THE FIRST AMERICAN FLEET
The first naval committee bought and fitted out two 24-gun frigates, the Alfred and the
Columbus, and two brigs, the Andrea Doria and the Cabot, and supplied them with powder and muskets
borrowed from the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety. On December 22, 1775, Congress organized the first" American fleet" by
granting commissions to Esek Hopkins, commander-in- chief of the fleet; Dudley
Saltonstall, captain of the Alfred Abraham Whipple, captain of the Columbusj Nicholas Biddle, captain of the
Andrea Doria and John Burroughs Hopkins, captain of the Cabot. John Paul Jones
headed a list of five first lieutenants commissioned at the same time.
By the end of January, 1776, the committee had added to this fleet the sloops Providence and Hornet and the schooners Wasp and Fly. For these first eight vessels of the navy the committee had spent $134,333. With this tiny force, the commander-in-chief was ordered to proceed directly to Chesapeake Bay to attack the British
.fleet of Lord Dunmore; then, if successful, he was to proceed to the Carolinas and attack the British force there, and thence he was to sail to Rhode Island and" attack, take, and destroy all the enemy's naval force that you may find there." This was the gigantic task of a fleet of eight vessels 'carrying 110 guns, and manned by landsmen or, at least, men without naval
discipline. To oppose this force, the British had in American waters, or on the way hither,
seventy-eight men-of-war mounting 2078 guns. In Commodore Hopkins' fleet, only forty
guns threw shot of nine pounds or more in weight, while the seventy-eight British ships on this coast had at least 500
I8-pounders and heavier guns. The orders of the Marine Committee to the commander-in-chief of the navy, Esek Hopkins, were therefore foredoomed to failure.
Perhaps Commodore Hopkins himself foresaw the futility of trying to adhere too strictly to his orders, for, instead or' going to Chesapeake Bay, he proceeded to Nassau in the Bahamas, which he captured. After taking a large quantity of shot and shell, besides some eight cannon, fifteen mortars, and other munitions of war, he sailed northward with the Governor and Lieutenant- Governor as prisoners. As he neared' his
Rhode Island, he came upon his Majesty's ship
of 20 guns, Captain Tyringham Howe, which single- handed, inflicted considerable damage on Hopkins' fleet, and made good its escape. The loss of the British was four men; that of the Americans, twenty-four, among the latter two lieutenants.
This injury inflicted upon a fleet by a single vessel which escaped showed little tactical skill on the part of the officers of the American fleet. As Commodore Hopkins had, besides, disobeyed his orders, he was court-martialed and finally dismissed.
Commodore Hopkins was the only man to hold the
rank" commander-in-chief of the navy." This title was later merged in that of the President 01: the United States. During the rest of the Revolutionary War, the only
commissioned officers in the navy were captains and lieu- tenants; but Congress, evidently providing for the future, fixed the relative ranks of army and navy officers' as follows: admiral equivalent to general, vice-admiral
equivalent to lieutenant-general, rear-admiral to major-general, commodore to brigadier-general, captain of a ship of forty guns and upwards to colonel, captain of a ship of