The War of Independence, 1775-1783

In 1775 thirteen American colonies began an armed struggle to assert their rights within the British Empire. A year later the goal of the American Revolution became independence from that empire. During the War of Independence the Continental Congress created a small navy for defense and taking the fight to the enemy. Its persistent attacks and occasional successes helped encourage foreign powers to recognize the young nation, and then to ally with it against Great Britain.

Supported by the French, the Continental Navy raided British home waters, leading to a September 1779 battle that inspired the future U.S. Navy's traditions of professionalism, courage and determination. Two years later, the French Navy demonstrated the importance of command of the sea with a victory off the Virginia Capes that trapped an enemy army, whose surrender doomed Great Britain's fight to prevent America's independence.

This page features a selection of iconic naval images from the American Revolution of 1775-1783.

Click the image to display a larger image, picture data to access the Data Sheet, and HI-RES to view a high-resolution image.


In late 1775, Congress established the Continental Navy: commissioning officers, raising crews, outfitting merchant ships for war and beginning construction of new warships.

Attacking the enemy where he was weak, the new Navy seized vitally needed supplies from British shipping and weakly defended positions ashore.

 Raising the Grand Union flag on Continental Ship Alfred,
3 December 1775:

Photo # NH 85212-KN
Picture Data

 The Continental Navy raids New Providence, Bahamas,
3 March 1776

Photo # NH 79419-KN
Picture Data


 First official salute to the American flag, St. Eustatius,
16 November 1776:

Photo # NH 85510-KN
Picture Data

 The French Navy salutes the American flag in Quiberon Bay, 14 February 1778:

Photo # 80-G-K-21225
Picture Data

Continental Navy ships were frequent visitors in foreign ports. Late in 1776 a Dutch West Indies fort fired the first official salute to the American flag.

In February 1778 France formally recognized the United States. The new nation was now allied with Europe's most powerful state.


 Battle between Continental Ship Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis,
23 September 1779:

Photo # KN-10855
Picture Data

The Continental Navy took the war into British home waters. A hard-fought September 1779 battle there, between Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis, is the war's best-known naval action.

The conflict's most important sea fight, a strategically decisive action between French and British ships of the line off the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, was a dramatic example of sea power's influence on events ashore.

 French and British fleets in line of battle off the Virginia Capes, 5 September 1781:

Photo # NH 73927-KN
Picture Data


Scottish-born John Paul Jones fought in many of the Continental Navy's actions. His impressive professional skill, aggressiveness and great personal bravery inspire traditions that thrive in today's United States Navy.

 Captain John Paul Jones, Continental Navy

Photo # NH 93584-KN
Picture Data

For more Iconic Naval Images, see:


  • To the best of our knowledge, the pictures referenced here are all in the Public Domain, and can therefore be freely downloaded and used for any purpose.

  • Images may bear obsolete credit lines citing the organization name: "Naval Historical Center". Effective 1 December 2008 the name should be cited as: "Naval History and Heritage Command".

For higher resolution images see: Obtaining Photographic Reproductions

About Us | Privacy Policy | Webmaster | FOIA request | | This is a US Navy website