|Proudly 240 Years Old Today.|
The Navy did not come out of thin air:
- American naval prowess was built on the large number of sailors, captains and shipbuilders who made their living from trade and passenger travel in the colonial era.
- On June 12, 1775 Rhode Island's assembly commissioned a navy, which fought back against British ships.
- Massachusetts and Connecticut also had their own navies and in due course eight other colonies had their own navies during the Revolutionary War, notably Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina.
Supporters argued that a navy would protect shipping, defend the coast, and make it more likely that other countries would come to the aid of the colonies.
But others considered it foolhardy to challenge Britain's Royal Navy, then the world's preeminent naval power.
However, after the Battle of Lexington in April, the British Government sent a fleet to suppress the rebel colonies. Something had to be done. While debate over a Navy dragged on, the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army (founded June 10, 1775), General George Washington, decided he couldn't wait and he commissioned seven ocean-going cruisers, starting with the schooner USS Hannah, to interdict British supply ships, and reported captures of British ships to the Congress.
Washington said: "[W]ithout a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."
On October 13, the Continental Congress decided to establish the Continental Navy, and this is the Navy-recognized birthday of the service, predating the Stars and Stripes flag, which was established the following year.
On December 22, Esek Hopkins was appointed as the first commander in chief of the Continental Navy, with four captains reporting to him - Nicholas Biddle, John Burrows Hopkins, Dudley Saltonstall, and Abraham Whipple.
The Continental fleet then consisted of eight ships - the 24-gun frigates Alfred and Columbus, the 14-gun brigs Andrew Doria and Cabot, and three schooners, the Hornet, the Wasp and the Fly.
Thirteen lieutenants were commissioned - five first lieutenants, including future American hero John Paul Jones, five second lieutenants and three third lieutenants.
Esek Hopkins was called "Admiral" Hopkins and was sent to find out whether it would be feasible to attack the British fleet in Chesapeake Bay. He decided it would not be feasible and instead attacked the British port of Nassau in the Bahamas. For this he was relieved of his command upon return.
The Continental Navy achieved mixed results. It successfully preyed upon British merchant shipping and won some encounters with British war ships. But it lost 24 of its vessels to the Royal Navy and at one point was down to two vessels in active service.
After the Revolutionary War, the Navy was disbanded for nearly a decade, leaving merchant ships open to pirate attacks. In 1790-97, only the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service (USRCS) had a fleet. This fleet evolved into the U.S. Coast Guard.
Not until the Naval Act of 1794 did Congress establish a permanent standing navy. The Naval Act ordered the construction and manning of six frigates. Three were in service by 1797 - the USS Constellation, USS Constitution and USS United States - and the U.S. Navy Department as we know it today was in place by April 1798.
|The original stars and stripes|
Thomas Jefferson (President, 1801-1809) did not favor a strong navy, arguing that small gunboats in the major harbors were all that the nation needed to defend itself. But the gunboats showed themselves to be inadequate when the United States was in conflict first with France and then again with Britain.