I don’t necessarily consider myself a history buff, but there are a handful of topics that I do take a great deal of interest in. Namely, United States history, particularly the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, the Constitution, and, as a Sailor in the U. S. Navy, its formation and history are topics that I enjoy learning about.
Since today marks its 238th birthday, I’d like to share a brief synopsis and some images and artwork of the beginnings of the U. S. Navy. I’ve compiled the following text and public domain images from the Naval History and Heritage Command.
The Birth of a Navy
Oct. 13, 1775
The United States Navy traces its origins to the Continental Navy, which the Continental Congress established on Oct. 13, 1775, by authorizing the procurement, fitting out, manning, and dispatch of two armed vessels to cruise in search of munitions ships supplying the British Army in America. The legislation also established a Naval Committee to supervise the work.
All together, the Continental Navy numbered some 50 ships over the course of the war, with approximately 20 warships active at its maximum strength.
After the American War for Independence, Congress sold the surviving ships of the Continental Navy and released the seamen and officers. The Constitution of the United States, ratified in 1789, empowered Congress “to provide and maintain a navy.” Acting on this authority, Congress ordered the construction and manning of six frigates in 1794, and the War Department administered naval affairs from that year until Congress established the Department of the Navy on April 30, 1798.
In 1972, Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt authorized recognition of Oct. 13th as the Navy’s birthday.
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The War of Independence
In 1775, 13 American colonies began an armed struggle to assert their rights within the British Empire. A year later the goal of the American Revolution became independence from that empire. During the War of Independence the Continental Congress created a small navy for defense and taking the fight to the enemy. Its persistent attacks and occasional successes helped encourage foreign powers to recognize the young nation, and then to ally with it against Great Britain.
Supported by the French, the Continental Navy raided British home waters, leading to a September 1779 battle that inspired the future U.S. Navy’s traditions of professionalism, courage and determination. Two years later, the French Navy demonstrated the importance of command of the sea with a victory off the Virginia Capes that trapped an enemy army, whose surrender doomed Great Britain’s fight to prevent America’s independence.
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Captain John Paul Jones
1747 – 1792
As an officer of the Continental Navy of the American Revolution, John Paul Jones helped establish the traditions of courage and professionalism that the Sailors of the United States Navy today proudly maintain.
Jones was born in a humble gardener’s cottage in Kirkbean, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland, went to sea as a youth, and was a merchant shipmaster by the age of 21.
Having taken up residence in Virginia, he volunteered early in the War of Independence to serve in his adopted country’s infant navy and raised with his own hands the Continental ensign on board Alfred, the flagship of the Navy’s first fleet. He took the war to the enemy’s homeland with daring raids along the British coast and the famous victory of the Bonhomme Richard over HMS Serapis.
After the Bonhomme Richard began taking on water and fires broke out on board, the British commander asked Jones if he had struck his flag. Jones replied, “I have not yet begun to fight!” In the end, it was the British commander who surrendered.
Jones is remembered for his indomitable will, his unwillingness to consider surrender when the slightest hope of victory still burned.
Throughout his naval career Jones promoted professional standards and training. Sailors of the United States Navy can do no better than to emulate the spirit behind John Paul Jones’s stirring declaration: “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go in harm’s way.”
U. S. Navy: Defending Freedom and Independence Since 1775
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