Battle between the ADMIRAL DUFF and PROTECTOR. (By Hilda Strait.)
THE CONTINENTAL NAVY
Our country's fledgling Navy actually began with the formation of Washington's Fleet in 1775 under the command of General George Washington. Soon the Continental Navy was established and went on to distinguish itself during the American Revolution, as related here by Florida Associate Charles E. Claghorn.
In 1772 Abraham Whipple, Simeon Potter and several other men boarded the grounded GASPEE on Namquit Point, Rhode Island, and captured the vessel. They then released the British commander and burned the vessel. In June 1775 Jeremiah O'Brien together with his five brothers and 35 other men seized the UNITY in Machias Harbor, Maine. With Benjamin Foster on the FALMOUTH PACKET and O'Brien on the UNITY, they captured the British vessel DILIGENT. Under the Resolves of the Massachusetts General Court dated August 21, 1775, these two sloops became the first vessels of the Massachusetts Navy. The UNITY was renamed the MACHIAS LIBERTY, with O'Brien in command.
Washington's Fleet was formed in the fall of 1775, consisting of eight vessels, the brigantine WASHINGTON and seven schooners, the HANNAH, LYNCH, FRANKLIN, LEE, WARREN, HARRISON and the HANCOCK. But these were army vessels under the command of General Washington. Their flag was a pine tree on a white background on one side, and the words "Appeal to Heaven" on the reverse side.
Hopkins Named Navy Commodore
On October 5, 1775 the Naval Commit-tee of the -Continental Congress was established. On November 28, 1775 Samuel Nichols (or Nicholas) was commissioned a Major in the Continental Marines. A month later, on December 22, 1775, Esek Hopkins
of Rhode Island was commissioned Commodore of the Continental Navy. Since Major Nichols was commissioned in November, and Commodore Hopkins in December, the Marine Corps is considered older than the Navy by one month.
Nicholas Broughton of Marblehead, Massachusetts, sailed on December 5, 1775 on the HANNAH and captured the UNITY, another vessel of the same name ladened with fish, naval stores and timber.
General Washington commissioned John Manley of Massachusetts to command the schooner LEE with 6 carriage guns, 10 swivel guns and a crew of 30 men, total weight 74 tons. In November 1775 Manley captured the British ship NANCY ladened with military stores. On January 1, 1776 Manley was appointed Commander-in-Chief of Washington's Fleet with his flagship the HANCOCK. All of these commissions were in the army. But on April 17, 1776 the Continental Congress recognized Manley's services and commissioned him a Captain in the Continental Navy. In May 1777 Manley sailed from Boston on the HANCOCK and captured the frigate FOX of 28 guns. But then in July 1777 Manley and his crew were captured by the British and confined on a prison ship in New York Harbor.
James Mugford of Marblehead was one of the commanders of the FRANKLIN with a crew of 21 men. He sailed with Captain Joseph Cunningham of the LADY WASHINGTON, a privateer; the two American vessels were attacked by 13 British vessels. The Americans sank two of the enemy ships, but then Captain Mugford received a fatal blow to his body and died in battle on May 19, 1776. After Captain Mugford was killed, the British retreated. Thomas Russell and Jeremiah Hibbert were Lieutenants on the FRANKLIN, and after Mugford died they took command. The two Lieutenants captured the transport HOPE of 10 guns, ladened with 1,500 barrels of gun-powder, a terrific bounty for the Americans.
On December 22, 1775 the Continental Congress appointed Esek Hopkins of Rhode Island as Commodore and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Navy, a position in rank equal to that of George Washington as a General and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. But why do we hear of Washington, and not of Hopkins, who had an equal position? Here's the story:
Hopkins was placed in charge of eight vessels and received orders to attack enemy ships off the coast of Virginia and the Carolinas. In January 1776 Hopkins sailed from Providence, Rhode Island on his flagship the ALFRED commanded by Dudley Saltonstall of New London, Connecticut along with John Burroughs Hopkins, his son, in command of the CABOT, with Abraham Whipple of Providence in command of the COLUMBUS. In Delaware Bay they were joined by Nicholas Biddle of Philadelphia in command of the ANDREW DORIA. Later the name was corrected to ANDREA DORIA.
At this point Hopkins changed his mind and decided to attack Fort Nassau on New Providence Island in the Bahamas, because of the cannon and gunpowder stored at the fort. Hopkins was fortunate in having on board Lieutenant John Paul Jones and Major Samuel Nichols with 270 Marines. The surprise attack on Fort Nassau was successful, capturing the fort on March 6, 1776. The Marines seized 71 cannons, 15 brass mortars and 24 barrels of gunpowder.
SARATOGA, 1777. (By Hilda Strait.)
On their return trip, while in Long Island Sound, the American vessels were fired upon by the large British ship GLASGOW; the American ships were badly damaged. The British fleet then escaped, much to the dismay of the Americans. Sickness and disease was rampant on the American side, especially smallpox, which spread through the seamen. Upon his return to Providence, most of the seamen were dismissed because of illness and Hopkins couldn't find men to serve in the Navy since privateers were paying higher wages and bonuses for captured vessels.
The Continental Congress summoned Hopkins to appear before them in June 1776, and despite his victory at New Providence Island, he was censured by Congress for his failure to carry out orders. In December 1776 the naval base at Newport was occupied by the British and Hopkins was unable to sail. He was suspended from his command in the Continental Navy on March 26, 1777 for the loss of Newport, and dismissed from the service on January 2, 1778. Despite his great victory in capturing munitions at Fort Nassau, he was dismissed. Such a tragedy! So that's why you never heard of this great naval officer. Hopkins retired to Providence to live with his wife, Desire, and their ten children.
Offin Boardman of Newburyport, Massachusetts was an interesting character. He was commissioned in December 1775 to command the privateer WASHINGTON. Boardman was captured by the British in June 1777 and confined in the Mill Prison near Plymouth, England. On February 1, 1778 he escaped, but was recaptured April 10, 1778. He escaped again, but was retaken on December 21, 1778, having to spend Christmas in prison. Boardman escaped from the prison a third time on January 3, 1779; this time he made it back to America. He then commanded the privateer BETSEY, but in June 1780 he was captured again by the British UNION and imprisoned. But Boardman managed to escape a fourth time and returned to America. He probably was the prize escape artist of the American privateersmen.
Eleazer Giles of Beverly, Massachusetts commanded the brigantine SARATOGA. In January 1780 the SARATOGA was taken by the British.
Biddle of Philadelphia Fame
Captain Nicholas Biddle was a scion of
an aristocratic Philadelphia family. His mother was Mary Scull, and his father was William Biddle. Nicholas was only 25 years old when he commanded the ANDREA DORIA on the- successful mission which captured Fort Nassau. On February 1, 1777 Biddle sailed from Philadelphia on the frigate RANDOLPH with 32 guns for Charleston, South Carolina, where he met and became engaged to a Charleston girl. After sailing out of the city he encountered the 64-gun British frigate YARMOUTH. A cannonball from the enemy frigate struck the powder magazine of the RANDOLPH and exploded. Of the 315 men on board, only four were saved. That was the tragic end of the handsome and wealthy bachelor, Nicholas Biddle.
John Foster Williams of Boston commanded the frigate PROTECTOR with 26 guns. He sailed out of Boston and defeated HMS ADMIRAL DUFF when an explosion blew off part of the stern of the enemy vessel on June 9, 1780. On a second cruise aboard the PROTECTOR, Captain Williams took five British vessels — and then the American ship was captured by the enemy in May 1781. The crew was imprisoned on the old JERSEY, a British prison ship in New York Harbor, which was ridden with smallpox cases. Later exchanged, in January 1783 Williams commanded the ALEXANDER of 200 tons.
Under the command of John Paul Jones, the BONHOMME RICHARD was victorious over the SERAPHIS on September 23, 1779. (Drawn by E.C. Peixotto.)
As the land war dragged on, the Continental Navy and privateers engaged in combat all across the Atlantic Ocean, capturing enemy vessels and cargoes. But many American ships were captured and the
seamen imprisoned in England. French Fleet Causes Surrender
When the French fleet under Admirals de Grasse and de Barras blockaded Chesapeake Bay preventing British ships from landing ammunition, supplies and reinforcements from reaching the enemy, Lord Cornwallis was forced to surrender at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781.
But the war at sea continued, the last naval engagement taking place between Captains John Green of New York on the ship DUC DE LAUZON and John Barry of Philadelphia on the ALLIANCE when the Americans encountered the British frigates ALARM and SYBIL on March 10, 1783 between Palm Beach and Cape Canaveral, Florida. These were the last naval shots of the American Revolution.
Continental frigate RANDOLPH. (By Hilda Strait.)