Wickes, Lambert

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Wickes, Lambert

WICKES, LAMBERT. (1742?–1777). Continental naval officer. Maryland. Born at Eastern Neck Island, Maryland, perhaps in 1742, Wickes went to sea early in life. By 1769 he had become a ship's captain, and by 1774 he was part owner of a ship, the Neptune. While in London in December of that year, he discovered that his ship was carrying tea. He ordered it put off and sailed for America. The ship that took his consignment, the Peggy Stewart, was burned along with its tea when it arrived in Annapolis.

Wickes's courageous devotion to the Patriot cause and acquaintance with Robert Morris were factors in his getting command of the Continental armed ship Reprisal (eighteen guns) in March 1776. On 3 July he sailed from Cape May after a sharp engagement in which his brother Richard was killed, and on 27 July he appeared off Martinique after sending three prizes back to Philadelphia. Defeating HMS Shark outside the harbor of St. Pierre, the first American naval battle in foreign waters, Wickes reached Philadelphia in September with a valuable cargo of powder, five hundred muskets, and clothing. He sailed secretly from Philadelphia on 26 October with Benjamin Franklin aboard and reached France on 28 November, having taken two English prizes en route. In January 1777 he took five British prizes in the Channel.

In April the American commissioners in Paris put him in command of a small force comprising his ship and those of Captains Henry Johnson and Samuel Nicholson. Under orders from Franklin and Deane to carry out a cruise in the Irish Sea, Wickes sailed from France on 28 May. Circling around Ireland, the captains entered the Irish Channel from the north, captured eighteen small merchantmen (eight were kept as prizes, the rest destroyed), and escaped through the British forces guarding the south end of the channel. When almost back to France, the American raiders sighted a huge enemy warship that turned out to be the Burford (seventy-four guns). Wickes signaled for Johnson, Nicholson, and the prizes accompanying them to scatter and fly for safety while he tried to escape from the faster, more heavily armed ship of the line. The chase started shortly before noon on 27 June 1777, and the Reprisal managed to keep just out of range until 7 p.m., when the Burford got close enough to start-dropping gunshot on the deck. Wickes jettisoned all his cannon and swivels and raced away from the British.

Lord Stormont protested so vigorously with the French government for allowing American ships to use their ports that Wickes was detained at St. Malo until 14 September, when he sailed for America. His ship foundered off the Banks of Newfoundland on 1 October 1777 in a heavy storm, and only the cook survived.

SEE ALSO Conyngham, Gustavus.


Clark, William Bell. Lambert Wickes, Sea Raider and Diplomat. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1932.

                                revised by Michael Bellesiles