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History of USS Reprisal

Hostile action taken in response to an offence; retaliation.


(Brig: Length 100'(?); Beam 30'(?); Complement 130; Armament 18 6-pounder)

The Marine Committee of the Continental Congress purchased merchantman Molly on 28 March 1776; renamed her Reprisal; and placed her under the command of Capt. Lambert

On 10 June 1776, the Committee of Secret Correspondence of Congress by arrangement with the Marine Committee, issued orders to Captain Wickes, to proceed in the Reprisal to Martinique and bring from there munitions of war for Washington's armies, and also to take as passenger, Mr. William Bingham, who had been appointed agent from the American colonies to Martinique.

The Reprisal dropped down the Delaware from Philadelphia some time during the latter part of June. Before slipping out to the Atlantic, the Continental armed brig Nancy of six guns had been sighted and chased by six British men-of-war as she was returning from St. Croix and St. Thomas with 386 barrels of gunpowder for the Army. In order to save her, her captain ran her ashore. Captain Wickes with the crew of the Reprisal, aided by Capt. John Barry with the crew of the Lexington, was able to keep off the boats sent from H.B.M.S. Kingfisher, and to save about 200 barrels of powder. Before quitting the Nancy, they laid a train of gunpowder which, when the Nancy was boarded, blew up with a large number of the British sailors. In the engagement, Wickes' third lieutenant, his brother, Richard Wickes, lost his life.

The Reprisal cleared the Delaware Capes on 3 July. During that month, Captain Wickes captured a number of vessels in the West Indies, and, on 27 July, had a sharp encounter with H.B.M.S. Shark off Martinique, beating her off and escaping into port. She returned to Philadelphia on 13 September.

On 24 October 1776, Wickes was ordered by Congress to proceed to Nantes, France, in the Reprisal, taking to his post Benjamin Franklin who had been appointed Commissioner to France. The Reprisal afterwards was to cruise in the English Channel. En route to France, the Reprisal captured two brigs, reaching Nantes, November 29th. The Reprisal was the first vessel of the Continental Navy to arrive in European waters. She set sail again about the middle of January 1777, cruising along the coast of Spain, in the Bay of Biscay and in the mouth of the English Channel. On February 5th, the Reprisal captured the Lisbon packet, 2 days out of Falmouth, after a hard fight of 40 minutes, in which two of the Reprisal's officers were seriously wounded and one man killed. Five other prizes were captured on this cruise, which ended February 14th.

After taking his prizes into Port Louis, Wickes sailed for L'Orient, but was ordered to leave in 24 hours by the French authorities, who had been stirred to action by the bitter remonstrances of the British Government. Wickes, however, claimed the Reprisal had sprung a leak and should be careened for repairs. He finally gained his point, and received permission to make his repairs and by excuses was able several times to defeat the intentions of those in charge of the port while he made ready for another cruise.

In April 1777 the Reprisal was joined by the Continental vessels Lexington, 16 guns, and the Dolphin, 10 guns, these three vessels constituting a squadron under the command of Wickes. The American Commissioners in Paris now planned to send the squadron on a cruise along the shores of the British Isles. Leaving France the latter part of May 1777, they cruised around Ireland during June, July, and August. On the 19th of June, they took their first prizes-two brigs and two sloops. During the following week, they cruised in the Irish Sea and made 14 additional captures, comprising two ships, seven brigs and five other vessels. Of these 18 prizes, eight were sent into port, three were released, and seven sunk, three of them within sight of the enemy's ports.

After being driven into port at the end of their cruise around Ireland, several weeks were spent in France during which time the three vessels were refitted.

On 14 September 1777, the Reprisal left France, accompanied by the Dolphin for the United States. About 1 October, the Reprisal was lost off the banks of Newfoundland and all on board, except the cook, went down with her.


30 July 2001