Minutemen fought a detachment of British troops at Lexington, Mass., 19 April 1776 opening the Revolutionary War with “the shot heard round the world.”
(Brigantine: lbp. 86'; b. 24'6"; cpl. 110; a. 14 4-pdrs, 12 swivels)
Abraham van Bibber purchased brigantine Wild Duck for the Maryland Committee of Safety at St. Eustatius in the Dutch West Indies in February 1776. She soon got underway for the Delaware Capes and reached Philadelphia 9 March with a cargo of sorely needed powder for the patriot forces. Four days later the Marine Committee purchased Wild Duck, renamed her Lexington, and turned her over to Wharton and Humphrey for fitting out.
Commanded by Capt. John Barry, Lexington dropped down the Delaware 26 March and slipped through the British blockade 6 April. The following day she fell in with British sloop Edward, a tender to the enemy frigate Liverpool. After a fierce fight which lasted about an hour Edward struck her colors. Lexington took her prize into Philadelphia and as soon as the ship was back in fighting trim, Barry put to sea again. On 26 April Lexington encountered Sir Peter Parker’s fleet sailing to attack Charleston, S.C. Two of the British ships gave chase. Barry escaped only to find himself in even worse straits on 5 May off the Delaware Capes. HMS Roebuck and Liverpool chased Lexington for 8 hours and came close enough to exchange fire with the American ship before Barry managed to elude his pursuers and reach Philadelphia safely.
Lexington and Reprisal dropped down the Delaware to Cape May on the 20th and joined Wasp and Hornet. HMS Liverpool stood off the Delaware Capes preventing the American ships from escaping to sea. On 28 June Pennsylvania’s brig Nancy arrived in the area with 386 barrels of powder in her hold and ran aground while attempting to elude British blockaders Kingfisher and Orpheus. Boats from the four American warships unloaded the precious powder during the night leaving only 100 barrels in Nancy at dawn. Barry then devised a delayed action fuse which exploded the powder just as a boatload of British seamen boarded Nancy.
On 10 July Lexington slipped to sea. On the 27th she captured Lady Susan, a ship of Lord Dunmore’s Tory Fleet which operated out of Chesapeake Bay. This privateer was commanded by William Goodrich, a member of the notorious Tory family which had plagued the seacoast and the shipping of Virginia and Maryland. Richard Dale, one of seven members of Lady Susan’s crew who signed on Lexington, later won fame under John Paul Jones. Early in September, Lexington took another sloop, Betsy. About a fortnight later lightning struck Lexington forcing the brigantine home for repairs. Lexington anchored off Philadelphia 26 September, and 2 days later Barry relinquished command.
Repairs completed, Lexington, Capt. William Hallock in command, got underway for Cape Francois to obtain a military cargo. On the return voyage, British frigate Pearl overhauled the brigantine just short of the Delaware Capes 20 December and captured her. The commander of the frigate removed Lexington’s officers but left 70 of her men on board under hatches with a prize crew. By luring their captors with a promise of rum, the Yankee sailors recaptured the ship and brought her to Baltimore.
Lexington, Capt. Henry Johnson in command, sailed for France 20 February 1777 and took two prizes before reaching Bordeaux 3 weeks later. In France the brigantine joined Reprisal and Dolphin for a cruise seeking the Irish linen fleet scheduled to leave Dublin early in June. The American ships, commanded by Capt. Lambert Wickes, got underway 28 May and were carried far to westward by heavy winds. Approaching Dublin from the north they entered the north channel 18 June and hove to off the Mull of Kintyre. During the next 4 days they captured nine prizes, sinking three, releasing one, and retaining five. Heading south again on the 22d, they took and scuttled a brig before arriving off Dublin Bay. The next morning they took another brig and a ship bringing sugar, rum, and cotton from Jamaica. After placing prize crews on both vessels, they resumed their voyage around Ireland. On the 24th they stopped and released a smuggler and the next day took their last prize, a snow.
When they sighted ship-of-the-line Burford near Ushant on the 26th, the American ships scattered and made their way individually to safety in France. Lexington remained at Morlaix, a Brittany fishing village, throughout the summer, hemmed in by British warships. However, France, under strong British diplomatic pressure, ordered the American ships out of French waters 12 September. Lexington got underway the next morning but made little headway because of light wind. She lay becalmed near Ushant on the morning of the 19th when British cutter Alert came into view. In the ensuing fight, Lexington’s rigging was seriously damaged precluding flight. When the American brigantine ran out of powder Captain Johnson reluctantly struck his colors.