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The best written, and we think by far the most interesting, view of our navy which has yet appeared (for we consider the “Naval Temples" and other works of that description as altogether unworthy of notice) is to be found in the "Analectic Magazine” for the years 1815 and 1816; during which period it assumed the additional cognomen of a “Naval Chronicle." These articles are evidently from the pen of an able and experienced writer. His examination of a “Synopsis of naval actions by a British officer on the American station," is an exquisite specimen of intermingled reasoning and sarcasm. In the style of these articles, we think we can discover a writer not unknown to fame, and even if general rumour had not designated the individual-we think we should have recognized in the style and peculiar spirit which animates the whole of the “Chronicle," the well-known author of “ John Bull and Brother Jonathan."
With these preliminary remarks, we proceed directly to the task we have imposed upon ourselves in this article (freely availing ourselves of the work of Mr. Goldsborough) of giving a sketch, a very summary one it must necessarily be, of the Naval History of the United States, to which we propose to add a brief view of the present condition and future prospects of this important establishment. Remote as we are from the seat of the Federal Government, and kept in comparative ignorance of the condition of our great national establishments, we presume that most of our readers would derive information, and perhaps amusement from a mere detail of historical and statistical facts on this interesting subject. But we hope to impart an additional interest to our pages, by a few speculations, in which, in conclusion, we propose to indulge.
We should suppose, reasoning a priori, that the Americans, descended from the greatest commercial nation in the world bringing with them all the propensities of a commercial people, and extensively engaged themselves, almost from the first moment of their settlement, in commercial pursuits—would, in imitation of the mother country, as well as from obvious considerations of policy, have seized the earliest opportunity of laying the foundation of a navy, to which they had been accustomed to look, as the only safeguard of commerce, and for the creation of which their country afforded such admirable materials. Why this was not the case, can only be accounted for from the pervading sense of the immense power of the British navy, against the permanent supremacy of which, it was considered altogether hopeless to struggle. Though the framers of the Constitution confided to the Federal Government the power “to provide and
maintain a navy,” yet there is nothing in the history of the times to induce a belief, that it was in their contemplation, that measures should be immediately taken to create one-certain is that no such measures were adopted, or even proposed; and, on a careful examination, we think it will be found, that until the year 1811, the policy of laying the deep and broad foundation of such an establishment was never decisively adopted by the United States. In taking a retrospect of the history of the country during the Revolution, and for a considerable time afterwards, we are forcibly struck by the fact, that no attempt was made to call forth its naval resources, except for temporary purposes; and then only under the pressure of great emergencies. As the most pressing exigencies could alone rouse the country to the employment of naval means, so when these past away, our vessels of war were suffered to rot, and we relapsed into a state of total indifference on the subject. In fact if the people of the United States had actually set out with the belief that a navy was in all respects useless, we aver that just such a course must have been, as actually was pursued, in relation to “this right arm of the national defence.”
It will be found on examination, that for a great many years, nothing was ever voluntarily done for the navy. That the navy has, in fact, done every thing for itself, and may almost be said
to have been its own architect." The first measure adopted during the war of the Revolution, for awakening the naval spirit of the country was the employment of two small vessels, one of 10 and the other of 14 guns, for the purpose of intercepting certain transports laden with munitions of war, and bound either to Canada or Boston. For the purpose of carrying this object into effect, a committee of three members of Congress, consisting of Messrs. Dean, Langdon, and Gadsden, were appointed in October, 1775. To this committee, subsequently enlarged to thirteen, was committed the general superintendence and direction of the navy. Soon after this, it was resolved by Congress to build thirteen vessels, principally for the purpose of destroying the merchant ships of the enemy engaged in bringing supplies to their fleets and armies. From this period to the end of the war, the administration of the navy department underwent frequent changes. In November, 1776, “three persons, well skilled in maritime affairs," were appointed to execute the business of the navy, under the direction of the marine committee. This system continued till October, 1779, when Congress established a “Board of Admiralty,” consisting of three commissioners, not members of Congress, and two members of Congress. In 1781, "an agent of marine" was appointed, with full authoVOL. II.-NO. 4.
rity “to direct, fit out, equip, and employ the ships and vessels of war of the United States, under such instructions as he should from time to time receive from Congress.” On the 6th of September of the same year, the duties prescribed to the agent of marine were devolved on Robert Morris, superintendent of finance, who, it is stated by Mr. Goldsborough, “appears to have had the chief agency in the civil administration of the navy during the greater part of the Revolution.” The largest vessels of war put into commission during the Revolution, were frigates of the second class. One ship to be called the America, and rated at 74 guns (though subsequently ordered to be armed with 56) was indeed built; but she was not completed till 1781, when John Paul Jones was elected by Congress to command her; she was never, however, put into commission, being on the 3d of September, 1782, presented to his Most Christian Majesty "in testimony of the sense entertained by Congress of his generous exertions in behalf of the United States, and to replace the Magnifique of 74 guns, lost in the harbour of Boston."
The greatest number of vessels at any one time, in the service of Congress during the Revolution (exclusive of gallies and cutters) was twenty-five (employed in the year 1776) of which there were five frigates of 32 guns, twelve vessels of from 24 to 28 guns, and eight mounting from 10 to 16 guns. And though several additional vessels were subsequently built, yet at no period during the war was its strength increased, its losses exceeding the inconsiderable additions made to it from time to time. The following is a list of the Captains appointed to command these vessels according to the rank assigned to them under the resolution of Congress of April, 1776, viz :-John Hopkins, Samuel Tomkins, Charles Miller, Nicholas Biddle, John Barry, Thomas Read, Charles Alexander, and James Nicolson.* The primary object to which the naval force was devoted was to intercept transports laden with supplies for the British army-which, besides depriving the enemy of their resources, was of vast importance to the colonies in furnishing them with arms, ammunition and clothing, of which they were nearly destitute. At a later period the naval force seems to , have acted in conjunction with the numerous privateers which issued from every port against the commerce of the enemy, and with such decided effect, that it has been estimated that the number of captures in the course of the war amounted to 803, of which there were re-taken or lost 153, leaving a gain to the United States of 650, the value of which is estimated at eleven millions of dollars. We agree with our author that this estimate must
* Journals of Congress, vol. ii. p. 208.
be considered as greatly below the real value, when we find it stated in the British publications of that day, that the number of English vessels employed in the West-India trade alone, captured by American cruisers up to February, 1777, amounted to 251), which, with their cargoes, were valued at ten millions dollars. We have, indeed, authentic lists of upwards of 800 vessels captured during the years 1776 and 1777. It is also stated by Gordon, that of the 200 ships employed by the English in the African trade at the commencement of the war, valued at eight millions of dollars, only 40 remained at the close of the year 1777.*
The first, indeed the only maritime expedition undertaken against the enemies territories by an American fleet during the war, took place in December, 1775, when a small squadron, consisting of the Alfred and Columbus, each of 28 guns, the Andrew Doria of 14, the Sebastian Cabot of 16, and four smaller vessels, all under the command of Commodore Ezekiel Hopkins, sailed on an expedition against New-Providence, for the purpose of seizing and transporting to the colonies, a large quantity of ammunition, which it was understood was deposited in the royal magazines on that island. From some unaccountable delay after landing, the powder was removed, and we are informed that the governor and the lieutenant-governor, with about forty cannon, a quantity of shot and shells, and a few brass ni rtars were the only trophies of the expedition.” Congress were so much dissatisfied with the conduct of Commodore Hop
kins on this occasion, that they passed a vote of censure upon : him, and in arranging the rank of officers in October following,
omitted his name entirely. It is impossible for us to give even an outline of the operations of the navy during the Revolution. Mr. Goldsborough, with all the advantages derived from his connexion with the navy department, and his daily intercourse while the oldest naval officers in the country, is constrained to ack owledge that he can furnish no particular information on the subject. He states "that he has consulted in vain, all the books and papers in his possession, and no where could be find materials to justify his undertaking any thing like a connected series of events.” It certainly belongs not to us therefore to make the attempt. We cannot quit this branch of the subject however, without remarking that enough has been preserved in the histories of the Revolution, in the public journals of the day, and in the recollection of the survivors of the Revolution who still linger amongst us—the honored relics of a former age-to establish, beyond a doubt, the brilliant achievements of our little
See the Remembrancer, iv. v. and vi. vols. and Clark's Naval History, c. 4, p. 38.
navy during that arduous struggle; and the names of Biddle, Nicolson, Barry, Jones, and many others, will be ever gratefully remembered by the American people.
It is believed that a more brilliant victory than that achieved by John Paul Jones over the Serapis, never graced the annals of any country. Notwithstanding the odium which has always rested on the name of Jones, arising chiefly, we must believe, from the misrepresentation of his enemies, this has always been acknowledged as the most desperate battle of the whole war. Our limits will not admit of our going into an examination of the intrinsic merits of this exploit, --but we must be permitted in justice to the character of Jones, to mention here one or two anecdotes, which seem to display a character very different from that which his enemies have endeavoured to fasten upon him. In the midst of the conflict, while the battle was raging with incredible fury, and tremendous effect, the sailing master was heard to swear, Jones immediately checked him by saying, “Mr. Stacey this is no time for swearing, you may be the next moment in eternity,--but let us do our duty."* After the battle, says Goldsborough, when Captain Pearson came on board the Bon Homme Richard to deliver up his sword, he addressed Jones on the quarter deck in the following insolent and provoking terms, “I cannot, sir, but feel much mortification at surrendering my sword to a man who has fought me with a rope about his neck.” His answer was worthy of a hero. have fought yallantly sir! and I hope your king will give you a better ship.” When Jones heard in Paris a short time afterwards, that Pearson had been knighted for his gallantry in this action, he exclaimed—“well, he deserves it, and if I fall in with him again, I hope to make him a lord.”
Towards the conclusion of the war, the formation of a treaty with France, and the presence of a formidable French fleet on our coasts led to the neglect of the navy, which was suffered to dwindle away, until finally, on the restoration of peace we are informed by the historian that the whole of the ships built or purchased during the war, had either been captured or destroyed by the enemy, or sold by the United States. When the Alliance, the last of these vessels, was sold (on the 3d of June, 1785) the United States, says our author, “ did not, it is believed, own a single vessel of war." It was not until the year 1790, when our difficulties with the Barbary powers had become serious, that the attention of the nation was again directed to the navy.
The first act of Congress, passed subsequently to the Revolution, authorizing the construction of vessels of war, was that of 27th
* Analectic Magazine, vol. ii. p. 16.