Continental Navy

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Overview of the Continental Navy
Washington's Navy: April 1775-March 1776
War at Sea: John Paul Jones at Flamborough Head
Naval Force on Lake Champlain, 1776
Yorktown and the Battle of the Capes


Washington's Navy: April 1775-March 1776

In April 1775, following the opening salvos of the Revolution at Lexington and Concord, the American militia effectively trapped the British army in Boston. Throughout the summer, additional detachments of American militia arrived in Boston to bolster the siege lines. The only land approach to Boston,
A view of Boston. From the collections of The Mariners' Museum.
a narrow neck connecting the city to the mainland, prevented the Americans from launching an attack to drive the British away. On June 16, 1775, the British attempted to break the American defensive line by attacking the militia's fortified positions at Breed's Hill. The defeat of the British in this assault, recorded as the Battle of Bunker Hill, demonstrated the inability of the British to break the American siege. Though neither side could gain ground in land battle, time favored the British. Thanks to the Royal Navy and its command of the sea, the British army could be supplied and reinforced at will, thus holding the city indefinitely. The Americans, on the other hand, soon found themselves without the food or ammunition necessary to hold their positions.

George Washington appreciated the limitations placed on his tactical options by local geography and severe shortages in military equipment.
George Washington. From the collections of The Mariners' Museum.
With few field guns and scant gunpowder, Washington appealed to the Continental Congress for supplies. The new nation, with its empty coffers and lack of military structure, did not have the means to resupply Washington's army. In an attempt to remedy the shortage, Washington chartered the fishing schooner Hannah to raid British shipping of valuable military supplies. Though Washington had no intention of establishing an American navy, the Hannah became the first of eleven vessels chartered to aid the revolutionary cause. Over the six months of the American siege of Boston, "Washington's Navy" captured some fifty-five prizes, provided much-needed supplies to the troops, and boosted the efforts of naval-minded members of Congress who sought to create a national naval force.

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War at Sea: John Paul Jones at Flamborough Head

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