On the morning of 22 June 1807, the U.S. frigate Chesapeake slipped past Cape Henry at the mouth of the bay for which she was named and headed for the open sea. Snapping from her masthead in the freshening breeze was the broad pennant of Commodore James Barron.
Although her captain, Master Commandant Charles Gordon, had declared the Chesapeake ready for sea, and Barron as senior officer on board had accepted Gordon’s evaluation, the frigate was less than shipshape. Because she was transporting a number of civilian officials to the Mediterranean, her decks were cluttered with their furniture and other personal effects, many of her cannon were not properly mounted, and most of the crew did not yet know where their battle stations were. But the United States was not at war, and the long voyage ahead would give time for Gordon to prepare her for duty.