Monday Maritime Matters

June 25th, 2007 by xformed

Another name for from the beginnings of our Navy is Josiah Fox. Born in 1763 in Cornwall, England, he had been an apprentice at the Royal Dockyard in Portsmouth, making him unique among our early shipwrights.

Josiah appears in the story of the post-Revolutionary War naval build up when he was asked by Joshua Humphreys in 1794 to assess the design proposed by Humphreys to the War department, as there was some conflict as to whether the planned frigates would be strong enough.

From “Six Frigates”:

Fox’s reaction was blunt. His view was that in the Humphreys’ frigate the wales were placed too low; the bow and stern were too sharp; and there were too many hollow spaces in the hull, which would contribute the the weakness of the hull’s structure. The design ought to include more rake (the stem and the stern should rise at a smaller angle from the keel). Fundamentally, Fox was concerned that the Humphreys’ frigate was too long in proportion to her beam. The resulting structural weakness was so great that the ship might even break her back on launching.

The debate continued, but the historical record to allow us into the course of the conversations, as the people involved directly all lived in Philadelphia (Secretary Knox, Joshua Humphreys, Josiah Fox), and Ian toll speculates much of the discussions happened in face to face meetings, with no paper trail. The only thing we have to go on is the performance of the ships put to sea. I’d say Humphreys was right.

During this time frame, Joshua Humphreys was appointed as the “Master Ship Constructor” for the Navy by Secretary of War Knox, and, based on his favorable impression of Fox’s knowledge of ship design, Fox was hired as a draftsman to serve under Humphreys. What happened next is what the modern Navy calls a “personality conflict.” Apparently Fox’s drafts were not in accordance with Humphreys designs. Net result: Fox was assigned to make moulds for cutting timber. “The two Quaker shipwrights eventually came to hate each other” says Toll.

There is more to that part of the working relationship to read, some of it sounding not unlike some of the meetings I was a party to attending over my career and a few years afterwards.

Fast forward to where Josiah Fox still managed to “get around the system:”

Fox was the supervising shipwright for the USS CHESAPEAKE. CHESAPEAKE was an oddity in the line of our first naval combatants in that she was not named for something related to The Constitution, but named for a bay. In addition, there was already a USS CHESAPEAKE, a sloop of war, in commission (she was recommissioned USS PATAPSCO) at the time. The distinction continued in that “Frigate D” was shorter in length and broader in beam than the other ships, as a result of Fox altering the design to meet his concepts of ship design, based on his Royal Naval shipbuilding background. Built in Norfolk, she was shown to be slower than her sister ships due to significant design alterations.No Navy ships have been named in honor of Josiah Fox. He was a key figure in the formulation of ship design, being a thorn in the side of the man who envisioned a completely new layout for warships, which went on to have provide our nation with a maritime force capable of standing up to the navies of Europe.

The ship picked up a reputation as unlucky early on in her career at sea.

This entry was posted on Monday, June 25th, 2007 at 7:21 am and is filed under Military, Military History, Navy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

1 response about “Monday Maritime Matters”

  1. Deborah Aylward said:

    As a civilian, I have no experience in these matters, but the ship does appear to be…ill-proportioned.

    I have visited your site many times, and always discover a “good read”. Thank you, sir. My apologies for the simplistic nature of the comment.

    Veritas et Fidelis Semper

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