Named for the Elizabethan explorer and founding father of Virginia, the first of the four Raleighs to serve in the United States' Navy was one of the original group of warships ordered by the Continental Congress soon after its inception in 1775. Laid down at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in March 1776 and launched on 21st May the same year, Raleigh was measured at 697 tons and was 131½ feet in length with a 34½ foot beam. Classed as a frigate and mounting 32-12pdrs, she carried a full-length figure of her name sake as a figurehead and was commissioned for sea by Captain Thomas Thompson on 12th August 1777.
Her first destination -- in company with the 24-gun Alfred -- was France, to load military stores, but the trans-Atlantic passage proved highly eventful. Not only did she capture a schooner carrying a large consignment of Massachusetts currency intended to destabilise the local economy, but she also fell in with an English convoy and, using captured flag signals, managed to get close enough to engage and damage one of the escorting frigates, H.M.S. Druid. Eventually returning home via the West Indies, Raleigh's next major rôle was to escort a U.S. convoy from Boston to Portsmouth, Virginia, in September 1778. Six hours after sailing, she sighted two British warships and, after sending her merchantmen back towards port, Raleigh drew the enemy off to ensure their safety. A protracted action lasting, intermittently, over three days then ensued which ended with all three vessels damaged and Raleigh herself aground and captured. Subsequently refloated, she was absorbed into the Royal Navy under her own name and continued to fight in American waters taking part in the capture of Charleston in May 1780. Thereafter sent back to England, she was laid up at Portsmouth in June 1781 and sold out of the service in July 1783.
A much fuller account of her construction and career is included with the lot.