authorized the formation of a navy, under the Secretary of War, and in 1798 the office of Secretary of the Navy was created. Among the vessels built in 1794–98 was the frigate Constitution, the famous "Old Ironsides" which still survives. The separate States had meanwhile maintained vessels for the protection of their