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April 19. Beginning of the American Revolution. The first shots of the war are fired in Massachusetts at the Battle of Lexington and Concord.
June 12. First naval action of the revolution. Citizens of Machias, Maine, led by Jeremiah O'Brien, board and capture the British armed schooner Margaretta, Midshipman James Moore, in Machias Bay.
June 15. First "official" naval action. Two armed vessels chartered by the government of Rhode Island, sailing under the command of Captain Abraham Whipple, capture a tender belonging to the British frigate Rose in Narragansett Bay.
August 26. The Rhode Island legislature instructs its delegates to the Continental Congress to propose the foundation of a continental navy. They do so on October 3.
September 2. Birth of "Washington's Navy." General George Washington, commanding the American forces at Boston, charters the Hannah a schooner of 78 tons, to attack British transports and supply ships. In the following months other ships are similarly engaged. Before the squadron is disbanded in 1777, it has included 11 vessels and taken 55 prizes, many containing provisions much needed byWashington's army.
October 13. Foundation of the Continental Navy. Acting on the Rhode Island proposal, Congress authorizes the outfitting of two vessels "of ten carriage guns ... for a cruise of three months" against British supply ships. A Naval Committee of three members-Silas Deane, Christopher Gadsden, and John Langdon-is appointed to supervise the work.
October 16. Attack on Falmouth. A British squadron of five vessels under Lieutenant Henry Mouatt shells Falmouth (present-day Portland), Maine. A landing party is repulsed, but much of the town is destroyed. American opinion is outraged.
October 30. Congress approves the outfitting of another two vessels and adds four members to the Naval Committee: John Adams, Joseph Hewes, Stephen Hopkins, and Richard Henry Lee.
November 2. First Continental Fleet. The Naval Committee is voted $100,000 to obtain and equip ships of war. It purchases and renames eight merchant vessels: the Alfred, 24 guns; Columbus, 18-20; Andrew Doria, 14; Cabot, 14; Providence, 12; Hornet, 10; Wasp, 8; and Fly, 8.
November 10. Foundation of the Continental Marines. A resolution providing for the organization of two battalions of "American Marines" is passed by Congress. The senior officer is Captain Samuel Nicholas, now considered first commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.
November 25. Privateering. Congress authorizes privateering against all vessels in British government service and urges the individual colonies to establish prize courts. In the course of the conflict, Congress will issue letters of marque to 1,697 vessels, which take 600 prizes-triple the captures made by ships of the Continental Navy.
November 28. Off Cape Anne, Massachusetts, Washington's Navy makes its most valuable capture when the schooner Lee, 4, Captain John Manly, takes the brig Nancy, whose cargo includes 2,000 stands of arms, a number of artillery pieces, and 30 tons of shot.
November 28. First naval regulations. Congress issues "Rules for the Regulation of the Navy of the United Colonies." They were written by John Adams.
December 3. At Philadelphia, Lieutenant John Paul Jones raises the Grand Union flag (having 13 stripes, with the British jack in the field) aboard the Alfred. This is the first time an American flag has been unfurled over a Continental warship.
December 11-14. A permanent Marine Committee, consisting of one member from each of the 13 colonies, is established by Congress "to devise ways and means for furnishing these colonies with a naval armament."
December 22. First naval construction. The Marine Committee submits a report, approved by Congress, calling for the construction of 13 frigates: five of 32 guns, five of 28, and three of 24. It is specified that four of these vessels will be built in Pennsylvania, two each in Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island, and one each in Connecticut, Maryland, and New Hampshire. Only seven will ever get to sea, and all will be lost during the war.
December 22. First officers are commissioned. Congress appoints the first eighteen officers of the Continental Navy The senior is Commodore Esek Hopkins, "commander in chief of the fleet." Below him are four captains: Dudley Saltonstall (Alfred); Abraham Whipple (Columbus); Nicholas Biddle (Andrew Doria); and the commodore's son John Burroughs Hopkins (Cabot). The list of five first lieutenants is headed by a 28-year-old Scotsman, John Paul Jones.
January 5. Commodore Hopkins is ordered by Congress to take the fleet to sea to clear the Chesapeake Bay and the coasts of Virginia and the Carolinas of British raiders.
February 17. First operation of the Continental Navy. In accordance with the above orders, Hopkins sails from the Delaware with a squadron consisting of the eight vessels purchased in November 1775. On the evening of February 19, the Hornet and the Fly lose contact with the squadron and go their separate ways. Hopkins takes advantage of a discretionary clause in his orders and instead of operating off the American coast, sets course for the Bahamas.
March 3. Capture of New Providence Island. Hopkins lands a force of 300 men under Captain Samuel Nicholas, Continental Marines, which, covered by the guns of the Providence and the Wasp, storms Forts Nassau and Montagu and occupies New Providence Island in the Bahamas. Some 73 cannons and mortars and a large quantity of munitions are captured and loaded aboard ship to be carried back to the Continental Army. This is the first amphibious operation involving American marines.
March 17. Hopkins's squadron sails from New Providence, bound for home.
March 17. The British evacuate Boston.
March 23. Congress authorizes privateering against all ships "belonging to any inhabitant or inhabitants of Great Britain," whether or not in government service.
April 4. First engagement with an enemy warship. On the voyage from the Bahamas, one of Hopkins's ships, the Columbus, 20, Captain Abraham Whipple, captures the British schooner Hawk, 6, Lieutenant Wallace, off Block Island, Rhode Island.
April 5. Hopkins's flagship, the Alfred, 24, captures the British brig Bolton, 8, Lieutenant Edward Sneyd.
April 6. Action with HMS Glasgow. Shortly past midnight, Hopkins's fleet encounters the British sloop-of-war Glasgow, 20, Captain Tryingham Howe, and her tender, which crowd on sail for Newport. The pursuit is not well managed. Her tender is taken, but the Glasgow escapes after disabling the Cabot. American losses are 10 men killed and 14 wounded; British, 1 killed and 3 wounded.
April 7. The Continental brig Lexington, 16, Captain John Barry, captures the British sloop Edward, 6, Lieutenant Boucher, after an hour's action off the Virginia Capes.
April 8. Hopkins's squadron arrives at New London, Connecticut. It never again sails as a unit, for the profits of privateering lure seamen from the navy, and Hopkins is unable to keep his crews up to strength. All that he can do is send out single ships to attack enemy commerce.
May 10. John Paul Jones receives his first independent command, the sloop Providence, 12.
May 16. Cruise of the Andrew Doria. The Continental brig Andrew Doria, 14, Captain Nicholas Biddle, is ordered to sea. During a cruise of four months between the Delaware Capes and Maine, she takes 10 prizes, including two British transports with 400 men embarked.
June 28. Unsuccessful attack on Charleston. A British fleet of 10 ships commanded by Admiral Sir Peter Parker with 30 transports carrying 2,500 troops under General Sir Henry Clinton is driven off by the earthwork fortifications on Sullivan's Island, defending Charleston, South Carolina. Parker's flagship, HMS Bristol, is hulled 70 times. Two years will pass before the British undertake another operation in the South.
June 29. Beginning of the campaign for New York. Following the British evacuation of Boston, Washington began concentrating his forces at New York, where he arrived in April, correctly anticipating that the city was the most likely site for a British landing. On this day a fleet commanded by Admiral Richard Howe and the transports of an invasion force under his brother, Major General Sir William Howe, more than 100 sail altogether, anchor in New York harbor. They are soon joined by the expedition that has been repulsed at Charleston. The strategic problem Washington faces is insoluble: how to defend Long Island and Manhattan Island when the British can use their command of the sea to land troops wherever they please.
July 4. Congress issues the Declaration of Independence. Henceforth the colonies are fighting, not to improve their status within the British Empire, but to withdraw from it.
July 27. Reprisal vs. Shark. The Continental brig Reprisal, 18, Captain Lambert Wickes, is detailed to carry a colonial commercial and naval agent, William Bingham, to Martinique. En route, three prizes are captured and manned. At the entrance to the harbor of St. Pierre, the Reprisal is challenged by the British sloop-of-war Shark, 16, Captain Chapman. Although shorthanded, the Reprisal shows such fight the Shark soon withdraws.
August 8. John Paul Jones is promoted to the rank of captain in the Continental Navy.
August 21-October 8. Cruise of the Providence. On her first war cruise under the command of John Paul Jones, the Continental sloop Providence, 12, captures 16 prizes between the Delaware Capes and Nova Scotia, narrowly escaping the British frigate Solebay, 28, by Jones's superb shiphandling.
August 27. Battle of Long Island. At New York, General Howe lands 20,000 men who turn the flank of the American defenders.
August 29-30. Washington evacuates Long Island.
September 5. The first uniforms are prescribed for the navy and marine corps.
September 7. First submarine operation. At New York a 34-year-old Yale graduate, David Bushnell, has built a one-man submarine, the American Turtle. Propulsion is by means of a screw on a hand-crank. On this evening Sergeant Ezra Lee of the Continental Army takes the Turtle out to attack HMS Eagle, 64, off Staten Island. His plan is to bore a hold in her hull and attach a time-bomb. Unfortunately, his drill is unable to penetrate the ship's copper sheathing.
September 12. Washington concludes that he must evacuate New York.
September 16. Battle of Harlem Heights. Washington checks Howe's pursuit, but is forced to fall back when the British advance up the East River.
October 3. Congress authorizes a frigate and two cutters to be procured in Europe.
October 11-13. Battle of Valcour Island. In 1775 American forces under General Philip Schuyler and (later) Richard Montgomery invaded Canada via the avenue through the wilderness formed by almost uninterrupted waterway (the Hudson River, Lake George, Lake Champlain, the Richelieu River) from New York to Montreal. Defeated before the gates of Quebec on December 31, 1775, they held Montreal until the summer of 1776, when the arrival of 8,000 British reinforcements enabled the Governor General of Canada, Major General Sir Guy Carleton, to launch a counteroffensive south along the same route. At Lake Champlain, Brigadier General Benedict Arnold (not yet turned traitor) began a furious ship-building program to dispute command of the lake. Carleton, dependent on water-borne supplies, was compelled to halt and build a fleet of his own. This consumed the remainder of the summer and most of the fall. By the time the British are ready to fight they have achieved a marked superiority, and Arnold's force, consisting of the sloop Enterprise, 12; the schooners Royal Savage, 12, Liberty, 8, Revenge, 8; eight gundalows; and five galleys, is destroyed in a running battle on October 11-13. The season is so far advanced, however, that Carleton falls back to Canada to go into winter quarters, postponing the continuation of the offensive until the following spring. The delay is decisive. When a British army under Major General John Burgoyne pushes south in 1777, it is captured at the Battle of Saratoga, prompting France to enter the war on the American side. Although tactically a defeat, strategically Valcour Island is by far the greatest victory won by American naval forces during the War of the Revolution.
October 16. Commodore Hopkins is censured by Congress for having departed from his instructions in failing to clear the American coast of raiders during his cruise earlier in the year.
November 1-December 18. Cruise of the Alfred and the Providence. The Continental sloop-of-war Alfred, 24, Captain John Paul Jones, and Providence, 12, Captain Hoysted Hacker, sail from Providence, Rhode Island, with orders from Commodore Hopkins to raid British shipping off Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The Providence develops leaks and turns back on November 13. Jones continues the cruise in the Alfred, taking or destroying nine ships. One of his prizes, the John, 10, is recaptured during a brush with the British frigate Milford, 28, Captain John Burr, on December 8-9.
November 15. Congress establishes a new pay scale for naval officers and relative ranks for officers of the army and navy.
November 16. First salute to the flag. Entering port at St. Eustatius, Dutch West Indies, to purchase supplies for the Continental Army; the brig Andrew Doria, 14, Captain Isaiah Robinson, exchanges salutes with the shore fortifications. Subsequently, the British government protests so strongly that the Dutch dismiss the governor of the port and disavow the salute.
November 20. Congress authorizes the construction of three 74-gun ships of the line, five frigates of 36 guns, and two smaller vessels. Of the ships of the line only the America, and of the frigates, only the Alliance will be completed.
November 29. First Continental ship in European waters. The brig Reprisal, 18, Captain Lambert Wickes, enters Quiberon Bay, France, carrying three diplomatic commissioners-Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee-sent by the Continental Congress to treat with the French government.
December (late). Andrew Doria vs. Racehorse. Returning from St. Eustatius, the Continental brig Andrew Doria, 14, Captain Isaiah Robinson, captures the British sloop Racehorse, 12, Lieutenant James Jones, in a hard-fought action lasting two hours off the west coast of Puerto Rico.
December 20. Adventures of the Lexington. The Continental brig Lexington, 16, Captain William Hallock, is captured by the frigate Pearle, 32, while returning from the West Indies with a cargo of military stores. That evening the Lexington's company overpower the British prize crew and sail on to Baltimore. Among the leaders in the recapture of the vessel is Master's Mate Richard Dale, later John Paul Jones's executive officer in the Bonhomme Richard.
January 15(?)-February 14. Cruise of the Reprisal. The Continental brig Reprisal, 18, Captain Lambert Wickes, takes five prizes off the Atlantic coasts of France and Spain.
January 23. Congress approves the construction of two more frigates, one of 36 guns and one of 28.
February 7. The British government authorizes privateering against the United States.
March 3. Loss of the Cabot. The Continental brig Cabot, 14, Captain Joseph Olney, runs aground and is captured by the British frigate Milford, 28, Captain John Burr, during an engagement off the coast of Nova Scotia. The Cabot's crew escape ashore, seize a schooner and sail home.
April 19. Congress establishes a Navy Board of the Eastern Department at Boston to supervise "all naval and maritime affairs" in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island under the direction of the Marine Committee. The activities and initiative of this board, composed of James Warren, William Vernon, and James Deshon, make a major contribution to the Continental war effort.
Excerpted from AMERICAN NAVAL HISTORY by Jack Sweetman Copyright © 2002 by Jack Sweetman
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.