Pickering, 1798

March 7, 2021

Pickering, 1798

Timothy Pickering, born at Salem, Massachusetts, 17 July 1745, graduated from Harvard in 1763. He fought in the American Revolution as a colonel in the Massachusetts militia in 1775, served as adjutant-general of Washington’s army in 1777, as a member of the Board of War from 1777 to 1780, and as Quartermaster General from 1780 to 1783.  Appointed Secretary of War in 1795, he promoted the construction of the American frigates that fought so well against Britain in the War of 1812.  From August 1795 to 1800 he was Secretary of State.  He served in the Senate from 1803 to 1811 and in the House from 1813 to 1817.  He died at Salem, Massachusetts on 29 January 1829.

A drawing of the 1798 Revenue Cutter Pickering

"U.S.R.C. PICKERING (1798-1800); Revenue Service 'Jackass Brig' which served in the Quasi-War with France.  She was permanently transferred to the Navy in 1800, and was lost at sea later that year.  Print copied from: Naval Documents (of) the Quasi-War. . ., vol. 1, p. 328. U.S. Navy Historical Center Photograph- -Released."; copy of image in Pickering cutter file, USCG Historian's Office.

Builder: Merrill, Newburyport, Massachusetts

Length: 77'

Beam: 20'

Draft: 9'

Rig: "Jack-ass" brig

Displacement: 135-tons

Commissioned: July 1798

Decommissioned: N/A

Disposition: Lost at sea

Complement: 70

Armament: 14 x 4-pounders 


The Pickering was a brig that was built at Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1798 for the Revenue Service.  She, along with the other six cutters built in 1798, were built as larger cutters than their earlier sisters due to their expected use as naval vessels during the Quasi-War with France.   

She was launched sometime in 1798 and was fitted out in Boston under the command of Revenue Captain Jonathan Chapman.  Taken into the Navy in July at the outbreak of the Quasi-War with France, she departed Boston on her first cruise 22 August.

In 1799 and the early part of 1800 she was with Commodore John Barry’s squadron in the West Indies.  Lieutenant Edward Preble commanded Pickering from January through June 1799. It was during this period that she fought a notable engagement with the French privateer L’Egypte Conquise. The Frenchman was well fitted out and manned to capture PickeringAgainst her 14 9-pounders, 4 6-pounders, and crew of 250, the cutter had only 14 4-pounders and seventy men.  But after a nine-hour battle, the larger ship surrendered.

Pickering was permanently transferred to the Navy on 20 May 1799 and Master Commandant Benjamin Hillar, USN, assumed command in June.  She continued to cruise in the West Indies, and before her return to the United States she captured four French privateers.

She departed Boston 10 June 1800.  Ordered to join the squadron of Commodore Thomas Truxton on the Guadeloupe Station, West Indies, she sailed from Newcastle, Delaware on 20 August, but was never heard from again.  She is supposed to have been lost with all hands in a gale that September.


Donald Canney.  U.S. Coast Guard and Revenue Cutters, 1790-1935.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995.

Cutter History File.  USCG Historian's Office, USCG HQ, Washington, D.C.

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.  Washington, DC: USGPO.

Stephen H. Evans.  The United States Coast Guard, 1790-1915: A Definitive History (With a Postscript: 1915-1950).  Annapolis: The United States Naval Institute, 1949.

William Thiesen.  Benjamin Hiller & the Cutter Pickering in the Quasi-War with France.  Sea History 122 (Spring, 2008), pp. 24-27 (pdf file)

U.S. Coast Guard.  Record of Movements: Vessels of the United States Coast Guard: 1790 - December 31, 1933.  Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1934; 1989 (reprint).