When fighting broke out in 1775 the American colonists had no large gunboats, no naval cannon or shot, no warship construction experience, and no captains and crews with experience in multi-ship naval battles. In contrast the British navy had hundreds of large gunships, hundreds of experienced officers, excellent maps, could attack anywhere along the thousands of miles of America's ocean coastline and could deliver troops and firepower well inland via the hundreds of navigable rivers on the eastern seaboard. The U.S. responded to this challenge with an active program of building warships, retro-fitting merchant vessels for military duty, capturing British supply ships and warships, borrowing warships from France, and making an alliance with France (and through France drawing in Spain) that would secure cooperative use of naval power that was larger than Great Britain's.
Timeline to Creation of the U.S. Navy
On 1775 Sep 02: General George Washington commissioned Nicholson Broughton of Marblehead MA as captain of the Hannah, to lead eight schooners based in Massachusetts in what became known as "George Washington's Navy" The original schooners included the
. . . Hannah -- 78 tons and a crew of 43 (sailed Sept 5, ruined by grounding Oct 10)
. . . Harrison -- 64-tons, 4 guns (under Capt. William Coit of Norwich CT)
. . . Washington -- 160-tons, 10 guns, and a crew of 74
Their first mission was to intercept British cargo vessels supplying the British garrison in Boston, and during the 26 months in which this fleet was part of the Continental Army they captured 55 enemy ships. Ships of the Continental Army provided one of America�s greatest naval successes at the battle of Valcour Island in 1776, when a fleet commanded by Brigadier General Benedict Arnold delayed a British invasion from Canada so that they had to withdraw for the winter. This gave time for American strength to grow so that it could overwhelm the next invasion force in 1777 at Saratoga.
1775 Oct 13 is considered to be the birthday of the United States Navy, since this was the day that the Continental Congress ordered that two large vessels be fitted out with 10 cannon each. Note: From 1922 to 1946 Oct 27 was widely observed as Navy Day.
On 1775 December 13 the Continental Congress authorized the construction of three 74-gun ships-of-the-line and thirteen frigates for the Continental Navy. All thirteen frigates were constructed, but only one ship-of-the-line was completed. The Continental Navy later included the world's first military submarine. See Other Ships below.
On 1775 Dec 22 Congress commissioned
Commander-in-Chief: Esek Hopkins
Dudley Saltonstall for the 24-gun frigate Alfred
Abraham Whipple for the 24-gun frigate Columbus
Nicholas Biddle for the 14-gun brig Andrew Doria
John Burrows Hopkins for the 14-gun brig Cabot
First Lieutenants: John Paul Jones, Rhodes Arnold, Eli Stansbury, Hoysted Hacker, Jonathan Pitcher
Second Lieutenants: Benjamin Seabury, Joseph Olney, Elisha Warner, Thomas Weaver, James McDougall
Third Lieutenants: John Fanning, Ezekiel Burroughs, Daniel Vaughan
Several states created state navies, and many American merchant ships added cannon and obtained letters of marque so that they could serve as privateers -- sailing the world's oceans and capturing British merchant ships, harrassing the smaller ships of the Royal Navy, and threatening British military supply lines
Navy: An Illustrated History: The U.S. Navy from 1775 to the 21st Century (Illustrated History (Zenith Press)) (Hardcover)by Chester G. Hearn
Chester G. Hearn (Author)