HISTORY OF THE LYNX
Lynx is an interpretation of an actual privateer named Lynx built by Thomas Kemp in 1812 in Fell’s Point, Maryland. She was among the first ships to defend American freedom by evading the British naval fleet then blockading American ports and serving in the important privateering efforts.
At the outbreak of the War of 1812, the American Navy consisted of only 17 ships – eight frigates, two brigs, and seven assorted smaller vessels including a few schooners which saw service in the Barbary Wars. When a nation went to war, owners of private vessels were granted special permissions, called “letters of marque,” to prey upon the enemy’s shipping; thus, “privateers.” While rarely engaging enemy warships, their impact was felt by English merchants who insisted on warship escorts for their vessels. To perform this duty, warships were drawn away from engaging the scant American Navy and blockading our coast, and thus did the privateers, motivated by profit, assist in our national defense. Among the Baltimore privateers was the sharp-built tops’l schooner, LYNX.
Privateers were so effective at running the British blockade and harassing the British merchant fleet that the ship yards, which built them, became primary targets for British revenge. The most notorious of these were at Fell’s Point.
But in order to get to them, the British force had to sail beyond Ft. McHenry, which protected the entrance to Baltimore’s inner harbor and Fell’s Point. For 25 hours on 13 and 14 September 1814, the British bombarded the fort with over 1500 iron shot and mortar shells,but were unable to achieve their goal. It was here, on the morning of 14 September that Francis Scott Key, a lawyer from Georgetown, DC, was moved to write the “Star Spangled Banner” which, 131 years later, became our National Anthem.
Although captured early in the war, the original LYNX with her rakish profile and superior sailing abilities, served as an inspiration to those ships that would follow.
1812 PRIVATEERS: THE FIRST DEFENSE OF AMERICAN FREEDOM
By William H. White – Maritime Historian – www.seafiction.net
When America was attacked on September 11, 2001, it was not the first time that she as a nation had been attacked or invaded by enemy forces. The attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. were preceded by, of course, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but also by Britain during the War of 1812. In August 1814, British forces marched on and burned many of the public buildings in our capital and again,in September, British forces attacked the city of Baltimore MD but were repulsed by elements of militia and naval personnel.
The War of 1812 has been called the Second War of American Independence — fought to prove the first. Thomas Jefferson, when earlier asked by a student about the War of Independence fought in 1776, replied that he could talk of the War of the Revolution, but that the War of Independence had yet to be fought. That War of Independence — of America’s first defense of her freedom — was the War of 1812. The first time, in 1776, she fought to gain her independence; the second time, in 1812, she defended it.
The Revolutionary War had not resolved all of America’s grievances with Great Britain. While England resented that her military power had been defeated by her former colony — in conjunction with her arch-enemy, France — the invincible Royal Navy still were very much in control of the seas. Thus, she could — and did — restrain America’s trade on the oceans of the world. In addition, England still occupied the forts she held on American soil despite the tenets of the Treaty of Paris and she continued to be actively engaged in the fur trade on the northwestern frontier.
For America to survive as an independent nation she had to have unrestricted freedom on the seas to engage in commerce with the countries of Europe, her economic lifeline. That freedom was hampered not only by the British impounding American cargoes, but also by the stopping and impressing seamen from American ships.The attitude of the Royal Navy was that these men were British who were shirking their duty to the homeland. Additionally, with their long standing war with France, England could easily accuse American ships of “trading with the enemy” and seize any ships they could catch at it. Frustrated by Britain’s unwillingness to resolve these issues with America, President Madison declared war on June 18th, 1812.
Our navy, which the English newspapers dismissed as a “handful of fir-built frigates under a bit of striped bunting, manned by bastards and outlaws,” consisted of 17 ships including a half dozen frigates, two brigs, and a few smaller vessels (which had seen action in the Barbary Wars some ten years previously).Shipyards quickly began building ships for the government and for private individuals to assist in dealing with the awesome might of the 1000 ship fleet of the Royal Navy.
The American treasury had not yet recovered from the expense of the Revolution and could not produce warships quickly enough to satisfy the needs of the Navy. At the same time, individuals, recognizing an opportunity for profit, sought and received commissions from the government to sail in private vessels with the purpose of taking enemy ships — merchants, not warships. The commission was called a “letter of marque and reprisal” and allowed the private citizen to take English merchant ships, bring to them to port, sell the cargo and often the ship itself, and keep the profits. The ships were called “privateers” and because of the alacrity with which they took to the seas after the eclaration of war, have been called by many the “first defense of American freedom.”
With increasing numbers of these privateers roaming the seas in search of opportunities for profit, British shippers insisted on a Royal Navy escort for their convoys and took sorely needed elements of the Royal Navy away from other duties fighting American warships, blockading our coast, and escorting troop transports. It was in no small measure that this “private navy” contributed to the outcome of the War of 1812, resulting in “through the Treat of Ghent,” the ability of subsequent American ships to sail freely the oceans of the world and trade with whom they pleased. Freedom and independence won.
The ships best suited for the privateering business were fore and aft rigged vessels called schooners. These rakish little ships also carried square tops’ls and were armed with six to twelve long 12-pounder cannon. Built on the model of the Baltimore pilot schooner, they were fast, maneuverable, and could easily out sail the blockading ships of the Royal Navy. They were called variously, “sharp-built” schooners, Baltimore schooners, and Baltimore clippers (though that name did not come until later).Many — in fact most — were built in or near Fells Point (now part of Baltimore) Maryland.
Among those first privateers to take to the seas was the tops’l schooner LYNX. Her commission was dated less than a month after the declaration war, on July 14th 1812. Built by Thomas Kemp to attack enemy merchant ships, she carried six 12-pounders and a crew of forty men. Unfortunately, she was captured at the mouth of the Rappahannock River by the British the following spring and was put into service for the Royal Navy. But her name would continue to serve the American ideal; her lines were modified and a new LYNX was built by the American Navy at the Washington Navy yard the following year. She had more ordinance than did the private vessel, but her sleek hull and rakish masts ensured that the navy schooner LYNX would be as fast and handy as her inspiration.
The nearly completed schooner was still on the stocks in the Washington Navy Yard when the British marched unopposed into our capital and burned most of the public buildings. The Navy yard,rope walk, and ammunition magazines were destroyed by our own men to preclude their falling into the hands of the enemy. But along with an old frigate, NEW YORK, a waterlogged relic of the Quasi-War with France in 1798, the LYNX survived and ultimately went to sea to serve us well until her loss with all hands in January 1820, apparently in a hurricane off Jamaica.
And she continued to inspire. On July 28th, 2001, another LYNX was launched, this time in Rockport Maine. Honoring the design and intent of the original privateer, the 2001 LYNX was built as a living history museum dedicated to “those who cherish the blessings of America.” She retains the spirit of her predecessors, a spirit of resistance in the defense of American independence and freedom, becoming a visual reminder to the American resolve and determination to preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
THREE SCHOONERS NAMED LYNX
By William H. White – Maritime Historian – www.seafiction.net
The 2001 Lynx is an interpretation of the 1812 Lynx. Both are square tops’l schooners classed as “sharp-built” schooners based on the Baltimore pilot vessels of the early 19th century. They are considered by many to be the American thoroughbred of the fore and aft rigged vessels of the period. Because of their inherent speed, sea-worthiness, and ease of handling, these ships were used extensively as
As early as the navies of the world engaged in combat, privateers crossed oceans in search of prey. This practice became widely accepted during the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries. These were not “pirate” ships, but armed and sanctioned vessels authorized to attack the enemy ships of whichever country their own nation fought. They were owned and operated by civilian — private — individuals, hence, “privateer.” Their sanction derived from a document, called a “letter of marque and reprisal” issued by the national government of their country.
This “commission,” or “letter of marque” as it became popularly known, entitled the owner to outfit a ship for one of two purposes: privateering or trading. If one chose the former, he built or bought a vessel, armed it, outfitted and crewed it, and sailed off in search of enemy merchant shipping which he could attack, capture, man with a “prize” crew, and sail into a friendly or neutral port for adjudication and ultimately, sale, of both the ship and its cargo. It was from this return that the owner and crew were paid; they received no wages during the course of the voyage and, should the “cruize of opportunity” prove fruitless, they received no compensation save the food they consumed aboard. These vessels, because of their need to man captured ships, often carried very large crews, far beyond the needs of their own ship. A vessel, which set out as a “letter of marque” trader, operated quite differently.
The owner of this ship was engaged primarily in, as the name implies, trading in cargo. The ship was loaded with a cargo bound for, say, Europe, and the captain had the responsibility of selling it for the best price, which often meant visiting several different ports before he would unload. Then he had to buy a cargo for the return voyage.The ship was armed but generally for its own defense.Occasionally, a “target of opportunity” would present itself and the captain might try to take an enemy merchant vessel,but at his own peril. His instructions usually included cautions about risking his cargo. In spite of the “caution” these traders were licensed to attack ships of their country’s enemy, and often did. Two factors set the trader apart from the privateer: the trader carried enough crew to man his own ship (he generally did not need to make up prize crews), and his sailors and officers were paid a regular wage. They were given a bonus should they capture a fair prize, but they were not dependant on success in that direction for their livelihood.
It stands to reason that a vessel used in either pursuit would need to be fast, agile, and easily handled. The Baltimore schooners filled the bill perfectly; their speed was impressive, derived from the preponderance of sail they carried and their narrow design which made them especially agile and fast. Once the British blockaded the eastern seaboard, the only ships to slip through were these schooners; they regularly out sailed the ponderous 3rd and 4th rate British ships assigned to the blockade. And they came and went — especially from the Chesapeake Bay — with regularity that quite vexed the British.
The American schooner privateers created such havoc among the merchant ships of England that insurance rates more than doubled and the owners of the merchants demanded — and got — Royal Navy escorts for their convoys. This, of course, took those warships away from fighting American warships and from the blockade. But still the American privateers were able to account for the loss of 2500 English merchant ships. They are also credited with the capture or sinking of three British warships! It is interesting to note that the American Navy seized or destroyed 15 British men-of-war.
Should a “target” vessel, after a long chase, turn out to be a warship, the privateer’s speed would enable to retire quickly before getting into a situation beyond its capabilities. But in most cases, as the numbers demonstrate, the American privateering fleet attacked and captured merchant vessels, thus enriching her owners and crew. A beneficial by-product of their activities was the destruction and interruption of enemy commerce, which proved most useful to our young republic.
These Baltimore schooners enjoyed a great reputation for their swiftness and tenacity. They were said to be modeled on the French luggers of the Revolutionary War and, while not ships of burden, could carry a profitable amount of cargo. In fact, merchants in both France and America often specified that their cargo be carried in “sharp-built” Chesapeake schooners. The cargoes were often small but highly prized shipments of fine cloth, wine, and,occasionally, war materiel.
Among these fast, rakish, and beautiful-to-behold schooners was one named Lynx. Named for the group of wildcats found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, the Lynx — also known as a wildcat or bobcat — was renowned for its stealth and speed. These characteristics were imbued into the design of
Lynx was built at Fell’s Point, Baltimore during the opening days of the War of 1812 for owner-investors James Williams, Amos Williams, and Levi Hollingsworth by noted shipbuilder Thomas Kemp*. Long respected for his skill and innovation, Kemp pioneered the development of new ship designs, ones that stressed greater creative freedom and relied less on European traditional designs.
Lynx was commissioned on July 14, 1812 — not one month after war was declared == and was larger than most privateers then being built. Kemp had increased her size to 97′ long by 24’4″ wide and 225 tons. She was fitted out as a trader and not for the taking of prizes; she carried a crew of 40 men and was armed with six 12-pounder long guns. She was, of course, schooner-rigged with a square tops’l and t’gallant on the foremast and the usual gaff-headed fores’l and mains’l. The square sails aloft gave her not only increased speed downwind, but greater maneuverability by their braking action when required for stopping or turning quickly. Her captain was Elisha Taylor. And her cost was between $9,000 and $10,000!
Lynx saw service as a trader for less than a year. She made a voyage to Bordeaux France and returned with a cargo typical of that being shipped in fast tops’l schooners: luxury goods including perfume, wine, stockings, and gloves. While waiting with three other sharp built schooners to run a blockade maintained on several Virginia rivers and commence her next voyage, the four were captured by the boats of a British naval squadron. None of the four, which also included Arab, Racer, and Dolphin, were able to fight off the 17 armed boats that attacked them. Their famous speed was of no use as there was no wind and the boats, propelled by oars and manned by Royal Marines, attacked. Fearing capture, many of the American sailors jumped overboard and swam ashore, where they disappeared into the Virginia countryside. Edgar Stanton Maclay, in his A History of American Privateers published in 1899 wrote:
“As soon as these (American) vessels were made out from the enemy’s mastheads, the British sent seventeen boats with a large force of men under command of Lieutenant James Polkinghorne, against them. Unfortunately for the privateers, it was calm at the time and, as their vessels were too far apart to be within supporting distance of each other, the British were able to attack them separately. They selected the Arab as being further down stream and made a dash for her. This boat was not surrendered, however, without a desperate struggle in which both sides sustained the heaviest losses of the day. The British then made for Lynx, whose people, observing the fate of the Arab and seeing that resistance was hopeless, hauled down their colors at the first summons. Some resistance was made in the Racer, but that vessel also was carried after a short struggle. There now remained only the Dolphin, on
which craft the enemy turned the guns of their prizes. For two hours (Dolphin) Captain W.S. Stafford responded gallantly, but in the final boat attack he was compelled to surrender. In this affair, the British admitted a loss of two killed and 11 wounded, including Lieutenant Polkinghorne (and the one-armed Lieutenant Brand whose other arm was severed during the assault.) Stafford placed his losses at six killed and 10 wounded.”
Lynx joined the British fleet blockading the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay at Lynnhaven Bay (just inside the Virginia Capes) and began her Royal Navy service as Mosquidobit. Named for a town 30 miles northeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia, the schooner was subsequently stationed in Nova Scotia and commanded by Lieutenant John Murray. After the hostilities ended with America, the ship remained on that station. Elisha Taylor, her first American skipper, was given another, smaller privateer, Wasp, to command and, with this ship, took a total of three prizes during the war.
After Napoleon’s defeat and the end of Britain’s war with France, Mosquidobit was sent to Deptford, England where her lines were taken off and is thought to have served in the Mediterranean, sailing between Toulon and Marseilles. By 1820, she had been decommissioned and, on January 13, 1820, was sold to a Mr. Rundle who placed her in private service.
Lynx’s design was recognized as superior and was taken, with some modifications, to build a six-gun U.S. Naval schooner of the same name. She was built by James Owner in 1814 at the Washington Navy Yard and had just finished building in August of that year when the British burned the capital. The schooner was unharmed even though Captain Thomas Tingey, in charge of the navy yard, ordered most of the ships moored there to be burned to prevent their falling into the enemy’s hands. Several days after the British departed the smoldering ruins of the nation’s capital, Lynx lost her foremast in a fierce thunderstorm. While she did not face the British during the hostilities, she did sail with William Bainbridge’s squadron to the Mediterranean in 1815 to quell a problem with the Dey of Algiers who was violating the treaty signed in 1805 at the end of the Barbary Wars. No shots were fired, however. The schooner subsequently examined the coast of New England and then cruised the Gulf of Mexico on pirate patrol; she is credited with three captures during this assignment. In January 1820, having departed from St. Mary’s, Georgia, she was lost with all hands in a hurricane off the coast of Jamaica. Interesting to note that both the original letter of marque trader Lynx and her naval namesake ended their military service at almost the same moment!
In spite of efforts to locate records detailing the ultimate fate of Mosquidobit, nothing further is known; records which might have proved helpful were lost during the bombing of a storage facility in Liverpool during the Blitzkrieg of World War II.
But wherever she might have ended her career, the 1812 Lynx lives on in the 2001 interpretation and continues to inspire all who see her rakish design and witness her legendary swiftness. Naval architects continue to study her power and grace and artists, moved by her beauty, attempt to transfer her billowing canvas onto their own canvas. While that inspirational original remained silent for more than 180 years, the designation of the 2001 schooner as a living history museum gives new life to her spirit, bringing her to a vibrant new source of inspiration for a new generation and those to follow, with her eternal beauty, elegant grace, and resolute splendor.
* Kemp had built an earlier Lynx, a 99 ton schooner, in 1806 for Henry Craig and is known to have made repairs, including caulking, a year later for her captain, Tom Tenant. Unfortunately, nothing further is known of this early vessel.