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Congress and the Continental Navy, 1775-1783: Chronology and Documents

13 October 1775 The first legislation of the Continental Congress in regard to an American Navy directed the equipment of one vessel of 10 guns and another of 14 guns as national cruisers. At the same time an act was passed establishing a "Marine Committee," consisting of Messrs. John Adams, John Langdon, and Silas Deane, which was chosen by Congress from among its own members, and was to be in complete control of naval affairs.
30 October 1775 Act of the Continental Congress authorizing the equipment of two additional armed vessels, the one to carry twenty guns, the other thirty-six, and increasing the membership of the Marine Committee to eleven.
10 November 1775 Organization of a Marine Corps, to consist of two battalions, authorized by Act of Congress.
25 November 1775 Act of Congress authorizing the capture and confiscation of all British armed vessels, transports, and supply ships, and directing the issuing of commissions to captains of cruisers and privateers.
28 November 1775 Rules for the Regulation of the Navy of the United Colonies, the first regulations of the Navy.
3 December 1775 The first fleet of the United States put in commission.
11 December 1775 A Committee appointed by Congress "to devise the ways and means for furnishing these Colonies with a Naval Armament."
13 December 1775 The report of the Committee providing for the construction of "five ships of thirty-two guns, five of twenty-eight guns, and three of twenty-four guns," accepted by Congress, and a law passed for their immediate construction.
14 December 1775 The number of the members of the Marine Committee increased to thirteen, one from each colony, by Act of Congress.
22 December 1775

The Marine Committee appointed the following officers, with the approval of Congress:

Commander-in-Chief: Esek Hopkins
Captains: Dudley Saltonstall, Abraham Whipple, Nicholas Biddle, John B. Hopkins
First Lieutenants
: John Paul Jones, Rhodes Arnold, Eli Stansbury, Hoysted Hacker, Jonathan Pitcher
Second Lieutenants
: Benjamin Seabury, Joseph Olney, Elisha Warner, Thomas Weaver, James McDougall
Third Lieutenants
: John Fanning, Ezekiel Burroughs, Daniel Vaughan

25 January 1776 The Marine Committee given full powers in the direction of the fleet under Commodore Esek Hopkins.
19 March 1776 Congress authorized the fitting out of armed vessels "to cruise on the enemies of these united colonies."
23 March 1776 General Letters-of-Marque and Reprisal issued by Congress, and thenceforth all British vessels, armed or unarmed, were liable to capture by American ships.
17 April 1776 With respect to the relative rank of the officers of the Navy, Congress decided that the nominations or appointments of captains or commanders "shall not establish rank." This was to be "settled by Congress before commissions are granted."
4 July 1776 Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.
5 September 1776 The Marine Committee decided upon the uniform to be worn by officers of the Navy and Marine Corps.
3 October 1776 Congress authorized the purchasing, arming, and equipping of "a frigate and two cutters in Europe."
10 October 1776 Congress established the rank and command of the Captains of the Navy.
29 October 1776 Act of Congress denying to private vessels the right of wearing "pendants" in the presence of Continental Navy vessels without the permission of the commanding officer thereof.
6 November 1776 A "Continental Navy Board, consisting of "three persons well skilled in maritime affairs," appointed by Congress "to execute the business of the Navy under the direction of the Marine Committee"; This Board was subsequently divided into an "Eastern Board," and a "Board of the Middle District.
15 November 1776 Congress established the relative rank of Naval and Army officers.
20 November 1776 Law authorizing the construction of the first line-of-battle ship, to carry seventy-four guns.
23 January 1777 Congress authorized the construction of one 36-gun frigate and one 28-gun frigate.
6 February 1778 Treaty of Amity and Commerce concluded between the United States and France.
28 October 1779 A "Board of Admiralty" established which was given control of all naval affairs; it consisted of three commissioners who were not in Congress and two who were.
11 January 1781 James Reed, by resolution of Congress, invested with full powers to conduct the business of the Navy Board in the "Middle Department."
7 February 1781 Alexander McDougal, a major-general, who had been a seaman in his youth, appointed "Secretary of Marine," with all the duties previously confided to the Board of Admiralty.
29 August 1781 An "Agent of Marine"" appointed "with authority to direct, fit out, equip, and employ, the ships and vessels of war belonging to the United States, according to such instructions as he shall from time to time receive from Congress."
7 September 1781 Resolution of Congress by which the duties prescribed to the "Agent of Marine," until he should be appointed, devolved on the Superintendent of Finance, Robert Morris, who, indeed, appears to have had the chief agency in the civil administration of the Navy during the greater part of the Revolutionary War.
2 September 1782 Presentation of the U.S. 74-gun line-of-battle ship America to Louis XVI, King of France, to replace the Magnifique, 74, lost in Boston Harbor.
3 September 1783 Definitive treaty of peace concluded with Great Britain and the United States, acknowledged a sovereign and independent state. On April 11, 1783, a cessation of hostilities bad been proclaimed.


Published: Tue Sep 05 09:04:58 EDT 2017