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Raleigh I (Frigate)


The capital of North Carolina which honors the English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, the first to attempt the establishment of an English settlement in North America.


(Frigate: tonnage 697; length 131'5" (gun deck); beam 34'5"; depth of hold 11'; complement 180; armament 32 12-pounders)

The first Raleigh, a frigate built by Messrs. Hackett, Hill, and Paul at Portsmouth, N.H., under the supervision of Thomas Thompson, was authorized by the Continental Congress on 13 December 1775; laid down on 21 March 1776; and launched on 21 May 1776.

Raleigh, with a full length figure of Sir Walter Raleigh as a figurehead, put to sea under Capt. Thomas Thompson on 12 August 1777. Shortly thereafter, she joined Alfred (24 guns) and sailed for France. Three days out they captured a schooner carrying counterfeit Massachusetts money. Burning the schooner and her cargo, except for samples, the frigates continued their transatlantic passage. On 2 September they took the British brig, Nancy, and from her Thompson obtained the signals of the convoy from which the brig had lagged behind. Giving chase, the Americans closed the convoy on the 4th.

Raleigh, making use of the captured signals, joined the convoy and engaged HBMS Druid (20). In the ensuing battle she damaged Druid, but the approach of the remaining British escorts forced her to break off.

Then sailing on to France, Raleigh and Alfred took on military stores and on 29 December sailed from L'Orient. Following the northeast tradewinds, they swung down off the coast of Africa, thence, after capturing a British vessel off Senegal, crossed the Atlantic to the West Indies. There, in the Lesser Antilles on 9 March 1778, Alfred, some distance from Raleigh, was captured by the British ships Ariadne (20) and Ceres (16). Raleigh, unable to reach Alfred in time to assist her, continued north and returned to New England early in April.

Accused of cowardice and dereliction of duty in not aiding Alfred, Thompson was suspended soon after reaching port. On 30 May the Marine Committee appointed John Barry to replace him.

Barry arrived in Boston to assume command on 24 June only to find his ship without crew or stores and the Navy Board not wholly in support of the manner of his appointment. His reputation and character, however neutralized the ill-will of the Marine Committee, drew enlistments, and helped to obtain the stores.

On 25 September Raleigh sailed for Portsmouth, Va., with a brig and a sloop under convoy. Six hours later two strange sails were sighted. After identification of the ships as British the merchant vessels were ordered back to port. Raleigh drew off the enemy. Through that day and the next the enemy Unicorn (26) and Experiment (50), pursued Raleigh. In late afternoon on the 27th, the leading British ship closed her. A 7-hour running battle followed, much of the time in close action. About midnight, the enemy hauled off and Barry prepared to conceal his ship among the islands of Penobscot Bay.

The enemy, however, again pressed the battle. As Raleigh opened fire, Barry ordered a course toward the land. Raleigh soon grounded on Wooden Ball Island. The British hauled off but continued the fight for a while, then anchored. Barry ordered the crew ashore to continue the fight and to burn Raleigh.

A large party, including Barry, made it to shore. One boat was ordered back to Raleigh to take off the remainder of the crew, and destroy her.

Midshipman Jeacocks, however, forestalled Barry's plans and, as the British again fired on the ship, struck the Continental colors. The battle was over. All three ships had been damaged, Unicorn particularly so. Of the Americans ashore, a few were captured on the island, but the remainder, including Barry, made it back to Boston, arriving on 7 October.

The British refloated Raleigh at high tide on the 28th, and after repairs, took her into the Royal Navy. As HBMS Raleigh, she continued to fight during the War for Independence and took part in the capture of Charleston, S.C., in May 1780. She was decommissioned at Portsmouth, England, on 10 June 1781 and was sold in July 1783.


16 September 2005

Published: Tue Apr 30 11:27:51 EDT 2019