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USS Relief at the Washington Navy Yard between 1871 and 1878
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Design: Sail (ship)
Displacement (tons): 468 (tonnage)
Dimensions (feet): 109.0' pp x 30.75' x 16.5' max
Original Armament: 4-18pdr 2-12pdr (1850)
Later armaments: 2-32pdr (1861);
1-30pdr Parrott rifle, 2-32pdr (1862);
Speed (kts.): --
Propulsion (HP): N/A
Machinery: Sail, ship rig
||14 Sep 36
||8 Dec 36
||27 Sep 83
In 1833-1834 Congress appropriated additional funds for new construction under the Act of April 1816, which had authorized the gradual construction of a huge force of 9 ships of the line and 12 frigates, and the Navy decided to divert a small portion of these funds from the ships then on the stocks and use them to build a good storeship for the fleet. In peacetime a storeship was used to carry supplies to distant stations and also to act as a packet or dispatch vessel. Previously the Navy had only occasionally had vessels that it called storeships. The principal ones were the 20-gun ship ALERT (ex HMS ALERT, ex merchant OXFORD), captured from the British in 1813, used as a stationary storeship at New York from 1813 to 1818 and then as a receiving ship at Norfolk until broken up in 1829, and the schooner DECOY (ex merchant ZODIAC), which served as a storeship carrying supplies from New York to the "Mosquito Fleet" in the West Indies between 1823 and 1825. Otherwise when the Navy needed to move supplies it would either commission an older frigate or sloop as a transport, leaving ashore most of its guns and crew to make room for cargo, or charter merchant ships for individual voyages. The expansion of the Navy under the 1816 act made the acquisition of regular storeships essential, and thus was born USS RELIEF, the first purpose-built auxiliary vessel of the U.S. Navy. The Navy's Chief Constructor, Samuel Humphreys, prepared a design of a small ship on merchant vessel lines which was assigned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for construction. There was nothing unusual about her design other than a few innovations in her rig which were already in use in the merchant marine. Her hull was pierced for 16 small guns but before the Civil War her usual armament was four 18-pdrs and 2-12pdrs.
In May 1836 Congress appropriated funds for the U.S. Exploring Expedition, usually called the Wilkes Expedition after its commander. Congress had initially authorized this circumnavigation of the globe back in 1828 to promote American commerce and offer protection to the whaling and sealing industries. RELIEF, then on the ways, was selected as the store ship for the expedition, which ultimately also included the sloops of war VINCENNES and PEACOCK, the brig PORPOISE, and the schooners SEA GULL and FLYING FISH. The expedition did not depart until August 1838, held up by lack of funds, equipment, personnel, and by administrative feuding, and in the meantime RELIEF made several logistics runs along the East Coast. Once the expedition began RELIEF proved to be a slow sailer, and for this reason she was detached at Callao and ordered to proceed independently to Sydney, Australia, via the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands and then home. Although slow she was found to be useful on distant stations, and between her return to New York in 1840 and the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 she spent long periods on the Pacific Station off the west coast of South America, in the Home Squadron for the Mexican War, on the Brazil Station and in the Mediterranean. In early 1861 she resupplied the African Squadron, and she then resupplied the ships of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in 1861-62 and served as station store ship at Ship Island in Mississippi Sound in 1862-63. After an overhaul she was ordered back to the Pacific in 1864. Returning to New York in 1866 she was placed in ordinary, and in 1871 she was ordered to Washington, D.C. where she served as receiving ship until 1877. Laid up the following year, she was sold in September 1883 at Washington, D.C., to J. B. Agnew.
The Navy added two more storeships to the fleet when between 1840 and 1843 it rebuilt at Boston the 18-gun sloop ERIE (1813, previously rebuilt in 1820-1823) and converted at Norfolk the 20-gun sloop LEXINGTON. ERIE was found to be too small and was sold in 1850; LEXINGTON was decommissioned in 1855 and sold in 1860. Two curiosities, the brigs CONSORT and PIONEER, were also listed as storeships for one year in 1844; they along with the small schooner PILOT had been designed and built by the Navy in 1836 for the Wilkes Expedition but were found to be utterly unsuitable for this duty and were used for miscellaneous purposes until quietly sold, PILOT in 1838 and the two brigs in 1844. RELIEF acquired her first regular reinforcement other than the two ex-combatants when SOUTHAMPTON joined the fleet in 1845, and more storeships were added during the Mexican War in 1847-1848.
||Sold on 27 September 1883.
Compiled: 06 Jul 2013
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2013