The U.S. Navy traces its roots back to the privateers that were employed to attack British commerce in the early days of the revolution. On October 13, 1775, the Continental Congress established a naval force, hoping that a small fleet would be able to offset the uncontested exercise of British sea power.
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The early Continental navy was not expected to take on the British navy for control of the seas. This small naval force was designed to work with privateers to wage tactical raids against the transports that supplied British forces in North America. To accomplish this mission the Continental Congress purchased, converted, and constructed a fleet of small ships–frigates, brigs, sloops, and schooners. These navy ships sailed independently or in pairs hunting British commerce ships and transports like prey, avoiding whenever possible fights with Royal Navy men-of-war.
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The Continental navy faced several obstacles both during and after the revolution – mostly political and economic. Two years after the end of the war, the money-poor Congress sold off the last ship of the Continental navy, the frigate Alliance.
In the 1790’s Europe began to relax many mercantile commercial restrictions and the U.S. trade and the shipping industry expanded accordingly. However, as the number of U.S. ships increased so did the possibility increased attacks by the European powers and pirates. In March 1794 Congress responded by calling for the construction of a half-dozen frigates. And, once again, the United States had a navy.
Although the Continental navy was later dismantled, October 13, 1775 remains the U.S. Navy’s official birthday.
From these humble beginnings, the world’s most powerful naval force was born. With thousands of ships and aircraft serving worldwide, the U.S. Navy is a force to be reckoned with. To learn more about the early years of the U.S. Navy, visit the U.S. Naval Historical Center website.