CONTINENTAL NAVY ACTIONS
As you read this chapter, check the maps at the
back of the chapter.
The new Navy ordered to be established by the
Continental Congress came into being in the last
months of 1775. To build a fleet, Congress authorized
the construction of 13 new frigates (ranging from 24 to
32 guns) and the conversion of 6 merchant ships
(ranging from 10 to 24 guns). These merchant ships
included the USS Hornet and the USS Alfred. The USS
Alfred had the distinction of being the U.S. Navys first
flagship and is said to be the first U.S. naval vessel on
which the Flag of Freedom was hoisted (by John Paul
Jones). All were solidly constructed ships with a
number of guns. Even so, they were at a serious
disadvantage because they were pitted against the
established and superior British forcethen the finest
Navy in the world.
The first commander in chief, Esek Hopkins, put the
first squadron of the Continental Navy to sea in
February 1776. Under the guns of the USS Providence
and the USS Wasp and with the squadron headed by the
USS Alfred, over 200 Sailors and Marines landed on
New Providence Island in the Bahamas. John Paul Jones
served as first lieutenant aboard the USS Alfred.
Hopkins raid on New Providence Island was the
first amphibious operation carried out by the American
Navy and Marines. The squadron captured a number of
cannons and supplies from the fort.
Because the British blockaded the American coast,
it was difficult for the newly outfitted ships to reach the
sea. The USS Montgomery and the USS Congress, ships
of 28 and 24 guns, were built at Poughkeepsie, NY on
the Hudson River. When the British occupied the port of
New York, these ships were bottled up. To prevent their
capture by the enemy, the U.S. government had to
destroy them. Two more ships built in Philadelphia
suffered a similar fate. Some of the others were also
blockaded in their home ports, and one ship, the USS
Trumbull, was bottled up for 3 years because it couldnt
clear the sandbar in the Connecticut River.
The new frigates of the Continental Navy had their
moments. The USS Hancock and the USS Boston, both
built in Massachusetts, set out together in mid-1777.
They captured two British brigs and were then involved
in separate actions with the British warships Somerset
and Fox. After escaping from the Somerset on May 30,
1777, they met the Fox a week later and successfully
captured it. Later, the two Continental ships were
pursued by the powerful HMS Rainbow. Following a
39-hour pursuit, the Rainbow bore down on the USS
Hancock and captured it. The USS Boston escaped and
continued to serve in various actions over a period of
some 3 years. Its last action was in the defense of the
Charleston, South Carolina, harbor where it was
captured by the British in May 1780.
After its capture by the British, the Hancock went
on to serve in the Revolution, but on the enemys side.
By a twist of fate, it was the Hancock (renamed the Iris)
that captured a sister frigate, the USS Trumbull, one of
the original 13 frigates built for the Continental Navy.
(The British crew was said to have called the American
built ship one of the finest frigates in which it had
Among the names associated with this new
made-in-America fleet of frigates are John Barry, who
courageously commanded many ships; John Manley,
who captured the Nancy while in Washingtons Navy;
and Abraham Whipple.
The skipper of the USS Providence, Whipple, was a
member of a three-ship force that found itself on the
edge of a huge, heavily guarded, enemy convoy off
Newfoundland during a fog. Sending armed boarding
parties to the merchant ships, the Americans managed
to take 11 ships as prizes without being detected by the
ships protecting the convoy. Cargoes and captured ships
worth a million dollars were dispatched back to the
John Paul Jones
Among the most daring commanders bringing the
war to British waters was John Paul Jones (fig. 5-1). As
skipper of the USS Ranger, he left France on April 10,
1778, for raids against the British. After capturing a
number of ships, he actually landed on British soil,
raiding Whitehaven, England.