Samuel Humphreys, naval architect

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Samuel Humphreys

Birthdate: (67)
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
Death: August 16, 1846 (67)
Washington, Arlington County, District of Columbia, United States
Place of Burial: Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Joshua Humphreys, “Father of the American Navy" and Mary Humphreys
Husband of Letitia Humphreys
Father of Jane Murray McCrabb; Lieut Joshua Humphreys; Mary Yonge; William Humphreys and Brig. General Andrew A. Humphreys (USA)
Brother of Clement Humphreys

Occupation: U.S. naval architect
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Samuel Humphreys, naval architect

Samuel Humphreys (23 November 1778 – 16 August 1846) was a noted American naval architect and shipbuilder in the early 19th century. He served the United States Navy as the Chief Constructor for the Navy from 1826 to 1846.

Naval architect

Samuel Humphreys supervised the construction of the frigate USS Philadelphia, which was laid down at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1798, and launched in 1799. He later constructed ships at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and supervised the construction of the ship-of-the-line USS Franklin, the first ship to be laid down at the yard, in 1815.

In 1824, Humphreys turned down a very lucrative offer from Emperor Alexander I of Russia to create a Russian navy, saying: "I do not know that I possess the merits attributed to me, but, be they great or small, I owe them all to the flag of my country."

Humphreys was Chief Constructor for the Navy from 1826 to 1846. He designed America's first first-rate ship-of-the-line, USS Pennsylvania, which was laid down in 1821, but not launched until 1837. He also designed the supply ship USS Relief, which was laid down in 1835 and launched in 1836.

Around 1827, Humphreys took on John Lenthall as his apprentice to work as his assistant and draftsman, and in 1828 he nominated Lenthall for a position as one of the assistant naval constructors at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Lenthall would go on to serve as Chief Constructor for the Navy from 1849 to 1853 and as Chief of the Navy's Bureau of Construction and Repair from 1853 to 1871.


Humphreys's father was Joshua Humphreys (1751-1838), the naval architect for the first six frigates of the U.S. Navy. Samuel, and his wife Letitia, had sons Andrew (1810-1883) and Joshua (1813–1873) who served in the Union Army and Confederate States Navy, respectively, in the American Civil War (1861-1865). His other children were Jane Murray McCrabb (1813–1897), Mary Yonge (1823–1866), and William Humphreys (1828–1897).

Samuel Humphreys is buried at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., with his sons Andrew and Joshua.

Chief Naval Constructor, United States Navy

His wife, Letitia Atkinson, was the daughter of Andrew Atkinson, an officer in the British Army and Jane Murray Atkinson, daughter of a Scottish Baron.

The Daily National Intelligencer Wednesday, August 19, 1846 The Late Col. Samuel Humphreys The sudden death, at his residence in Georgetown, D.C., of Colonel Samuel Humphreys, Chief Naval Constructor, was briefly announced in our last.

Colonel Humphreys was the son of Joshua Humphreys, of Philadelphia, the first United States Naval Constructor, who has left us the Constitution and United States, the finest ships that grace the ocean, as monuments of his skill. These vessels were planned by him and built in the year 1797 and what is remarkable, as showing the cast and character of his mind, he had never seen a frigate when he planned them and yet he built frigates which to this day have never been surpassed and which are the pride of the nation. Indeed, the father of Colonel Humphreys, by his skill, may be said to have effected a complete revolution in the whole science of Naval Architecture, causing the old wooden walls of England to be replaced with vessels quite of another sort. Great Britain, finding that her ships could not compete with those modelled by him, has, since the war, made the United States and Constitution the guide for her architects. Her old frigates have been broken up and she is at this day razing her old 74’s, building larger frigates and modelling her whole navy upon the Humphreys plan, which is set forth in his official reports and letters, made and written half a century ago. They may be seen by turning to the American State Papers, Volume 1.

His son, the subject of this notice, was educated by his father as a naval constructor also, of which art he was a master. Some of the most beautiful ships in the navy are of his models. He was appointed Naval Constructor for the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1813 and Chief Naval Constructor in 1826, which post he filled with advantage to his country and honor to himself; the latter till the day of his death.

Neither in the fierceness of party excitement, nor in the cravings for office, nor in the blackest days of proscription did the tongue of malice ever assail him. Upright in all his dealings, faithful to his country and himself, he was a man beloved and respected by all who knew him. He has left a large family and circle of friends to mourn his loss.

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Samuel Humphreys, naval architect's Timeline

November 23, 1778
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
November 2, 1810
Age 31
Philadelphia, PA, United States
June 3, 1813
Age 34
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
Age 34
Age 44
Age 49
August 16, 1846
Age 67
Washington, Arlington County, District of Columbia, United States
August 16, 1846
Age 67
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States