Introduction

The beginnings of the U.S. Navy were marked by uncertainty and experimentation. After the colonies won their independence from Britain in 1783, the Continental Navy was disbanded, and all remaining ships were sold or broken up. Indeed, from that day until 1794, the fledgling republic had no naval force at all.

From the collections of The Mariners' Museum.
Many Americans considered a navy a wasteful luxury that the young republic did not need and could not afford. After all, Europe was three thousand miles away--a fact that gave Americans a false sense of security. To many others, a navy represented the type of imperialism they had just fought to overthrow. A permanent naval force also seemed to represent the very qualities of British aristocracy that Americans found so distasteful.

Yet America's future rested on the seas. Even when the colonies were part of the British Empire, Americans were tied to the maritime world in one way or another. Whether one was a shipowner or a small merchant, a resident of New England or the agrarian South, American trade and commerce increasingly rested on the seas.
From the collections of The Mariners' Museum.
While most Americans in the late eighteenth century were still subsistence farmers, more and more of them were becoming tied to commerce and therefore to the maritime trade. In order to protect that trade, as well as enforce American diplomatic demands, the young nation discovered that it needed a navy that was more than merely a coastal defense force. Between 1794 and the conclusion of the War of 1812, the U.S. Navy would not only become a permanent entity, but also create heroes and traditions that would bring all Americans a sense of security and pride.

Continue to:
Pre-Revolutionary American Maritime Commerce

Copyright © 2000 The Mariners' Museum. All Rights Reserved.