Saturday, March 20, 2010

It's War.

The brashness of youth was the hallmark of the first days of the Continental Navy, but the sea service quickly gained maturity as its ommanders and men learned from their mistakes.

The birth of the American Navy was characterized in a letter written in 1783 to Robert Morris, who was at the time teh agent of Marine for the Continental Congress: "Was it a proof of madness in the first corps of sea officers to have, at so critical a period, launched out on the make war against such a power as Great Britain?" The questioner was John Paul Jones who was one of those Americans who had set to sea and challenged British amritime dominance.

Against Long Odds.
When the Continental Navy was created in 1775, Great Britain's national power was said to extend to the six-fathom curve of any landmass in the world, and the sheer number of her warships in the American theater during the Revolution was, by all obvious measurments, overwhelming. On average, for example, 90 Royal Navy ships - including about a dozen ships-of-the-line - were in American waters during the war. In contrast, when George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the American colonies' military forces in May 1775, the national naval component of that new force was exactly zero.

For many years the ubiquitous Royal Navy ships in American ports and off the coasts of the North American colonies had been a source of protection against the Frence and other imperial powers competing with Britain. Following the French and Indian War, however, the Royal Navy progressively became the instrument for enforcing onerous taxes and political restrictions on the colonies, exemplified in the extreme by the closing of the port of Boston after the Boston Tea Party. During that progression, Britain's navy also increasingly inhibited the Americans' ocean trade by enforcing the Navigation Acts. Those laws, which were passed by Parliament to protect British trade, often functioned at the expense of the colonies.

First Steps.
When Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, however, the Royal Navy became much more than a political and economic problem, and Washington recognized from the outset a need for a Continental Navy. Of overriding importance, he had an army-in-information without supplies, and his shortage of gunpowder and lead for musket balls was particularly pressing. The colonies had few powder mills, and as the tide of rebellion rose, Britain placed an embargo on powder importation. A short-term answer, however, was to secure the needed military material by raiding Britain's ocean supply lanes, beginning in American waters. The added benefit to that response was that it conversely hampered the enemy's ability to sustain its own military supply needs. Thus, the first element of a naval strategy for the American Revolution was established: raid Britain's sea supply lines to provide Continental military equipment and deny the same equipment to the British.

The immediate problem for Washington was the absence of national naval resources to pursue the initial portion of a naval strategy. There were, however, modest naval militias among 11 of the 13 colonies. In addition, the American colonies had a traditon of effective privateering, a practice that had been a factor in the French and Indian War.

Initially, Washington tried to make do with what was at hand, and he turned to the governor of Rhode Island, Nicholas Cooke, asking him to use one of the small ships of the Rhode Island naval militia to secure a store of powder known to be in Bermuda. Washington wrote to Cooke in desperation on 4 August 1775: "Our necessities in the articles of powder and lead are so great as to require an immediate supply." But ships from Philadelphia and South Carolina had already secured the powder from Bermuda, and Washington would have to look elsewhere. He then wrote to General Phillip Schuyler in November 1775 of his intention to employ "armed vessels with the design to pick up som of their storeships and transports."

Washington had reservations about acting without congressional approval, but he nevertheless decided to arm a number of schooners to attack British merchant ships bringing military equipment to the American colonies and to divert the supplies those ships carried to his own army. The first of Washington's small naval raiders was the schooner Hannah out of Beverly, Massachusetts. That sturdy little fishing vessel, armed with but four guns positioned at hastily cut ports along her bulwarks, was leased to Washington's new Continental Army in September 1775 for $70 a month. The ships owner, Colonel John Glover, commanded a Marblehead unit in the army being assembled by Washington. After fitting out, another Marblehead man, Nicholas Broughton, was named captain, and officers were recruited from the local community. Finally, soldiers from Glover's unit were assigned as crew. It was a make-shift start of a naval effort, and the Hannah's initial deployment produced little material for Washington or, for that matter, prize money anticipated by her crew.

Despite the lack of quick success for the Hannah, Washington added to this inauspicious beginning, and before it was disbanded in 1777, his feeble fleet managed to capture approximately 35 prizes and provide at least some desperately needed ammunition and weapons to his army. The most noteworthy vessel taken by Washington's converted schooners was probably the merchant brig Nancy, capture [ left ] in November 1775 by Captain John Manley in the Lee. The Nancy's cargo added 2,000 muskets, 30 tons of musket shot, 30,000 rounds of cannon shot, 100,000 flints, a number of barrels of powder, 11 mortar beds, and a brass mortar to Washington's struggling army. Manley went on to become one of the Continental Navy's most effective captains.

By the beginning of 1776, it was clear a more significant naval effort needed to be mounted against the British, but the path toward an effective Continental Navy faced significant political obstacles. For one thing, there was no clear balance of public opinion favoring the Revolution, much less one favoring a national navy.
In 1775, when Washington took on the leadership of the Continental military, roughly half of the American population was loyalist. George Washington's mother and Benjamin Franklin's son were, for example, among many who vigorously opposed a war with Britain.
Historical notes.

Captain John Glover

Birth: Nov. 5, 1732, Marblehead, Essex County, Massachusetts.
Death: Jan. 30, 1797, was a Revolutionary War Continental Army Brigadier General.

In 1781, Nicholas Broughton of Marblehead, Mass., had been captured while serving on board a privateer and taken to England. Escaping from prison, Broughton had made his way to France where he had been advanced twelve guineas by Benjamin Franklin, "on account of the United States," to enable him to return to America, and, in 1771, John Glover was now a General and was given acting commander of Continental forces in Rhode Island.

On December 17, 1775, Captain John Manley (commander of the schooner Lee in Washington's navy) captured the sloop Betsey-bearing William Robinson, a member of the Virginia Convention from Princess Anne County, and several other prisoners taken by Lord Dunmore-while it was on its way to Boston with supplies for the British cavalry. William Bell Clark, George Washington's Navy.

John Adams wrote in 1813: "As it lies in my mind, Captain John Manley applied to General Washington, in Cambridge, in 1775, informed him that British transports and merchant ships were frequently passing and repassing unarmed, and asked leave to put a few guns on board a vessel to cruise for them. Washington, either shrinking from the boldness of the enterprise, or doubting his authority, prudently transmitted the information to Congress in a letter. When the letter was read, many members seemed much surprised; but a motion was made, and seconded, to commit it to a special committee. Opposition was made to this motion, and a debate ensued; but the motion prevailed by a small majority. The committee appointed were John Langdon, Silas Deane and John Adams. We met, and at once agreed to report a resolution, authorizing General Washington to fit and arm one or more vessels for the purpose. A most animated opposition and debate arose upon this report, but the resolution was carried by a small majority."

It was in 1776, that the brig Dispatch, which Bradford had purchased and fitted out in Massachusetts, was formerly the Little Hannah, which Capt. John Manley had captured in December 1775. The brig Dispatch that sailed under Capt. Peter Parker from Philadelphia in mid-July had been captured on July 22 by H.M.S. Orpheus cruising off Cape Henlopen. And again in 1776, Capt. John Manley had come to Philadelphia in a successful effort to help persuade Congress to reverse the decision of the maritime court of New Hampshire in the case of the brig Elizabeth, which had been captured by Manley and other Continental naval.

John Manley, son of Capt. John Manley (1734--;93), was appointed clerk to Benjamin Walker, commissioner for settling the accounts of the clothing, hospital, and marine departments, on August 22. 1786.


My thanks to Bud Shortridge, who did the Naval research, and I the Historical notes.

Bud Shortridge, has two Naval sites and if your looking for Naval history give him a try his sites are the following.



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