Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Greek frigate Liberator never served in the Greek navy but became instead USS frigate Hudson

Ron van Maanen

This frigate was together with a second one originally ordered in 1825 by representatives of the government of Greece in exile at London. The Greek tried to get independent from the Ottoman Empire and both frigates were to serve in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean. The Greece government however wasn’t able to pay two frigates and the delivery was withheld by the local financiers who supported the building and rigging. Binding arbitration was to solve this problem and the arbitrators were authorized to sell one frigate on a public action for the necessary funds. Their decision was 3 August 1826 that the financiers owned $ 894,908.62 for the building excluded another $ 34,246.55 for rigging, cables, extra spurs and shot which allowed a 3 years service. The arbitrators sold the Liberator to the American government. She was taken as the 44 guns frigate Hudson into the American Navy. Laid down at Smith&Dimon, New York 1825 and launched 1826. Due to this selling the Greek were able to pay for the second frigate they ordered. Her sister ship, originally named Hope, departed New York October 1826 and was taken into Greek service as the Hellas. She was scuttled and burnt by her own admiral instead handing her over to the Russian navy. According to Thomas Gordon (1832) the Greek government ordered Andreas Louriottis to go to America to built 2 frigates. However he sent his agent general Lallemand with letters for LeRoy Bayard and Howeland, the latter president of the New York Greek Committee. Lallemand decided to let built 2 1st rate frigates, each of 64 guns, but without contracts! The effect was that in December 1825 both houses asked for an additional L. 50.000 or otherwise they would sell both frigates. By lacking enough funds was in March 1826 the Sciote merchant Mr. Kondostavlos at New York asked for help and he succeeded in ‘saving’ one frigate for the Greek course. William St. Sinclair (2008) wrote that the Greeks made an agreement with the merchant house of LeRoy, Bayard and Company. This merchant house agreed to build together with the merchant house [Messrs. G.G. &S.] Howlands two frigates of live oak, copper sheathed, costs each ship $ 250.000, included guns; both merchant houses supervised the building and were ‘paid’ by commissions and fees on transactions and bills. In contrary to what Gordon wrote, claims St. Sinclair that William Bayard was the president of the New York Greek Committee. The building was financed with a loan. When the Liberator was sold for $ 233.570,07 to the American navy, she had cost the Greek Committee $ 440.606,41. Thanks to selling this ship, the Greek were able to complete her sister ship Hellas, regarded by many as one of the most beautiful ships in those days.

Contoslavlos (1826) wrote that Messrs. Le Roy, Bayard& Co., sent 7 December 1824 an estimation of the costs of building a 50-guns frigate comparable with the live oak frigates built for the American navy, namely $247.500. He described exactly the financial problems and disorder dealing with the building of the two frigates and the roll played by the merchant houses in this affair.

Canney (2001) give more technical details dealing with this ship. Stephen Smith designed her from her building yard, namely Smith and Dimon at New York. When it became impossible for the Greek to pay for her, the builders requested the American Government for help. After inspection by American naval officers she was bought at New York for the sum of $230,570,97 on 12 August 1826. Her armament was 32-32 (or 34) pdrs and 30-42 pdrs carronades, with the dimensions 177’10” (between perpendiculars) x 45 (moulded beam) x 13’8”. Her lines like a square stern showed the merchant background of her builders, who used to build for instance packet ships. Her service in the American navy wasn’t quite successful due to the used building materials. Instead live-oak white oak was used and already in 1830 she was decaying rapidly!

According to Lloyd came the idea of a strong Greek naval force including 2 60-guns frigates built in America, from Captain Abeney Hastings around 1823. Hastings who fought at Trafalgar was commissioned as officer in the Greek navy. In November 1825 Cochrane asked the Greek Government in London [the London Committee] for steam warships and except for 64 guns frigates; he suggested to use old 74 gun ships-of-the-line with the upper decks removed but the lower decks fitted out with heavy guns. In stead of two frigates just one, the Hellas, was commissioned in the Greek navy. Lloyds’ explanation (p. 172): “the business was equally mismanaged because the Greek agent fell into the hands of financial sharks (he was actually a Frenchmen), not a Greek)” [This must be the former French general François Antoine "Charles" Lallemand (23 June 1774-9 March 1839)].

Brian Vale (2004) speaks about 2 heavy 60-gun frigates of 1728 tons burden and with a length of 177 feet. The main gun deck was to be fitted out with 32-32 pdrs. The building costs of each frigate was estimated £ 75.000.

Described in the Statistical History (1853) as a 44-gun frigate of 1728 tons, built at New York and bought in 1826 for $ 241,310. As the Hudson in American naval service she made one voyage to the Brazil station in 1828-1831 as flagship of commodore J.O. Creighton. She served as receiving ship at the New York before being sold at New York in 1844.

Donald L. Canney. Sailing Warships of the US Navy. Rochester, 2001.
Alexander Contoslavlos. Narrative of the Material facts in relation to the building of the two Greek frigates. New York, 1826.
Thomas Gordon. History of the Greek revolution. Published by William Blackwood, Edinburgh, 1832.
Christopher Lloyd. Lord Cochrane. Seaman, Radical, Liberator. A Life of Thomas, Lord Cochrane 10th Earl of Dundonald, 1775-1860. New York, 1998 (originally 1947).
William St. Clair. That Greece might still be free. The Philhellenes in the War of Independence. Cambridge, 2008.
Brian Vale. The Audacious Admiral Cochrane. The True Life of a Naval Legend. London 2004.
Donald Zubrod, “The History of Maritime Arbitration in New York”, The Arbitrator, Society of Maritime Arbitrators, vol. 32, January 2001, no. 2.
Statistical History of the Navy of the United States. The Navy of the United States, from the commencement, 1775 to 1853. Washington, 1853.
Dictory of American Naval Fighting Ships, vol. III (1968) p. 384-385.
I wasn’t be able to check Harold I. Chapelle. The American Sailing Navy (New York, 1949), which seems to give more details about this ship. frigate Hellas