The Beginning of the U.S. Navy with the Continental Congress

On this day in 1775, the Continental Congress names Esek Hopkins, Esq., as commander in chief over the fledgling fleet of what would become the mighty US Navy. Whilst authorizations and resolutions creating the Continental Navy had begun that past August, December 22 marked the date captains received their commands; Dudley Saltonstall, Abraham Whipple, Nicholas Biddle and John Burrows Hopkins were so chosen to skipper their respective vessels, the Alfred, Columbus, Andrew Doria and Cabot.

Five first lieutenants, including future American hero John Paul Jones, five second lieutenants, and three third lieutenants also received their commissions. Hopkins soon led the first major naval action of the Continental Navy in early March 1776 with this small fleet, complemented by the schooners Providence, Wasp, and Hornet. The battle occurred at Nassau, Bahamas where stores of much-needed munitions were seized for the use by the Continental Army.

In the aggregate, the Continental Navy comprised an amalgam of about 60 ships and made an impressive showing. John Paul Jones had spectacular success in British home waters with his daring raid on Whitehaven in 1778, and in addition to cruising against enemy merchantmen and British blockaders, the Continental vessels were required to make many voyages carrying diplomatic representatives and essential cargo.

At the time of the Navy’s birth, Congress also authorized the building of thirteen frigates within the next three months: five ships of 32 guns, five with 28 guns, and three with 24 guns. Although far out-manned and out-gunned by the Royal Navy, this fleet did serve to highlight noteworthy examples of steely Continental resolve, launching Captain John Barry and the aforementioned Jones into the limelight. This young line provided vital experience for a generation of officers who went on to command further engagements with Brits, Pirates and others for the nascent American Navy.

So then, at this yuletide, wish the nearest sailor fair winds and following seas as we all thank them for their particular and tireless observance of their oath to our dauntless Republic.

Anchors Aweigh.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.

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