Jul 8

Delaware Makes First Quasi-War Capture, 7 July 1798

Friday, July 8, 2011 12:01 AM


During the Quasi-War with France, the former merchant ship Delaware cruised to protect American merchant shipping from French privateers. She guarded convoys during their approach to Philadelphia and New York, patrolled the West Indies, and escorted convoys into Havana. On 7 July 1798 Delaware, under the command of Captain Stephen S. Decatur, Sr., captured the privateer La Croyable off Great Egg Harbor, New Jersey. The schooner had been preying upon shipping off the Delaware Capes, taking a British brigantine and a Philadelphia merchantman, Liberty, and boarding and robbing the coaster Alexander Hamilton. This was Delaware’s first capture, and also the first American capture during the Quasi-War with France (1798–1800).

Renamed Retaliation and placed under the command of Lt. William Bainbridge, the schooner departed Norfolk, Virginia, on 28 October 1798 with Montezuma and Norfolk and cruised in the West Indies protecting American commerce. On 20 November the French frigates L’Insurgente and Volontaire overtook Retaliation while her consorts were away on a chase and forced Bainbridge to surrender the hopelessly outgunned schooner. However, even as a prisoner, the clever young American officer managed to serve his country. He saved Montezuma and Norfolk by convincing the senior French commander that those American warships were too powerful for his frigates and induced him to abandon the chase.

Renamed Magicienne by the French, the schooner again came into American hands on 28 June 1799, when a broadside from Merrimack forced her to haul down her colors. She performed convoy duty in the Caribbean before returning to Philadelphia in August. Her crew was then discharged and the schooner was sold on 29 November 1799. Delware continued to serve during the Quasi-War; after her final cruise off Cuba in the fall and winter of 1800-1801, she returned to Baltimore, Maryland, where she was sold in early 1801.