Humphreys versus Fox

January 9th, 2013

A Quaker, Josiah Fox (1763–1847) was a British naval architect who came to the United States in 1793 to examine United States timber for shipbuilding and to teach drafting to American ship designer Jonathan Penrose’s sons. In 1794 he received a job as a draftsman working under Philadelphia Naval Constructor Joshua Humphreys (also a Quaker) and designer of the first six frigates. Fox and Humphreys clashed over design issues, the former believing that Humphreys’  designs were too radical-that Humphrey’s ships were too long in proportion to the beam and that the stem and stern rose too sharply. Eventually these disagreements led to considerable animosity between the two.

Humphreys’ tendency to claim most of the credit for the design of the first six frigates and the subsequent efforts by Humphreys’ son Samuel, also a naval constructor, to undercut Fox’s role in the original six frigate designs  have often obscured the contributions of Fox.  But in this May 1795 letter, obviously before the animosity had peaked, Secretary of War Timothy Pickering notes that Humphreys said the following about Fox: “Mr. Humphreys… thinks that there are few men in this country equally qualified in this line.”  Moreover, in a work entitled The History of the American Sailing Navy, Howard I. Chapelle,  who was an American naval architect  and curator of maritime history at the Smithsonian Institution,  observed that “Fox was far better trained than Humphreys in all respects, and was a far superior draftsman.”