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On the 12th September the British 18-gun brig-sloop Frolic, (sixteen 32-pound carronades and two sixes,) Captain Thomas Whinyates, quitted the bay of Honduras, with about fourteen sail of merchantmen under convoy for England.
At a few minutes before eleven o'clock the Frolic, apprehensive that the strange ship of war might pursue the merchantmen instead of herself, hoisted Spanish colours as a decoy; having two days before passed a convoy under the protection of a Spanish armed brig, and which convoy, it was imagined that the strange vessel might also have seen. The latter which was the United States' 18-gun ship-sloop Wasp, (sixteen 32-pound carronades and two brass long 12-pounders,) Captain Jacob Jones, five days only from Delaware, (where she had thoroughly refitted after returning from France with despatches,) immediately hoisted her colours, and bore-down fro the Frolic, then awaiting her approach on the larboard tack.
On arriving within sixty yards of the Frolic, the Wasp hailed: whereupon the former, quickly exchanging her colours to British, opened a fire of great guns and musketry. This was instantly returned by the Wasp; and, as the latter dropped nearer to her antagonist, the action became close and spirited. In less than five minutes after she had commenced firing, the Frolic shot away the Wasp's main topmast; and in two or three minutes more the latter's gaff and mizen to-gallant-mast came down. The sea was so rough that the muzzles of the guns of both vessels were frequently under water. Still the cannonade continued, with mutual spirit; the Americans firing, as the engaged side of their ship was going down, the British when their engaged side was rising. The consequence was, that almost every shot fired by the Wasp took effect in her opponent's hull; while most of the Frolic's shot passed among the rigging or over the masts of the former. The Frolic, being in a very light state from a deficiency of stores, and being unable, on account of the sprung state of her topmasts and the want of a main yard, to steady herself by carrying sail, laboured much more than the Wasp, and experienced, in consequence, greater difficulty in pointing her guns with precision.
In a minute or two after the Wasp's main topmast had come down, the Frolic's gaff head-braces were shot away. having now no sail whatever upon the main mast, the brig had lost the means of preventing the Wasp from taking a position on her larboard bow. Thus, in less than ten minutes after the action had commenced, the Frolic, chiefly by her previous inability to carry sail, lay an unmanageable hulk upon the water, exposed to the whole raking fire of her antagonist, without the possibility of returning it with more than one of her bow guns.
USS Wasp boarding HMS Frolic
courtesy of Peabody Museum
The Americans, according to their account, did not see a single man alive upon the Frolic's deck, except the seamen at the wheel and three officers. Two of those officers were captain Whinyates and his second lieutenant, Frederick Wintle; both so severely wounded as to be unable to stand without supporting them selves.
Contrary to the American statement, however, seventeen of the Frolic's men were also on deck: the remainder of the survivors were below, attending the wounded, and performing other duties. Lieutenant Biddle, first of the Wasp, had now the honour of striking the Frolic's colours, as they were lashed to the main rigging. The Frolic was of course much shattered in her hull, and her two masts, from the wounds they had received, fell over the side in a few minutes after her surrender.
Out of her ninety-two men (including one passenger, an invalided soldier) and eighteen boys, the Frolic had fifteen seamen and marines killed, her commander, first and second lieutenants, (all she had,) and forty-three seamen and marines wounded; the first lieutenant, master, and a few of the latter mortally, and several severely.
The Wasp received a few shots in her hull, one near her magazine; and her lower masts were wounded, but, owing chiefly to the goodness of the sticks, neither of them fell. Out of her crew of 137 men, (all young and able-bodied seamen, with many British among them,) and one lad of seventeen or eighteen, the Wasp had eight men killed, and about the same number wounded.
With her masts entire, and a healthy, instead of a debilitated crew, the Frolic would have encountered a tolerably equal opponent.