Naval History and Heritage Command

National Museum of the U.S. Navy

A Lesson on the Navy's Birth Date:

     A classroom with lectern, easel and board with the words "Oct. 13, 1775" written large; three or four chairs.
     The professor.  Stands at lectern, wears academic gown and mortar board.  
     Students A, B, and C.  All wear baseball caps.  One has a can full of large spit­balls, and throws a spitball whenever the professor is not look­ing.  Another furi­ously takes notes on a laptop computer.

The Professor:  Listen careful­ly, because this material will be on the blue book exam at the end of the quarter.  And be sure to master the supplemental reading list for this week's lesson.  [Rolls out across the floor a long sheet of rolled up paper.]
On October 13, 1775, the Continental Con­gress, meeting in Phila­delphia, Pennsylvania, voted to send two swift-sailing, armed vessels to cruise against trans­ports carry­ing munitions to the British Army in America.  These resolves were the beginning of the Continental Navy, the origin of today's United States Navy.  Over the course. . .

Student A:  Excuse me, Professor, but I thought Navy Birthday was always celebrated on October 27?

The Professor:  That is a common confu­sion.  On October 13 we observe Navy Birthday and on October 27 we observe Navy Day.  In 1922 the Navy League sponsored the first national observance of Navy Day, designed to give deserved recognition to the naval service.  Navy Day has been celebrated since 1922 on October 27, a date proposed by the Navy League of New York in honor of President Theodore Roose­velt's birthday.  October 27 remains today Navy Day.  The Navy had no officially recognized birthday until 1972, when the chief of naval opera­tions authorized recog­nition of October 13.  On that day in 1775 the Continental Congress authorized the Continental Navy.

Student A:  I still don't understand.  Why have two different celebrations?

The Professor:  The two dates have different purposes.  Navy Day is observed by the public as a way of giving recognition to the Navy.  Navy Birthday is the Navy's own, internal celebration of its history and heritage.
Now, back to the lesson.  Over the course of the War of Independence the Continen­tal Navy sent to sea more than fifty armed vessels of various types.  The Navy's cruis­ers captured nearly 200 . . . .

Student B:  Professor, I understand that next year, in 1998, we will celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the Navy.  If you subtract two hundred from 1998 you get 1798.  Doesn't that mean the Navy was born in 1798 and not 1775?

The Professor:  That bit of confusion is easily cleared up.  On October 13, 1775, the Continental Congress authorized the Conti­nen­tal Navy.  Today's United States Navy recognizes the Continen­tal Navy as its beginning.  After the American Revolution, the United States sold off its fleet and laid off its sailors.  Then in 1794, when foreign foes once more threatened us, Congress authorized a new fleet of warships, and the employment of seamen and officers.  Thus, the Navy already existed before 1798 when congress created a department to admin­ister it.  April 3, 1798, is the establishment of the Department of the Navy, but October 13, 1775, is the Navy's birthday.
Now to continue with the lecture.  The Continental Navy's cruis­ers captured nearly 200 vessels, some off the British isles them­selves, forcing the enemy to divert warships to protect trade routes and provoking diplo­matic crises that helped bring France into the war as America's ally.  The Continen­tal Navy began . . . 

Student C:  Professor, I thought that Whitehall, New York, claims to be the birthplace of the navy, but you keep talking about Philadelphia.

Student A:  I heard that Beverly and Marblehead, Massa­chusetts, both claim to be the Navy's birthplace.

The Professor:  The United States Navy recognizes October 13, 1775, as its birth date, for on that date, meeting in Phila­delphia, the Continental Congress adopted the original legisla­tion out of which the Continental Navy grew.  A logical corollary to recog­nizing October 13, 1775, as the Navy's birth date would be to recognize Philadelphia as its birthplace.  But half a dozen places claim to be the "birthplace of the navy."  Machias, Maine, Whitehall, New York, Beverly and Marblehead, Massachusetts,  and Provi­dence, R.I.  The contribu­tions of all of these as well as of other towns to the commence­ment of naval operations in the American Revolution deserve recognition in any naval history of our country.  Perhaps it would be histor­ically accurate to say that America's navy had many "birthplac­es."
Now, back to the lecture.  The Continen­tal Navy began the proud tradi­tion carried on today by our United States Navy. . .

Student B:  Professor, if October 13, 1775, is the Navy's Birth­day, who is the father of the Navy?

The Professor:  Anyone want to give that a try?

Student C:  John Paul Jones, of course!

Student A:  You're just trying to butter up the professor, since he's a Scot.  Sure and begorrah, it was John Barry himself.

Student B:  What about Esek Hopkins, the Navy's first Commander in Chief?

The Professor:  And consider also civilian leaders such as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, Joseph Hewes, and Silas Deane.  Many men in numerous locations played prominent roles in the founding of our national navy.  And so, the Navy recognizes no one individual as "father" to the exclusion of others.

Student C:  Okay, so if we don't know who the father was, we must certainly know who the mother was?  And how about the midwife?

The Professor:   The Navy is an institution that developed out of historical forces, and the idea that the Navy was born is, of course, only a metaphor.  We can carry the metaphor only so far, and you, friend, are pushing it.  Thank you, but no more ques­tions from you.  Before we have some birthday cake, who can tell me the date of the Navy's Birthday?




Published: Mon Aug 08 11:45:59 EDT 2016