On the Water

Letter of Marque Topsail Schooner Lynx

Peter Kemp, Baltimore’s best known 19th-century shipbuilder, worked in the Fells Point area. He built the square topsail schooner Lynx in 1812 for just under $10,000. It measured 97 feet long and 25 tons, a bit larger than the swift pilot boats after which it was modeled. Pilot boats had to be fast, for the first one that reached a vessel offshore won the job to lead it through local waters into the port facilities.

The Lynx was a letter of marque—a merchant vessel authorized to take prizes—rather than a privateer designed and built only to raid enemy shipping. Letters of marque were armed merchant vessels which were granted the authority to chase enemy merchantmen during the normal course of business, if an opportunity arose. Unlike privateers, letter of marque vessels paid their crews a regular wage, and their income did not depend on income from enemy ships. As a result, the Lynx carried only six guns and a 40-man crew instead of the many guns and big crews of privateers.

Lynx served less than a year before it was captured by a British fleet of 17 vessels while trying to run a blockade off the Rappahannock River, Virginia. Renamed the Mosquidobit, it served in the British naval squadron blockading Chesapeake Bay. At the end of the War of 1812, it served against France. In recognition of its superior sailing characteristics, its hull shape was recorded by the Royal Navy. In 1820, it resumed service as a private merchant vessel.

ID Number:
31 1/4 in x 45 1/2 in x 13 1/2 in; 79.375 cm x 115.57 cm x 34.29 cm

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