USS Reprisal (1776)
|Acquired:||March 28, 1776|
|Fate:||Sunk, October 1, 1777|
|Length:||100 ft (30 m)|
|Beam:||30 ft (9.1 m)|
|Complement:||130 officers and enlisted|
|Armament:||18 × 6-pounder guns|
|Part of:||Continental Navy|
|Commanders:||Capt. Lambert Wickes|
|Operations:||Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet|
USS Reprisal, 18, was the first ship of what was to become the United States Navy to be given the name promising hostile action in response to an offence. Originally the merchantman brig Molly, she was purchased by the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress on March 28, 1776, renamed Reprisal, and placed under the command of Captain Lambert Wickes.
Caribbean voyage, June–September 1776
On June 10, 1776, the Committee of Secret Correspondence of Congress, by arrangement with the Marine Committee, issued orders to Captain Wickes, to proceed in Reprisal to Martinique and bring from there munitions of war for George Washington's armies, and also to take as passenger Mr. William Bingham, who had been appointed agent from the American colonies to Martinique.
Reprisal dropped down the Delaware River from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, some time during the latter part of June. Before slipping out to the Atlantic, the Continental armed brig Nancy, 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 Reprisal, aided by Captain John Barry with the crew of USS Lexington, were able to keep off the boats sent from HMS Kingfisher, and to save about 200 barrels of powder. Before quitting Nancy, they laid a train of gunpowder which, when 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. This engagement became known as the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet.
Reprisal cleared the Delaware Capes on July 3. During that month, Captain Wickes captured a number of vessels in the West Indies, and, on July 27, had a sharp encounter with HMS Shark off Martinique, beating her off and escaping into port. She returned to Philadelphia on September 13.
In British waters, October 1776–February 1777
On October 24, 1776, Wickes was ordered by Congress to proceed to Nantes, France, in Reprisal, taking to his post Benjamin Franklin, who had been appointed Commissioner to France. Franklin brought two of his grandsons, Temple Bache and Benjamin Franklin Bache. Reprisal afterwards was to cruise in the English Channel. En route to France, Reprisal captured two brigs, reaching Nantes on November 29. 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 5, Reprisal captured the Lisbon packet, two days out of Falmouth, after a hard fight of 40 minutes, in which two officers of Reprisal were seriously wounded and one man killed. Five other prizes were captured on this cruise, which ended on February 14.
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 Reprisal had sprung a leak and should be careened for repairs. He 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.
Cruise around Ireland, April–June 1777
In April 1777 Reprisal was joined by the Continental vessels Lexington (16 guns), and 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 June 19, 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. However, pressures upon France to remain publicly neutral caused Reprisal and her companions to depart from French shores. (The Dolphin attempted to remain in Nantes under French colors, but she was seized by the authorities.)
Loss, October 1777
On September 14, 1777, Reprisal left France, for the United States. About October 15, Reprisal was lost off the banks of Newfoundland and all 129 on board, except the cook, went down with her.
- "The Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet". Wildwood Crest Historical Society.