HMS Leopard was laid down at Portsmouth Dockyard in 1775, but ten years later, still in frame, she was taken to Sheerness, where she was finally launched in 1790. She saw action in various theaters during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, including the Mediterranean and North American stations. She was on duty with the latter in early 1807 when a number of sailors, both British and American citizens, deserted from HMS Bellisle, Bellona, Triumph, Chichester, Halifax, and Zenobia, then blockading the French 74s Patriote and Eole in Chesapeake Bay. A number of the sailors joined the crew of the 36-gun frigate USS Chesapeake, and Vice Admiral Sir George Berkeley, commander in chief of the North American Station, dispatched HMS Leopard to search the frigate.
On June 22, 1807, Captain Salisbury Pryce Humphreys was stationed off Cape Henry, Virginia, when he hailed USS Chesapeake, outward bound for the Mediterranean under Commodore James Barron. A boat was sent over with a copy of Berkeley's order, but Barron refused a request to search his ship and at the same time ordered the gun deck quietly cleared for battle. The order came too late, for no sooner had the boarding party returned to Leopard than the British opened fire. Three broadsides followed, to be answered by only a single cannon shot before Barron surrendered his unready ship. Humphreys refused to accept the surrender but dispatched a boarding party to look for deserters, taking three Americans and the British sailor, who was tried and hanged at Halifax. Although many subsequently saw in the Chesapeake-Leopard affair a prelude to the War of 1812, at the time it did little more than strain diplomatic relations between the United States and Britain. But even as late as 1843 Allen could regret that, "as has in too many instances been the case, the spirited conduct of Vice Admiral Berkeley and of Captain Humphreys was disavowed by the British government; the British right of search was given up, and Vice Admiral Berkeley recalled from the North American command."
Leopard remained on the North American station until 1812 when she was converted to a troopship. On June 28, 1814, she was en route from England to Quebec with 475 men of Royal Scots Guards when she grounded on Anticosti Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in heavy fog. The ship was a total loss, although none of the crew or soldiers was lost.