John Trippe—born in 1785 in Dorchester County, Md. —was appointed a midshipman in the Navy on 5 April 1799. During the Quasi-War with France, he made his first cruise in the frigate Constitution and later served in the schooner Experiment. On 21 May, he was assigned to Commodore Richard Dale's flagship President, and he served in her until early 1802 in operations against the Tripolitan corsairs in the Mediterranean.
He returned to the United States in April 1802 and received a furlough to make a mercantile voyage. On 24 May 1803, the Navy Department ordered Trippe to Vixen as an acting lieutenant. The schooner sailed for the Mediterranean on 3 August and joined Commodore Preble's squadron off Tripoli on 14 September 1803.
Lt. Trippe served with distinction in the Mediterranean until the fall of 1805. On 3 August 1804, he led his crew of Gunboat No. 6, manned by another midshipman and nine sailors, to victory over the 36-man crew of a large Tripolitan boat. Trippe and his men boarded the enemy, and Trippe himself grappled with the leader of the pirates. Though his adversary towered over him, Lt. Trippe used his own agility and tenacity to emerge victorious in a desperate hand-to-hand struggle. Seriously wounded, he was unable to participate in the next three of Preble's five attacks on Tripoli. However, by the beginning of September, he had recovered sufficiently to resume command of Gunboat No. 6 for the fifth and final assault carried out on the 3d. For his gallentry in action against the Barbary pirates, Lt. Trippe received a sword and a commendation from Congress.
Trippe returned to the United States in November 1805, but 1806 found him back on duty in the Mediterranean. In 1808, Trippe served at Charleston, S.C., enforcing the embargo legislation. He took command of Enterprise on 23 January 1809, departed New York on 24 June, and headed for Holland. On 31 July, he reached Amsterdam, where he delivered official dispatches and conducted negotiations which helped cement commercial relations between The Netherlands and the United States. Having helped open Dutch ports to American shipping, he weighed anchor on 10 October and reentered New York harbor on 2 December.
On 26 April, Trippe transferred to the command of Vixen and, a month later, departed New Castle, Del., bound for New Orleans. Off Stirrup Key on 24 June, Vixen came under the fire of a British ship, HMS Moselle. When summoned on board the Britisher, Trippe refused, cleared Vixen for action, and demanded an explanation of Moselle's untoward action. Her captain responded with an apology, stating that he had mistaken the American man-of-war for a Frenchman. Vixen then continued peacefully on her way and put into Havana, Cuba, six days later. On 9 July 1810, while en route from Havana to New Orleans, Lt. Trippe died.
(Sloop: t. 60; cpl. 35; a. 1 long 32-pdr.)
Contractor—a merchant sloop purchased by the Navy on the Niagara River in New York in 1812—was converted to a warship by Henry Eckford of New York; renamed Trippe; and placed in commission soon thereafter, Lt. Thomas Holdup in command.
For awhile, Trippe and her sister ships, fitted out on the Niagara River, were bottled up by British shore batteries at Fort George. However, Commodore Chauncey's squadron joined the troops under Col. Winfield Scott in a combined attack upon the fort, and it fell on 27 May 1813. The fall of Fort George forced the British to evacuate Fort Erie as well. With the river open, Chauncey's ships began passage of the Niagara rapids on 6 June 1813 and, on the 19th joined Oliver Hazard Perry's fleet at Erie, Pa.
Trippe and the rest of Perry's squadron remained at Erie for another month. At first, the need for additional men to complete its crews kept the fleet in port. Later, a British blockade restricted its movement. However, the British were not exceedingly vigilant; and, on 4 August, Trippe and the other ships crossed the bar to leave Erie harbor. They remained near Erie until the 12th when they set sail for the western end of Lake Erie.
Perry established his operating base in Put In Bay at South Bass Island. That location afforded him excellent lines of communications with American forces to the south and put him within easy striking distance of Commodore Robert Barclay's British fleet, based just inside the mouth of the Detroit River at Amherstburg.
For over a month, the British ships remained at their base under the protection of heavy shore batteries. However, Barclay had to order his ships out of the river in order that supplies might be delivered to British troops operating near the Detroit River. They weighed anchor on 9 September and departed Amherstburg. At sunrise the following morning, American lookouts sang out, "Sail ho." Perry's ships, including Trippe, cleared for action and headed out in the line of battle with flagship Lawrence in the lead. Though they outnumbered the British nine ships to six, the Americans were outgunned 54 to 63. Undaunted, Perry, hampered by light winds, edged his men-of-war closer to the enemy.
By midday, the two forces opened fire. The British concentrated on the lead American ships, Lawrence, Caledonia, and Niagara. Meanwhile, Trippe—stationed near the rear of the American force—fought a long range duel with Lady Prevost and Little Belt, battering Lady Prevost severely. The Britisher's captain and her first lieutenant received serious wounds, and she herself, reduced to an unmanageable wreck, fell off to leeward. Perry's flagship suffered similar damage, but he moved his flag to Niagara and ordered his ships forward, through the enemy line. Trippe charged ahead, firing furiously. The British resisted the American onslaught heroically, but—one by one—they struck their colors. When Chippeway and Little Belt attempted to flee, Trippe and Scorpion overhauled them and herded them back to their defeated fleet.
The Battle of Lake Erie, Trippe's only action in the War of 1812, assured American control of Lake Erie and enabled American troops led by General William Henry Harrison to win a decisive victory in the Battle of the Thames. Throughout the remainder of her career, Trippe carried supplies to support General Harrison's land operations. In October, the British attacked Buffalo at the east end of the lake and forced the Americans to evacuate the city. They found Trippe aground near Buffalo Creek and set fire to her. She and her cargo of supplies burned completely.