When Americans took up arms in the spring of 1775, for many their intent was not separation but rather preservation of their rights as subjects of the king. By that fall, though, throughout the colonies revolutionary sentiment had taken hold and royal governors had been forced from office. Even so, there was a portion of the population that sought to maintain ties with the monarchy. The Continental Congress, though they had raised an army and formed a committee to negotiate with foreign nations, still held members who reflected that emotion.
There was, however, a small group that recognized early on that as long as Britannia ruled the waves, the new nation’s coastal cities were in peril, trade was impossible and the prospect of securing arms from abroad was bleak. For months the faction advocated without success that the Congress authorize a Navy. Their arguments were met with skepticism that it was foolishness to take on such a mighty fleet. The most that pro-naval forces could do was to urge each colony to outfit ships to safeguard their own shores.
Then on Oct. 5, 1776, Congress learned that two unarmed English vessels, loaded with munitions and traveling without convoy, were enroute to Quebec. A committee was appointed to decide how to take advantage of this much needed windfall. New England states were encouraged to send out interceptors while representatives outlined a plan to equip two ships. Before either could take any constructive action, on Oct. 13 a letter arrived from Gen. George Washington and was read to Congress. In it the commander in chief reported that he had taken, by his own authority, three schooners and ordered them to seek out and seize any supply ships they might meet.
In short order a resolution was introduced and approved to provide for two “swift sailing vessels, to carry 10 carriage guns, and a proportionable number of swivels, with 80 men, to be fitted, with all possible dispatch, for a cruise of three months, and that the commander be instructed to cruise eastward, for intercepting such transports as may be laden with warlike stores, and other supplies for our enemies, and for such other purposes as the Congress shall direct.” This short passage created what would truly become the most powerful Navy the world has ever known.
During the Revolutionary War, the fledgling Navy took nearly 200 British vessels, carried diplomats to Europe and returned with vital armaments. The Continental Navy, which sent to sea 50 armed vessels, forced the English to divert resources to protecting convoys and trade routes. Their activities instigated diplomatic difficulties and, thus, recognition and support from France. In no small part naval power changed the course of the war, and history.
The Naval Order of the United States, Charleston Commandery, offers our congratulations to all of those who, through military and merchant sea service, have made America the great nation it is.
Our economy and our influence around the world are contingent upon our ability to project our presence. That will only be possible if today’s Congress remembers a lesson it should have learned 238 years ago.
Popperdam Creek Drive
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