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USS Spitfire (1776)
Career (USA)
Name: USS Spitfire
Owner: $3
Ordered: Late in 1775
Laid down: Unknown
Completed: 1776
In service: Circa January 1776 in Narragansett Bay
Out of service: Circa October 1776
Fate: Reported “captured or destroyed by the enemy”
General characteristics
Type: Row galley
Propulsion: Oars
Complement: 60 crew
Armament: One 18-pounder gun

USS Spitfire was a "row galley" authorized and constructed by Rhode Island during the American Revolution, and was placed in service in 1776. During this age of sail, row galleys were highly maneuverable compared to sailing ships whose movements were dependent on the wind. Spitfire had a reportedly successful career, helping to capture British cargo ships and engaging in the fight against British warships.

Ordered by Rhode Island[edit | edit source]

Late in 1775, the $3 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.

Capturing British cargo ships[edit | edit source]

They cruised in defense of American shipping, acted as transports, and assisted landing parties seeking forage and supplies. On 11 April 1776, they recaptured the 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 City to help protect the Hudson River, and they reached New York harbor on 1 August. There they cooperated with a flotilla created by George Washington.

Attacking British warships[edit | edit source]

On the afternoon of 3 August, Spitfire joined Lady Washington and Washington in an attack on HMS Phoenix 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, Rhode Island, 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.

Swashbuckling[edit | edit source]

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, Connecticut, early in October 1776 “to strengthen the naval force as much as possible.” Nothing of the galley is recorded until the summer of 1778, by which time Spitfire “had been captured or destroyed by the enemy”.

References[edit | edit source]

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