The American War for Independence gave birth to what is now the United States Navy.
In late May of 1775, the Second Continental Congress began meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to push back against the British King’s coercive acts. April battles in Massachusetts brought the colonies into open warfare with British troops, so in part the function of this Congress was to establish and manage the war effort.
Until that time each of the thirteen colonies had their own militias made up of part-time citizen soldiers. Now, a unifying army was needed. In June The Continental Army was established to coordinate the military efforts between the thirteen colonies.
Britain not only had the world’s most powerful army, but their navy dominated the seas. The British navy was providing material support to the British forces in the colonies and hindering colonial trade. John Adams, among others, was advocating for an American fleet needed to defend coastal towns from British raiders, and protect the import and export of goods. Many of the Delegates to the Congress were initially reluctant and hoped for reconciliation with the Crown. They viewed the establishment of a navy a step towards independence, and a foolhardy attempt to take on the strongest navy in the world.
On October 3, 1775, resolutions and arguments were made regarding the establishment of a fleet. By October 5, word had come of more English supply ships en route to Quebec. Delegates from New England were far more vocal advocates for a navy than their mid-Atlantic and Southern counterparts, and fortunately they made up the committee that came up with a plan.
On October 13, the Second Continental Congress voted on legislation authorizing two sailing vessels to be armed and manned by crews of eighty. These ships were to be sent out for a period of three months to block British transports from carrying munitions and re-supplying the British forces in the colonies. Fortuitously, that same day, a letter from George Washington was read in Congress indicating that he had acquired three schooners to cruise off Massachusetts to intercept enemy supply ships. This seemed to provide all the motivation needed to develop the Continental Navy. Congress soon established a Naval Committee charged to establish and equip a fleet.
Maritime ships were recruited and refitted with armaments to serve as war vessels. During the war, ultimately more than fifty armed ships made up the Continental Navy. They seized enemy supplies, and transported munitions and provisions from Europe. The new Navy captured nearly 200 British ships, some near the British coast, which diverted part of the British navy from protecting their own ships and
After the Revolutionary War, the Navy ships were sold and the seamen and officers let go. The Constitution of the United States, which was ratified in 1789, empowered Congress “to provide and maintain a Navy” which it has done ever since.
“The mission of the Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas.”