Sea History 103 - Winter 2002-2003

Page 18

The Origins and Fates of America's First Thirteen Frigates Ship & Guns Hancock 32

Raleigh 32

Builder Jonathan Green leaf James Hackett, Stephan Paul, & James Hill


Launch Date

Newburyport MA

July 10, 1776

Portsmouth NH

May 21, 1776

Fate Captured off Nova Soctia by HMS Rainbow on Julv 8, 1777. Captured by British squadron off Wooden Island, Maine, Sept. 28, 1778.

Randolph 32

John Wharton and Joshua Humphreys

Kensington PA

July 10, 1776

Warren 32

Benjamin Talman

Warren RI

May 15, 1776

Washington 32

Manuel, Jehu, & Benjamin Eyre

Kensington PA

August 7, 1776

Congress 28

Lancaster Burling

Poughkeepsie NY

Oct. 29, 1776?

Effingham 28

Joseph and Thomas Grice

Southwark PA

October 31 , 1776

Providence 28

Sylvester Bowers

Providence RI

May 18, 1776

Trumbull 28

John Colton

Portland CT

Virginia 28

George Wells

Fells Point MD

August 12, 1776

Captured by British squadron off Hampton, Virginia, March 31 , 1778.

Boston 24

Stephen and Ralph Cross

Newburyport MA

June 3, 1776

Captured at Charleston , May 12, 1780

Delaware 24

Warwick Coats

Southwark PA

July 21 , 1776?

Captured in Delaware River on Sept. 27, 1777.

Montgomery 24

Lancaster Burling

Poughkeepsie NY

November 4, 1776

Burned to avoid capture on Oct. 7, 1777

papers and fled the vessel. C ongress held an inquiry into this action bur acquitted Nicholson of any wrongdoing, again .

* * * * * In historical studies of rhe Revolutionary War, the performance of rhe Conrinenral Navy and the thirteen fri gates remain unimportant footnotes to outcome of rh e conflict. Al rho ugh it could have relied solely on privateers and stare navies, Congress decided to establish a national force. The difficulties encountered in outfitting these thirteen ships did nor deter Congress from authorizing additional ships. On 20 N ovember 1776 ir passed an act calling for the construction of five new frigates, several smaller ships, and three 74-gun ship-ofrhe-line blockade busters. Although construction of most of these ships never even began, the gesture demonstrated the resolve of the fledgling nation nor to accede to Britain 's control of rhe seas. The delays in construction and outfitting the frigates prevented their sailing upon the Atlantic en masse. Such a force could have posed a threat to British lines of communica tion. Although the C ontinental Navy could never have directly challenged the British fleer, it could have pounced on supply ships while eluding ships-o f- rheline. With such a force committed to a guerre de course, the British wo uld have been


Blown up in action with HMS Yarmouth on March 7, 1778. Burned to avoid captu re near Frankfort, Maine on August 14, 1779. Scuttled at White Hill, NJ on Nov. 2, 1777 and burned on May 8, 1778. Burned to avoid capture on Oct. 7, 1777 Scuttled at White Hilll , NJ on Nov. 2, 1777 and burned on May 8, 1778. Captured at Charleston .May 12, 1780.

Captured by HMS Iris and September 5, 1776 General Monk off Delaware Capes on August 28, 1781.

compelled ro respond by dispatching large naval fo rces to hum down the Americans, much like the strategy used by the Confederacy against the U nion navy in the C ivil War. Instead, rhe stagge red compl etion of the ships enabled the British to hum them down and eliminate them individually, or even before they were completed. This performance of the fri gates rends to reflect the notion that the United Stares never had a serious chance of challenging rhe British . By 1779, nine of the rhirreen ships had been destroyed or captured, and the others did nor remain at large for long. T har year, Warren served as the flagship for the ill-fared Penobscot Bay expedition and was burned to prevent her capture. The follo wing year, General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered C harleston to the forces of General C linton, and the frigates Providence and Boston fell into enemy hands. T he last of the thirteen mer its end at rhe hands of one of its sister ships. Trum bull, finally free ofirs captivity in rhe Connecti cut Rive r and comm anded by Jam es N icholson, suffered damage in a storm while escorting a fleer of merchantmen in August 178 1. U nable ro elude pursuing British warships, and accusing his crew of cowardice, N icholson surrendered to the Royal Navy wa rship Iris, which had been H ancock, rhe firs t of rhe rhirreen fri gates to

be lost to rhe enemy. T he performance of the first thirteen Co ntinental fri gates was lackluster despite rhe best effort of many to get them into the war. N onetheless, the ships represented the U nited States' initial effo rt to become a naval power and the legacy of these fri gates remained strong in the US N avy. In 1801 , fo llowing the end of the Q uasi-War, the Peace Establishment Act requi red President T homas Jefferson to retain thirteen fri gates-Constitution, President, United States, Constellation, Congress, Chesapeake, Philadelphia, New Yo rk, Boston, Essex, General Greene, j ohn Adams, and Adams- as the core of the new navy. A decade later, a third set of th in een was authorizedGuerriere,java, Columbia (I) , Brandywine, Potomac, Columbia (II) , Santee, Savannah, Sabine, Raritan, Cumberland, St. Lawrence, and Congress-followin g in the tradition of their predecessors. Each of this trio of thi rteen frigates served as th e bulwark of rhe American sailing navy during its time period, and until the navy turned to steam and iron, rhe first thirteen, although neither glorious nor even successful, es tablished an 1. inspiring tradition for the US Navy. Salvatore M ercogliano is Lecturer ofH istory at East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, andAdjunct Professor ofH istory at Campbell University, Buies Creek, North Carolina.

SOURCES Allen, Gardn er W .ANavalHistoryoftheAmerican Revolution. (Bosto n, 19 13) Bauer, K. Jack and Stephen S. Ro berts. Register ofShips ofthe US Navy, 1775-1990 (Wesrpo rr, 1991 ) C hapelle, H owa rd l. The History ofthe A merican Sailing Navy: The Ships and Their D evelopment (New Yo rk, 1949) Mackesy, Piers. The War far America, 17761783. (Lin coln, 1992) Mah an, Alfred T. The Influence of Sea Power Up on History, 1660- 1783. (Bosto n, 19 18) McCusker, John J. "T he Rise of rhe Shi pp ing Industry in Colonial Ame ri ca, " Americas Maritime Legacy: A History of the US M erchant Marine and Shipbuilding Industry Since Colonial Tim es. (Bould er, 1979) M iller, Nathan. Sea ofGlory:A Naval History of the A merican Revolution. (Ann apolis, 1974) Naval Documents of the American Revolution. (Washin gto n, 1964-1996).


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