Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Shipbuilding and Shipyards

Preparation For War — William Birch

William Birch's 1798 print of the frigate Philadelphia at the Humphrey's and Wharton Shipyard

Iconic Philadelphia print maker William Birch captured the construction of frigate Philadelphia in November 1798 at Humphrey’s & Wharton Shipyard at the Front Street location on the Delaware River. In this early stage of construction, celebrated local naval ship carver William Rush’s elaborately sculpted mast and helm have not yet been added. The Philadelphia was commissioned into the United States Navy April 5, 1800, and destroyed just three years later in the Barbary Wars off the coast of Tripoli. An attack by hostile forces left the Philadelphia severely damaged. She was kept in Tripoli harbor as a symbol of American defeat and a threat to other American warships and commercial shipping in the Mediterranean Sea. Under the cover of a ship in distress, Americans entered Tripoli harbor on a February evening in 1804 and burned the Philadelphia, marking the end of her short seafaring life. (Library of Congress)

Library of Congress

Iconic Philadelphia print maker William Birch captured the construction of frigate Philadelphia in November 1798 at Humphrey’s & Wharton Shipyard at the Front Street location on the Delaware River. In this early stage of construction, celebrated local naval ship carver William Rush’s elaborately sculpted mast and helm have not yet been added. The Philadelphia was commissioned into the United States Navy April 5, 1800, and destroyed just three years later in the Barbary Wars off the coast of Tripoli. An attack by hostile forces left the Philadelphia severely damaged. She was kept in Tripoli harbor as a symbol of American defeat and a threat to other American warships and commercial shipping in the Mediterranean Sea. Under the cover of a ship in distress, Americans entered Tripoli harbor on a February evening in 1804 and burned the Philadelphia, marking the end of her short seafaring life.

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