"Revolutionary America! 1763-1789 April 20-November 3, 2002

The Continental Navy

photo of exhibit section
In this photo:
GADSEN FLAG (reproduction) used by the New Continental Fleet in 1776
  On loan from the collection of:
    --Naval War College Museum, Newport RI
DOCUMENTS (facsimiles) including a 1775 INVOICE for shipbuilding, 1776 CONGRESSIONAL ORDERS to Privateers, and a 1777 CONGRESSIONAL AUTHORIZATION for bounty.
    --Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park NY
SWIVEL GUN with flintlock ignition, rifled barrel, walnut stock, brass furniture and steel swivel spike, produced at the Rappahannock Forge in Falmouth VA, c.1770s. These semi-shoulder firearms were easier to transport than light artillery and could be mounted with on ship's decks and longboats
    --State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines IA
GRAPHICS (reproductions) depicting Navy frigates being built, armed, rigged and loaded

Don't Tread on Me!

A unified naval fleet was nonexistent at the beginning of the Revolution, and so the new government turned to citizen shipowners for privateering (legalized piracy), splitting the cargo from captured British ships.

Due to the weakness of the American forces, naval combat during the Revolution usually took place between the British and the French, and depended upon a ship's position to the wind. An aggressive commander sought the upwind (usually British). The leeward ships could not sail into the wind but had the option to retreat (usually French). The enemy fleets formed parallel lines and bombarded each other with cannon fire.

Eventually the Continental Navy had 52 ships - former merchant vessels converted into wartime frigates - that harassed British shipping lines and captured the cargo of thousands of enemy ships. And one engagement in 1779 transformed a criminal-turned-captain into the "Father of the American Navy."


A Confederation
The Continental Navy (You are here)
  Father of the Navy--John Paul Jones
Fate of America
  Commander-In-Chief, George Washington
  Official Flag


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