FRIGATE (Fr. frégate, Span. and Port. fragata; the etymology of the word is obscure; it has been derived from the Late Lat. fabricata, and the use of the Fr. bâtiment, for a vessel as well as a building is compared; another suggestion derives the word from the Gr. , unfenced or unguarded), originally a small swift, undecked vessel, propelled by oars or sails, in use on the Mediterranean. The word is thus used of the large open boats, without guns, used for war purposes by the Portuguese in the East Indies during the 16th and 17th centuries. The French first applied the term to a particular type of ships of war during the second quarter of the 18th century. The Seven Years' War (1756-1763) marked the definite adoption of the "frigate" as a standard class of vessel, coming next to ships of the line, and used for cruising and scouting purposes. They were three-masted, fully rigged, fast vessels, with the main armament carried on a single deck, and additional guns on the poop and forecastle. The number of guns varied from 24 to 50, but between 30 and 40 guns was the usual amount carried. "Frigate" continued to be used as the name for this type of ship, even after the introduction of steam and of ironclad vessels, but the class is now represented by that known as "cruiser."
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)