USS Onkahye (1843)

Name: Onkahye
Builder: William Capes
Laid down: 1839
Launched: 1840
Acquired: 1843
Commissioned: 1843
Fate: Shipwrecked 1848
General characteristics
Tons burthen: 250
Length: 96 ft (29 m)
Beam: 22 ft (6.7 m)
Draft: 12 ft (3.7 m)
Armament: 2 guns

USS Onkahye was a schooner of the United States Navy. A unique ship in the American Navy under sail, the vessel occupied a significant place in ship development, being the only converted sailing yacht to serve on distant station before the American Civil War. Its design was influential and it is considered the model for modern American sailing yachts.

Used in the anti-piracy/anti-slave trade patrols in the Caribbean, it went down in 1848 off East Caicos, in the Turks & Caicos Islands. A NOAA-supported expedition in 2008 conducted field work in search of the Onkahye and the USS Chippewa, also known to have gone down in that area in 1816.


Onkahye, a schooner yacht of a radical Robert L. Stevens design, was laid down in 1839 by William Capes, Williamsburg, New York, opposite the Brooklyn Navy Yard. After it was launched in 1840, it was purchased by the Navy in early 1843 and converted to a warship. It was commissioned at Gosport Navy Yard, Virginia, 11 July 1843, with Lt. William C. Whittle in command. Because of its speed, the schooner's unique design strongly influenced the development of modern American sailing yachts.[1]

Departing Norfolk 23 October 1843, Onkahye spent her first commission as a dispatch vessel in Charleston, South Carolina, returning to Norfolk 18 June 1844 and decommissioning two days later. She recommissioned 10 April 1845 and sailed 9 May 1845 for duty in the Caribbean and the West Indies. She was among the ships used for anti-piracy/anti-slave trade patrols, as the United States and Great Britain had worked cooperatively since 1808 to suppress the international slave trade.

Sailing to Vera Cruz, Mexico, to unload passengers, the schooner moved on to Cuba and then returned to Norfolk 14 July 1845. The warship sailed for the West Indies again 11 September 1845. She remained on duty in those waters and along the northern coast of South America until departing Mobile Bay 8 November 1845 for Norfolk, arriving 1 January 1846 and decommissioning on 9 January 1846. Throughout her service in southern waters, the ship patrolled against pirates and slavers, her great speed making her a valuable asset as a chase and dispatch vessel.

Onkahye recommissioned 22 April 1847, Lt. Otway Berryman commanding, and sailed for Caribbean waters once again before the month was out. Cruising the West Indies and South American coast, the schooner put into Rio de Janeiro 22 November 1847 and stayed there until 29 January 1848. She captured the bark Lawrence, a heavily laden slaver, at that port 24 January 1848. Continuing her patrols in the West Indies, Onkahye was lost off Caicos Reef on 21 June 1848 without loss of life.

In 2008, underwater archaeologists, sponsored by NOAA and the Museum of Turks & Caicos, added Onkahye to the list of ships they were searching for. They had already located and identified the wrecks of the Spanish slaver Trouvadore, which sank in 1842, and USS Chippewa (1815), which sank in 1816.


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.

  1. "Anti-piracy/Anti-slavery Patrols", Slave Ship Trouvadore website, accessed 7 April 2008

External links

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