Today in History: Continental Congress Commits to a Navy in 1775

October 30th, 2013

Faced with the task of defeating the world’s most powerful Navy, the Continental Congress took measures to adopt a full-scale naval program on October 30, 1775. While October 13 is recognized as the Navy’s official birthday, commemorating the first two vessels Congress authorized, it was not until October 30 that the Continental Congress voted on the creation of an organized fleet.

On October 30, the Continental Congress made great strides in the development of a naval force. First, they voted to double the number of warships authorized on the 13th (from two to four). Secondly, and more importantly to the future of the Navy, they voted to appoint a seven-person committee to oversee the management of the fleet, which was Congress’ first indication that they were “fully committed to the policy of maintaining a naval armament,” according to historian Gardner Allen.

The naval committee would include some of the most influential members of the Continental Congress, including John Adams and Richard Henry Lee. By December, the committee had appointed Esek Hopkins as the first commander in chief of the Continental Navy, and the fleet began operations. At the height of the Revolutionary War, the fleet was composed of more than 40 armed ships, and won several key victories against the British Navy.

The formal creation of the United States Navy took place in April 1798 when the federal Department of the Navy was established.

Learn about one of the original six frigates of the United States Navy, the USS Constitution, with Oliver Wendell Holmes’ 1830 poem, “Old Ironsides.” What reasons does Holmes give for preserving the ship? Why is the USS Constitution, in particular, deserving of special honors? Does she hold a unique place in American memory? 

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