Thirty-four days out of Newport, Rhode Island, on 1 November 1803, the brig-of-war Argus reached Gibraltar. She “sails well,” her captain, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur Jr., reported to Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith, “and possesses a number of excellent qualities.” Commodore Edward Preble, commanding the U.S. Mediterranean Squadron, penned a letter to the secretary on 9 November, expressing almost fatherly pride: “The Argus is arrived and is without exception the handsomest vessel of her rate that I have ever seen. She is very much and very justly admired by every officer. . . . The order she is in does great credit to her commander.”
Congress had authorized the brig on 23 February 1803, and the Navy contracted for the Merrimack (as she was originally known) on 29 April. Workmen laid her keel at the Boston shipyard of Edmund Hartt on 12 May. Edmund’s brother Joseph drafted the plans for a flush-decked brig whose lines were drawn very fine to enable her to operate in the peculiar sailing conditions in the Mediterranean. Then-Captain Preble was to superintend her construction.