Establishment of the US Navy, 13 October 1775

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Establishment of the Navy, 13 October 1775

This resolution of the Continental Congress marked the establishment of what is now the United States Navy.

"Resolved, That a swift sailing vessel, to carry ten carriage guns, and a proportionable number of swivels, with eighty men, be fitted, with all possible despatch, for a cruise of three months, and that the commander be instructed to cruize eastward, for intercepting such transports as may be laden with warlike stores and other supplies for our enemies, and for such other purposes as the Congress shall direct.

That a Committee of three be appointed to prepare an estimate of the expence, and lay the same before the Congress, and to contract with proper persons to fit out the vessel.

Resolved, that another vessel be fitted out for the same purposes, and that the said committee report their opinion of a proper vessel, and also an estimate of the expence."

Source: Journal of the Continental Congress, 13 October 1775, in William Bell Clark, editor, Naval Documents of the American Revolution, Vol. 2, p. 442 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1966).

Recommended Reading: Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy. From Publishers Weekly: Starred Review. Toll, a former financial analyst and political speechwriter, makes an auspicious debut with this rousing, exhaustively researched history of the founding of the U.S. Navy. The author chronicles the late 18th- and early 19th-century process of building a fleet that could project American power beyond her shores. The ragtag Continental Navy created during the Revolution was promptly dismantled after the war, and it wasn't until 1794—in the face of threats to U.S. shipping from England, France and the Barbary states of North Africa—that Congress authorized the construction of six frigates and laid the foundation for a permanent navy. Continued below…

A cabinet-level Department of the Navy followed in 1798. The fledgling navy quickly proved its worth in the Quasi War against France in the Caribbean, the Tripolitan War with Tripoli and the War of 1812 against the English. In holding its own against the British, the U.S. fleet broke the British navy's "sacred spell of invincibility," sparked a "new enthusiasm for naval power" in the U.S. and marked the maturation of the American navy. Toll provides perspective by seamlessly incorporating the era's political and diplomatic history into his superlative single-volume narrative—a must-read for fans of naval history and the early American Republic.

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Recommended Reading: If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy-From the Revolution to the War of 1812. From Publishers Weekly: Daughan brings a long academic career and solid command of his sources to this provocative history of the origins of the U.S. Navy. Conventional wisdom has the navy beginning in the 1790s. Daughan instead traces its roots to the Revolution. The fleet established by the Continental Congress had a relatively undistinguished career, but Daughan demonstrates that the Americans gained technical experience, produced talented officers, trained seamen and developed a basic understanding of how a navy should be employed. Continued below…

The question then was whether a navy would concentrate too much authority in the central government and risk embroiling the new country in foreign quarrels. By contrast, a coastal defense force of small ships threatened nobody, foreign or domestic. Daughan traces the debate through four administrations, smoothly integrating political with external influences like the Quasi-War with France (1798–1800) and the campaign against the Barbary pirates. Not until the War of 1812, when the navy proved critical, did a national consensus emerge that preparing for war was the best way of avoiding one—a lesson that remains worth remembering.

 

Recommended Reading: George Washington's Secret Navy (Hardcover). Description: In July 1775, in his first inspection of the American encampment on the outskirts of Boston, the Continental Army's newly arrived commander-in-chief noted its haphazard design and shabby construction--clearly the work of men unprepared to face the world's most powerful fighting force. George Washington had inherited not only an army of woefully untrained and ill-equipped soldiers, but a daunting military prospect as well. To the east he could see the enemy's heavily fortified positions on Bunker Hill and a formidable naval presence on the river beyond. British-occupied Boston was defended by impressive redoubts that would easily repel any American assault, and Boston Harbor bristled with the masts of merchant ships delivering food, clothing, arms, ammunition, and other necessities to the British. Washington knew that the king's troops had all the arms and gunpowder they could want, whereas his own army lacked enough powder for even one hour of major combat. The Americans were in danger of losing a war before it had truly begun. Continued below…

Despite his complete lack of naval experience, Washington recognized that harassing British merchant ships was his only means of carrying the fight to the enemy and sustaining an otherwise unsustainable stalemate. But he also knew that many in Congress still hoped for reconciliation with England, and in that climate Congressional approval for naval action was out of the question. So, without notifying Congress and with no real authority to do so, the general began arming small merchant schooners and sending them to sea to hunt down British transports “in the Service of the ministerial Army.” In George Washington's Secret Navy, award-winning author James L. Nelson tells the fascinating tale of how America's first commander-in-chief launched America's first navy. Nelson introduces us to another side of a general known for his unprecedented respect for civilian authority. Here we meet a man whose singular act of independence helped keep the Revolution alive in 1775.

"James Nelson is not the first historian to reveal this little-known albeit incredibly important aspect of our Revolution, but no one has done it more thoroughly or with greater literary grace." --William M. Fowler, author of Empires at War

 

Recommended Reading: John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy. Description: Evan Thomas’s John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy grounds itself on the facts of Jones’s life and accomplishments to bolster his place among the pantheon of Revolutionary heroes while also working to deflate the myths that have circulated about his name. Jones, we learn, was confronted throughout his life with controversy and was crippled by ambition. But Thomas lauds Jones for early innovations as an American self-made man who rose from Scottish servitude. Continued below…

Jones, despite his too brisk manner, was a true success, if not genius, as a naval captain. Early in the Revolutionary War, he captured a shipload of winter uniforms destined for General Burgoyne’s army in Canada, which instead warmed General Washington’s troops as they swept across the Delaware to defeat British at Princeton and Trenton. Later, Jones helped formulate the Navy’s plan of psychological warfare on British citizens. And Jones’s strategy to cut off the British fleet via the French Navy was arguably the most decisive strategic decision of the War. In the end, Thomas makes a good case for a renewed appreciated for Jones’s role in the broader revolution, citing his many connections to the Founding Fathers and his contributions to the broader war effort. While it may be that the John Paul Jones who proclaimed "I have not yet begun to fight" never existed, the real man behind the textbook legend is every bit as compelling a figure in Thomas’s hands. This temperate biography situates Jones in what will likely prove durable fashion among portraits of Adams, Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson.

 

Recommended Reading: John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography (Bluejacket Books). Description: America's greatest naval historian, Samuel Eliot Morison, writes about America's greatest naval hero in this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography. The Scottish-born John Paul Jones struck several severe blows to English morale during the American Revolution, as he fearlessly ravaged the king's ships within sight of British shores. With tactical brilliance and almost reckless courage, Jones eagerly attacked larger foes and soundly beat them. During one famous engagement, his opposing commander called out and offered Jones the opportunity to surrender. Jones's immortal response: "I have not yet begun to fight!" This marvelous book is a fitting tribute to a controversial yet romantic figure, who now lies buried at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

 

Recommended Reading: John Paul Jones: America's First Sea Warrior (Hardcover). Description: This fresh look at America’s first sea warrior avoids both the hero worship of the past and the recent, inaccurate deconstructionist views of John Paul Jones’s astonishing life. The author goes beyond a narrow naval context to establish Jones as a key player in the American Revolution, something not done by previous biographers, and explains what drove him to his achievements. At the same time, Admiral Joseph Callo fully examines Jones’s dramatic military achievements—including his improbable victory off Flamborough Head in the Continental ship Bonhomme Richard—but in the context of the times rather than as stand-alone events. Continued below…

The book also looks at some interesting but lesser-known aspects of Jones’s naval career, including his relationships with such civilian leaders as Benjamin Franklin. How Jones handled those often-difficult dealings, Callo maintains, contributed to the nation’s concept of civilian control of the military. Suggesting that Jones might well be the first U.S. apostle of sea power, the author also focuses on the fact that Jones was the first serving American naval officer who emphasized the role naval power would play in the rise of the United States as a global power. Another neglected aspect of Jones’s career that gets attention and analysis is his brief tour in the Russian navy, a revealing chapter of his life that has been underreported in the two hundred years since Jones’s death. Rather than looking at Jones in a rearview mirror, Callo illuminates how this unique naval hero is linked to the nation’s present and future. As a result, he gives us a sea saga that tells much about our own lives and times. About the Author: Rear Admiral Joseph Callo, USNR (Ret.), Naval History magazine’s 1998 Author of the Year, has written three books about Admiral Lord Nelson, including Nelson Speaks: Admiral Lord Nelson in His Own Words and Nelson in the Caribbean: The Hero Emerges, was the U.S. editor for Who’s Who in Naval History, and regularly writes on maritime subjects for magazines and newspapers.

 

Recommended Viewing: The History Channel - The Battle History of the United States Military (2005) (Number of discs: 5) (766 minutes). Description: A mighty compendium of America’s five major military branches--Marines, Navy, Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard--THE BATTLE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES MILITARY trumpets the myriad strengths of one of the world’s greatest military powers. Plunge headlong into the great battles fought on land, sea, and air. Marvel at the arc of musket to missile. Meet the key figures and lesser-known heroes who have shaped the organization, the strategy, and the future of the United States armed forces. Encompassing over two centuries of courage and conquest, THE BATTLE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES MILITARY marches through America’s military development from its earliest Coast Guard days to the technological wonders of the Gulf War. Continued below...

With official government documents, extensive combat footage, and commentary by historians and decorated veterans, THE BATTLE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES MILITARY is a full-scale, full-dress salute to the men and women who give and have given to America’s fight for freedom. DVD Features: Downloadable Historical Documents; Branch Heraldries; Bonus Film: "Pageantry of the Corps"; Interactive Menus; Scene Selection.

 

Recommended Viewing: America at War Megaset (History Channel) (Number of discs: 14) (Run Time: 1948 minutes). Description: From the first musket shots at Lexington and Concord to the precision-guided munitions in modern-day Baghdad. America's history has been forged in the heat of battle. AMERICA AT WAR presents twenty-five documentaries from THE HISTORY CHANNEL charting U.S. military conflict over two centuries. This "fourteen disc set" explores key moments of the American Revolution, the Alamo, Mexican American War, the Civil War, Spanish American War, World Wars I and II as well as the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and Iraq. Continued below...

The chronological collection draws upon the expertise of noted historians, military authorities, engineers, and war correspondents to convey the personal side of conflict not often found in history books. A trove of archival footage and documents brings viewers closer than ever to the heated heart of combat. This is truly a one-of-a-kind collector's set!

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