The Jamestown was one of the typically handsome U.S. sloops-of-war of the antebellum Navy. There was nothing remarkable about her form, construction, or armament to set her apart from the other six 20-gun sloops laid down from 1841 to 1843. But she was the longest of the seven—which were not deemed a class—by 15 feet. This may have contributed to her reputation as a speedy but difficult to trim warship. The Boston Post noted, “She is sharper forward than any sailing ship in the country and fuller aft in proportion to her size than any ship of the line.”
The sloop was laid down in 1843 at the Gosport Ship Yard at Portsmouth, Virginia, and commissioned there on 12 December 1844. The following June she entered active service off the west coast of Africa to suppress the slave trade. Over her 70 years of service, she had three slave-trade cruises and cruises with the Mediterranean, Brazil, Pacific, North Pacific, and Home squadrons. The vessel also served as a warship, flagship, transport, and store, apprentice-training, and hospital ship.