James Sever Collection
James Sever was one of the six founding captains of the U.S. Navy, and the first captain of the frigate USS Congress. Sever was born in Kingston, Massachusetts in 1761. He graduated from Harvard College in 1781 and was commissioned an ensign in the Continental Army that year. He rose to the rank of lieutenant, serving until 1794. After the American Revolution, Sever worked as a merchant ship captain, but he had no previous naval experience when he was appointed in 1794 as construction superintendent and future captain of USS Congress in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He lost the position when construction on USS Congress was suspended in 1796, following peace with Algiers.
In 1798, as the Quasi-War with France was heating up, Sever was recalled and appointed to command the 20-gun ship USS Herald. When construction of USS Congress was completed and the ship was launched in August 1799, Sever was returned to command of that frigate.
Under Sever’s command, USS Congress was dismasted in a gale in January 1800. He faced a court of inquiry for his seamanship performance and leadership of the crew, but no ensuing court martial was convened. Sever was the only one of the original six captains not retained by the navy following the Quasi-War.
Sever returned to Kingston after the war, where he lived until his death in 1845. He was married to Jane Russell Sever. They had five children.
The James Sever Collection is a rare assemblage of materials related to the construction, launch, original outfitting, and initial manning of the United States Navy’s first frigates (specifically USS Congress and USS Constitution), as well as the conduct of the U.S. Navy during the Quasi-War with France from 1798 to 1801.
View the James Sever Collection Finding Aid here.Read More