The frigate Potomac was constructed at the Washington Navy Yard between 1819 and 1822 and entered active service in 1831. In the 1830s and early 1840s, the Potomac sailed to Asia, where it participated in the shelling of Quallah Battoo, Sumatra. After its return to Boston in 1834, the ship traveled twice to Brazil. Captain John Gwinn (1791-1849), a native of Maryland and previously the commander of the Vandalia , commanded the ship between October 1844 and December 1845, as the Potomac sailed along the Atlantic coast and to ports in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. During the Mexican-American War, the Potomac landed troops at Port Isabel, Texas, and in the Siege of Veracruz. The Potomac was later the flag ship of the Home Squadron (1855-1856) and part of a naval blockade in the Gulf of Mexico during the Civil War. The ship remained in the service of the United States Navy until 1877, when it was sold.
John Gwinn served in the United States Navy for much of his adult life and was promoted to captain by President John Tyler in August 1842. After commanding the Potomac , he assumed command of the USS Constitution . Gwinn died while serving in Palermo Bay, Italy, in 1849. He was initially buried in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and his remains were later transferred to Arlington National Cemetery.