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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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Philadelphia

 

The city in Pennsylvania where the Continental Congress met during much of the American Revolution.

 

I

 

(Gond: l. 57’; b. 17’; dr. 2’; cpl. 45, a. I 12-pdr., 2 9-pdrs.)

 

The first Philadelphia, a gondola constructed by Gen. Benedict Arnold on Lake Champlain at Skenesboro, N.Y., was laid down early in July 1776, launched in mid-August, and placed in service shortly thereafter under a Capt. Rice.

 

Arnold’s flotilla was built to check the expected British invasion being launched from Montreal by the Royal Governor of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton. A thrust down the historic Lake Champlain-Hudson Valley invasion corridor was chosen to sever New England from the middle and southern American Colonies. An almost complete absence of intercolonial roads demanded that the approach be made by water.

 

The Americans had enjoyed unchallenged supremacy on Lake Champlain since the capture of the British shipyard at St. Johns toward the end of the first month of the war, but after the patriots withdrew from the Richelieu River a year later, the English embarked on a vigorous shipbuilding program to achieve naval superiority. The British, aided greatly by skilled men, equipment, and material of the Royal Navy in the St. Lawrence River, won the construction race.

 

However, Arnold was undaunted. Late in August he assembled his little fleet and cruised provacotively on the upper lake. On 23 September he stationed his ships on the New York shore near Valcour Bay to intercept the British squadron’s advance on Fort Ticonderoga. The two forces clashed on 11 October. During a six-hour fight 12-gun schooner Royal Savage ran aground and was burned. Toward dusk the British guns holed gondola Philadelphia with a 24-pound shot and she soon sank. Night closed the battle enabling Arnold to slip away with the remainder of his fleet, but he lost most of his ships during a two-day running battle.

 

The sacrifice was not in vain. Arnold’s ships delayed the British advance until approaching winter caused them to suspend operations until spring. The Americans made good use of the year of grace which their ships on Lake Champlain had won. A much stronger patriot army awaited Burgoyne in 1777 and it finally forced him to surrender at Saratoga.

 

Philadelphia was raised in 1935 by a group of marine archaeologists headed by Col. Lorenzo F. Hogglund. She is now the property of the Smithsonian Institution and is on display in the Museum of History and Technology.