George Washington's Secret Navy: How the American Revolution Went to Sea

Overview

"James Nelson is not the first historian to reveal this little-known albeit incredibly important aspect of our Revolution, but no one has done it more thoroughly or with greater literary grace."
—William M. Fowler, author of Empires at War

In July 1775, in his first inspection of the American encampment on the outskirts of Boston, the Continental Army's newly arrived commander-in-chief noted its haphazard design and shabby construction—clearly the work of men unprepared to face ...

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George Washington's Secret Navy: How the American Revolution Went to Sea

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Overview

"James Nelson is not the first historian to reveal this little-known albeit incredibly important aspect of our Revolution, but no one has done it more thoroughly or with greater literary grace."
—William M. Fowler, author of Empires at War

In July 1775, in his first inspection of the American encampment on the outskirts of Boston, the Continental Army's newly arrived commander-in-chief noted its haphazard design and shabby construction—clearly the work of men unprepared to face the world's most powerful fighting force. George Washington had inherited not only an army of woefully untrained and ill-equipped soldiers, but a daunting military prospect as well. To the east he could see the enemy's heavily fortified positions on Bunker Hill and a formidable naval presence on the river beyond. British-occupied Boston was defended by impressive redoubts that would easily repel any American assault, and Boston Harbor bristled with the masts of merchant ships delivering food, clothing, arms, ammunition, and other necessities to the British. Washington knew that the king's troops had all the arms and gunpowder they could want, whereas his own army lacked enough powder for even one hour of major combat. The Americans were in danger of losing a war before it had truly begun.

Despite his complete lack of naval experience, Washington recognized that harassing British merchant ships was his only means of carrying the fight to the enemy and sustaining an otherwise unsustainable stalemate. But he also knew that many in Congress still hoped for reconciliation with England, and in that climate Congressional approval for naval action was out of the question. So, without notifying Congress and with no real authority to do so, the general began arming small merchant schooners and sending them to sea to hunt down British transports “in the Service of the ministerial Army.”

In George Washington's Secret Navy, award-winning author James L. Nelson tells the fascinating tale of how America's first commander-in-chief launched America's first navy. Nelson introduces us to another side of a general known for his unprecedented respect for civilian authority. Here we meet a man whose singular act of independence helped keep the Revolution alive in 1775.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

In focusing on an event that otherwise would have remained a footnote in the history of the American Revolution, Nelson (Benedict Arnold's Navy) brings to light an intriguing part of this country's fight for independence. Told in readable narrative style, this is the story of the confusing period following the Battle of Bunker Hill, when the question of independence was as yet undecided by the Continental Congress even as a band of over 10,000 armed but untrained men besieged the British in Boston. Congress had an army but would not agree to create a navy-a fact George Washington knew and took great pains to circumvent. He kept secret his having sent out armed merchant vessels with orders to prevent the British from being reprovisioned in Boston and the surrounding areas. Nelson recounts the struggle over Noodle Island and the valiant patriots at Machias, ME, both places blockaded to prevent the British from accessing timber there. His authorial voice puts the reader on the scene and offers a worthy addition to our understanding of the early phases of the Revolution, when Britain ruled the seas and George Washington sought to challenge its dominance. Recommended.
—David Lee Poremba

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780071493895
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
  • Publication date: 4/21/2008
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 605,741
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

James L. Nelson is the author of Benedict Arnold’s Navy, as well as several novels that take place during the age of the sailing navies. His first book of nonfiction was Reign of Iron: The Story of the First Battling Ironclads.

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Table of Contents


Prologue: A Very Delightful Country     ix
The British Command     1
The Greatest Events... in the Present Age     10
Noddles Island     17
Machias Sons of Liberty     26
"The amiable, generous and Brave George Washington, Esquire"     37
New Lords, New Laws     46
"We Have the Utmost Reason to Expect Any Attack"     53
The Congressional Navy Cabal     62
"Our Weakness & the Enemy's Strength at Sea"     76
George Washington's Secret Navy     85
Hannah Puts to Sea     93
Dolphin and Industry     101
Building and Equipping an American Fleet     110
Marblehead Boats at Beverly     119
"Not a Moment of Time be lost"     126
The Empire Strikes Back     136
Hancock and Franklin     148
Congress Pays a Visit     156
"For Gods Sake hurry off the Vessels"     168
Lee's Autumn Cruise     177
"The blundering Captn Coit"     186
Convoys and Cruisers     198
"Hard gales and Squally"     207
"[U]niversal joy ran through the whole"     216
"His people are contentd"     227
"And aPrivateering we will go, my Boys"     235
A New Army     244
A New Year     256
A New Fleet     268
Commodore of the Fleet     280
"[A] Stroke well aim'd"     290
"It is with the greatest pleasure I inform you"     301
Epilogue: Washington Rides South     313
Acknowledgments     331
Endnotes     333
Bibliography     368
Index     375
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