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USS Reprisal

Two ships of the United States Navy have borne the name USS Reprisal, promising hostile action in response to an offence.

The first Reprisal, 18, was a brig. Originally the merchantman 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.

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 Lexington, was 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.

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.

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. 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 of Reprisals officers were seriously wounded and one man killed. Five other prizes were captured on this cruise, which ended 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.

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.

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

General Characteristics

  • Length: 100 feet
  • Beam: 30 feet
  • Complement: 130 men
  • Armament: 18 six-pounders


The second USS Reprisal (CV-35) would have been an Essex-class fleet carrier[?]. Her keel was laid down on July 1, 1944, at the New York Naval Shipyard, of New York, New York. On August 12, 1945, when Reprisal was about half complete, construction was cancelled.

In 1946, the hulk was launched without ceremony to clear the slipway, and was used in Chesapeake Bay for various experiments, culminating on April 1, 1948, in explosives tests. Although inspected during January 1949 with a view to completing her as an attack carrier, the plan was dropped and Reprisal was sold on August 2, 1949, to the Boston Metals Corporation of Baltimore, Maryland, and, in November 1949, broken up.

Despite this fact, USS Essex (CV-35) appeared as if in service in 1997 on the television show JAG. Her part was played by USS Forrestal (CV-59).



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