THE NAVY IN THE REVOLUTION
CAUSES OF NAVAL ACTIVITY IN THE COLONIES
THE Revolution, like most of
the wars in which
America has been engaged, was one in which the army did the greater part of the fighting, but also one in which sea power was a deciding factor. Great Britain had the most powerful navy of the time, against which no force in open battle could have escaped defeat. But she fought at a disadvantage against an enemy 3000 miles distant, easily hidden in the countless harbors and inlets of an
extensive coast line. The colonists, on the other hand, were of the same stock as the English, even better inured to hardship, and ready to take desperate chances as they
attacked merchantmen or isolated units of the Royal Navy. As the Continental Army seemed to spring out of the soil, so the navy seemed to spring out of the sea.
When, on June 12,1775, a party of Maine Woodsmen, armed, for the most part, with pitchforks and axes, and fired by the news of the battle of Lexington, captured with a lumber
sloop an armed British. schooner off Machias, Me., 0 'Brien, their leader, quickly armed his sloop with the
captured, cannon and ammunition,
and put to
sea in quest of prizes. Without a commission, letter of marque, or legal authority of any sort, this free- booter captured several prizes and sent them to Machias. 0 'Brien's example was quickly followed by others. Our
coasts soon swarmed with the privateers of New England, and those of Massachusetts were particularly successful. The daring and success of these privateers so angered Admiral Graves, the commander of the British fleet on the coast, that he reduced to ashes the town of Falmouth (now Portland), Me., thus leaving the inhabitants shelter- less at the beginning of the bleak New England winter. Smarting already under the wrongs that precipitated the.
war, the hardy coast dwellers of the new world, whose rights to fisheries and navigation had been curtailed by shortsighted acts of Parliament, hardly needed this act of Admiral Graves to spur them to building ships of war.
Other causes contributed to the beginning of a naval force along the Atlantic coast. The colonists, from their origin and environment, were
naturally seafarers. Some of the New England Colonies even before the Revolution had made remarkable progress in ship-building, fishing, and commerce; they were thus
not unprepared to furnish vessels and daring sailors. Then, too, the country, being new and largely agricultural, needed manufactured articles, clothing, and munitions of war; and these things had to be either captured from the enemy, or brought from European countries, at the risk of seizure by British men-of-war. In order to capture from English supply ships designed for Boston articles much needed by his troops, Washington, in the fall of 1775, fitted out several small vessels, manned by soldiers, under the command of army officers. Washington had the entire management of this fleet. One of these ships, the Lee, whose
mission, as well as that of her captain, John 'Manly, was signed by Washington, captured the Nancy, , , an
ordanance ship. . . containing, besides a large mortar upon a new construction, several pieces of brass cannon,
a large quantity of small arms and ammunition, with all manner of tools, utensils, and machines necessary for
camps and artillery, in the greatest abundance. The loss of this ship was much resented in England.
" Altogether Washington's fleet captured about thirty-five prizes.
Thus not only the bitter feelings of resentment against tyranny, coupled in numerous instances with motives of personal gains from prize money, but also the needs of
The Continental Army quickly gave birth to a heterogeneous collection of ships. This was composed partly o'C privateers, partly of vessels owned and commissioned by individual Coloniesj and partly of vessels commissioned by Congress.
THE MARINE COMMITTEE