A Collection of Naval Institute Proceedings articles that were first merged together in the October 1975 edition of Proceedings magazine as a Bicentennial salute. These highlights of the History of the U.S. Navy are meant to inspire the reader to take a further look at our Naval Heritage.
The Birth of a Navy
In the summer of 1775 the need for a Continental Navy was less urgent than that of an army, and the establishment of a navy was not discussed in Congress. Outside of that body, however, suggestions for a naval force were made as early as July.
|Proceedings, October 1975|
On October 5 sundry letters from London, conveying the information that two transports laden with stores and ammunition for the British Army had sailed for America, were laid before Congress, and that body on the same day appointed a committee to prepare a plan for intercepting the two vessels. Thus the “Naval Committee” came into existence. When enlarged to its full size it consisted of seven members, with John Adams the leading member.
During October-December, 1775, the subject of naval affairs was frequently before Congress. For a time there was much opposition among the members of Congress to a Continental Navy; and the recommendations of the committee, since they appeared to involve little expense, were the first to receive the sanction of Congress. In October four vessels were authorized, and later this number was increased to eight. Provision for a naval personnel was made and much fundamental legislation was adopted. Officers were appointed, seamen were engaged, and the ships were fitted out for sea. About the middle of December the decision [was] reached to build thirteen frigates. A marine committee was chosen to take charge of their construction.
The Continental Navy originated in these several measures of October-December, 1775. The most fundamental of them was that of November 28 which provided for a naval establishment with a full line of officers and which fixed their pay and put in force for their control and discipline a complete set of naval rules and regulations. By this measure Congress committed itself to the creation and maintenance of a navy. As the material of the Navy had its beginning on October 13 when Congress authorized the fitting out of the first vessels, this date must be regarded as an initial one of much importance.
The little fleet of the Naval Committee went to sea early in January, 1776, and, after capturing New Providence in the Bahama Islands, returned to New England, having made its first captures early in April. These were not the first ships to go to sea nor the first prizes to be captured. The first vessels under Continental pay and control were fitted out by Washington in the fall of 1775 with a view to capturing British transports for the British Army at Boston. The little fleet gave Washington much trouble and vexation. Notwithstanding their shortcomings, Washington’s vessels had considerable success in capturing transports and other lightly-armed craft of the enemy.
This excerpt is from Charles O. Paullin, “Origin of the Continental Navy,” pp. 1158-1159, November 1927 Proceedings.
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