This Date In History: The US Continental Congress Establishes the Continetal Navy (1775)

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On this date in history, during the American Revolution in 1775, the Continental Congress agrees to establish the first American naval force. This small force was to become the precursor to the United States Navy, which is today the world’s most powerful navy.

After the outbreak of the Revolution, the focus had been on the land war. However, after the Continental Congress had been informed that the British were sending a large fleet to defeat the revolution, they knew that they had to act. The Continental Congress passed a resolution which allowed for funds to be raised for some naval forces and also for a definite command structure.

In November, the Continental Navy was established, and on December the 22nd. Congress also named captains to the various ships in the navy and it also commissioned about a dozen other officers. America’s first naval fighting force was not big and it had only four ships. The entire fleet only consisted of a brig and three schooners and these were the first ships in the fleet. Among the officers serving on the ships was the future American hero John Paul Jones.

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A stamp commemorating two heroes of the Continental Navy, John Paul Jones, and John Barry

The commander of the Continental Navy was Admiral Eske Hopkins.  Hopkins, decided to engage in hit and run tactics  against the British, he knew that his tiny navy did not have a change against the might of the British Royal Navy, then the biggest navy in the world.  He ordered an attack on the British in the Bahamas, where his ships attacked the heavily fortified port of Nassau. This did not go well and he was later relieved of his command. The attack could have led to the destruction of the new navy and it lead to a re-think of the tactics and strategies of the navy.

The Continental Navy was able to recover from this initial setback and soon began to devastate British shipping in the waters off America. The American ships would attack British merchant ships and seize the vessels and their goods. This did much to damage British trade and helped to fund the American war effort. The Americans continued to refrain from engaging in a full-scale battle at sea with the Royal Navy, as it would have been suicidal. However, individual American war ships would regularly take on British ships and they even destroyed several enemy warships, even though the Americans were outgunned.  These were celebrated by Amercian patriots and this much to boost the morale of the people. The ships of the Congressional Navy traversed the Atlantic attacking, British ships and on occassion even attacked British shipping in the waters around the British Isles.. In the final years of the war , the country’s ships cooperated with the fleets of France and Spain.

This small navy was disbanded after the war and the United States Navy was only established by an act of Congress in 1798.

 

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