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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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Spitfire

 

I

 

(Gond.: l. 48'; b. 16'; cpl. 45; a. 1 12-pdr., 2 9-pdrs.)

 

The first Spitfire was built in 1776 at Skenesboro, N.Y., for service on Lake Champlain. She was commanded by a Capt. Ulmer and operated on the lake until she was run ashore and burned by her crew on 13 October 1776.

 

_________

 

(Galley: cpl. 60; a. 1 18-pdr.)

 

Late in 1775, the General Assembly of Rhode Island ordered the construction of two galleys, Washington and Spitfire. In January 1776, the General Assembly appointed John Grimes Commodore of the galleys and, presumably soon thereafter, they were placed in service in Narragansett Bay. They cruised in defense of American shipping, acted as transports, and assisted landing parties seeking forage and supplies. On 11 April 1776, they recaptured brigantine Georgia Packet and sloop Speedwell which HMS Scarborough had captured and brought into the bay, braving the fire of Scarborough's guns as they took the prizes from under her stern.

 

In July 1776, the galleys were ordered to New York to help protect the Hudson, and they reached New York harbor on 1 August. There they cooperated with a flotilla created by George Washington.

 

On the afternoon of the 3d, Spitfire joined Lady Washington and Washington in a daring attack on HMS Pheonix and HMS Rose and engaged the British warships for over two hours before retiring. One man on Spitfire was killed and two were badly wounded. Her hull and rigging sustained much damage.

 

The two galleys returned to Providence late in the month. In mid-September, libels were filed in court on “three large cables and two large anchors, which late belonged to the British Ship-of-War, called the Scarborough; which…were captured… by…the Row-Galley called the Spitfire.” Little is known about the curious action which resulted in this litigation in Admiralty court-not even when it occurred. The quotation above does suggest that Spitfire, on at least one more occasion, continued her swashbuckling. Few records have survived to fill out the galley's subsequent career. She was apparently sent to New London early in October 1776 “to strengthen the naval force as much as possible.” Then, we know nothing of the galley until the summer of 1778, by which time we are told Spitfire “had been captured or destroyed by the enemy.”