USS Vixen and HMS Southampton


On the morning of October 22, 1812 the USS Vixen, a brig armed with twelve 18-pound carronades, departed its base at St Mary’s, Georgia, for a 30-day cruise raiding British commerce in the Caribbean. Vixen was commanded by 32 year old George Washington Reed, youngest son of George Washington’s adjutant general and had a crew of 110.

The crew was fairly uneventful from a combat and prize money point of view and on November 22, Vixen was homeward bound and two days out of St Mary’s. Then the adventure started.

At first light Vixen’s lookout reported a strange sail, only barely visible, on her starboard beam. Vixen turned to investigate and by 6 am they identified her as a frigate. It was about this time that the frigate spotted Vixen and they noted her setting all available sail. By 10 am, it was obvious that the frigate was gaining and Vixen began starting, i.e. dumping, drinking water to lighten the ship. The wind died and they Vixen used its sweeps to continue moving while the frigate remained becalmed. The dumped their anchors and tossed their shot overboard. All the while the crew slaved at the sweeps.

Their luck didn’t hold.

The wind picked up and the chase continued. At 2 pm they tossed their two bronze 6-pounder chase guns over the side.

By 3:45 shot was passing over the Vixen. Vixen raised its colors, fired one gun to windward, another to leeward, and then struck her colors. At 4 pm the British frigate pulled alongside and sent over a boarding party. They discovered that the frigate was the HMS Southampton (32) commanded by Captain James Lucas Yeo and noted the Southampton had “Constellation” painted on her stern.

Around midnight on 27/28 November, Southampton struck an uncharted rock. She immediately fired a signal gun and the Vixen maneuvered to her assistance. Vixen struck the same rock. While the Southampton was wedged on the rock and pumps could manage the leakage, Vixen was badly holed and quickly abandoned.

The prize crew, the Southamptons, and the Vixens made it ashore on Conception Island and they were eventually rescued.

Southampton and Vixen lie in just a few feet of water, reachable without scuba gear. For more info on its discovery this is an interesting read.

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Filed under Age of Sail, Famous Ships, Shipwrecks and Marine Archaeology, single ship actions

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