Military Wiki
USS Vixen (1803)
USS Vixen 1803
Artist's rendering of Vixen rigged as a brig
Name: USS Vixen
Ordered: 28 February 1803
Laid down: 1803
Launched: 25 June 1803
Commissioned: 1803
Fate: Captured by the British, 22 November 1812, and wrecked 27 November
General characteristics
Type: Schooner
Displacement: 170 long tons (170 t)
Length: 83 ft 6 in (25.45 m)
Beam: 23 ft 2 in (7.06 m)
Depth of hold: 9 ft 6 in (2.90 m)
Propulsion: Sail
Complement: 111 officers and enlisted
Armament: 12 × 18-pounder carronades
2 x 9-pounder bow chasers

USS Vixen was a schooner in the United States Navy during the First Barbary War. Vixen was one of four vessels authorized by Congress on 28 February 1803. She was built at Baltimore, Maryland, in the spring of 1803; and launched on 25 June, Lieutenant John Smith in command.

Service life

First Barbary War

Designed especially for operations in the shoal waters off the coast of Tripoli, Vixen joined Commodore Edward Preble's squadron for duty in the First Barbary War (1801–1805) immediately upon her commissioning. She sailed from Baltimore on 3 August 1803 and deployed with the squadron off Gibraltar on 14 September. Commodore Preble dispatched Vixen and the frigate Philadelphia in October to establish a blockade of Tripoli. However, Vixen soon departed in search of two Tripolitan warships and was not present when Philadelphia grounded and was captured on the 31st. Instead, she carried the dispatches announcing the loss of the frigate and the imprisonment of Captain William Bainbridge, his officers, and crew back to Gibraltar in December.

Retribution for this latest action by the Tripoli pirates came swiftly and dramatically. Lt. Stephen Decatur, Jr., boarded and destroyed Philadelphia where she lay in Tripoli harbor on 16 February 1804, and Commodore Preble later followed this up with five heavy bombardments of the pirate state on the 3, 7, 24, and 29 August, and on 3 September. Vixen participated in all these actions, and performed tactical service by helping to coordinate the movements of the various American vessels. She was rerigged as a brig in September 1804, ostensibly to improve her sailing qualities, and was with the squadron, now under Commodore John Rodgers, in actions before Tunis in August 1805. The warship returned to the United States one year later in August 1806.

Between wars

Vixen was placed in ordinary at the Washington Navy Yard immediately upon her return from the Mediterranean. She left the yard one year later and subsequently operated along the Atlantic coast under Lieutenants James Lawrence and Charles Ludlow.

On 18 June 1810, Vixen came upon on the sloop HMS Moselle off Barbados, which fired on her. Commander Henry Boys apologized to the Americans, reporting that he had been unable to make out her colours and that he thought she might be a French privateer that he was seeking. The Americans suffered one casualty, a man wounded in the mouth by a splinter.[1]

War of 1812

Vixen continued patrolling the Atlantic coast until the outbreak of the War of 1812, at which time she sailed along the southern coast under Master Commandant Christopher Gadsden, Jr., and, after his death on 28 August 1812, under Lt. George Washington Reed, youngest son of General Joseph Reed. During one of her war cruises among the West Indies, Vixen encountered the 32-gun British frigate Southampton, under the command of Captain James Lucas Yeo,. Southampton chased, intercepted, and captured Vixen on 22 November 1812.

Yeo described Vixen as a brig armed with twelve 18-pounder carronades and two 9-pounder guns. She had a crew of 130 men and had been out five weeks but had not captured anything.[2]


Both vessels were wrecked five days later on Conception Island in the Bahamas, but the officers and crews all survived. Lt. Reed, however, died of yellow fever in Jamaica before he could be exchanged.


  1. Naval Chronicle, Vol. 24, p.252.
  2. "No. 16701". 9 February 1813. 

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