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The Continental Navy: "I Have Not Yet Begun to Fight. Washington, DC: Naval Historical Foundation, 1965.


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The Continental Navy: "I Have Not Yet Begun to Fight."

Cover image of "I have not yet begun to fight."

A Naval Historical Foundation publication.
Washington, DC

The Continental Navy

This pamphlet is a selection of pictures, ballads, and administrative correspondence relating to the Continental Navy compiled from sources that are probably not readily available to most people, Included also is an insert showing in chronological order Acts of the Continental Congress relating to that Navy, together with a listing of "Ships of the Continental Navy".

The Continental Navy was the navy of the American Revolution, starting in 1775. The last ship, the Alliance, was sold in 1785.

The letters are illustrative of naval administration and naval operations during the Revolutionary War. All correspondence, contained herein, prior to December 1779 originated in the "Marine Committee" composed of 13 members, one delegate from each colony; subsequently in the Board of Admiralty consisting of "three Commissioners not members of Congress together with two members of Congress and a Secretary to whose management all affairs of the Continental Navy were committed subsequent nevertheless to the consent of Congress."

The ballads have been reprinted with the kind permission of Yale University Press. The model of the Bon Homme Richard is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, and the model of the USS Raleigh is from the Roosevelt collection, The photographs of the USS Ranger and HMS Drake and of the "American Sloop Providence capturing the English Brig Diligent" are of paintings from the Bailey Collection held by the Mariners Museum, Newport News, Virginia.

On the New American Frigate Alliance

As Neptune traced the azure main
That owned, so late, proud Britain's reign,
A floating pile approached his car,
The scene of terror and of war.

As nearer still the monarch drew
(Her starry flag displayed to view)
He asked a Triton of his train
"What flag was this that rode the main?

"Though she, with her triumphant crew,
Might to her fate all foes pursue,
Yet, faithful to the land that bore,
She stays, to guard her native shore.

"Though she might make the cruisers groan
That sail within the torrid zone,
She kindly lends a nearer aid,
Annoys them here, and guards the trade.

"Now, traversing the eastern main,
She greets the shores of France and Spain;
Her gallant flag, displayed to view,
Invites the old world to the new.

"This task achieved, behold her go
To seas congealed with ice and snow,
To either tropic, and the line,
Where suns with endless fervour shine.

"Not, Argo, on thy decks were found
Such hearts of brass, as here abound;
They for their golden fleece did fly,
These sail--to vanquish tyranny."

"A ship of such a gallant mien
This many a day I have not seen,
To no mean power can she belong,
So swift, so warlike, stout, and strong.

"See how she mounts the foaming wave--
Where other ships would find a grave,
Majestic, aweful, and serene,
She sails the ocean, like its queen."--

"Great monarch of the hoary deep,
Whose trident awes the waves to sleep,
(Replied a Triton of his train)
This ship, that stems the western main,

"To those new, rising States belongs,
Who, in resentment of their wrongs,
Oppose proud Britain's tyrant sway,
And combat her, by land and sea.

"This pile, of such superior fame,
From their strict union takes her name,
For them she cleaves the briny tide,
While terror marches by her side.

"When she unfurls her flowing sails,
Undaunted by the fiercest gales,
In dreadful pomp, she ploughs the main,
While adverse tempests rage in vain.

"When she displays her gloomy tier,
The boldest foes congeal with fear,
And, owning her superior might,
Seek their best safety in their flight.

"But when she pours the dreadful blaze,
And thunder from her cannon plays,
The bursting flash that wings the ball,
Compells those foes to strike, or fall.

USS Alliance
USS Alliance

On the Death of Captain Nicholas Biddle

(March 7, 1778)

WHAT distant thunders rend the skies,
What clouds of smoke in volumes rise,
What means this dreadful roar!
Is from his base Vesuvius thrown,
Is sky-topt Atlas tumbled down,
Or Etna's self no more!

Shock after shock torments my ear;
And lo! two hostile ships appear,
Red lightnings round them glow:
The Yarmouth boasts of sixty-four,
The Randolph thirty-two--no more--
And will she fight this foe!

The Randolph soon on Stygian streams
Shall coast along the land of dreams,
The islands of the dead!
But fate, that parts them on the deep,
Shall save the Briton, still to weep
His ancient honors fled.

Say, who commands that dismal blaze,
Where yonder starry streamer plays;
Does Mars with Jove engage!
'Tis Biddle wings those angry fires;
Biddle, whose bosom Jove inspires
With more than mortal rage.

Tremendous flash! and hark, the ball
Drives through old Yarmouth, flames and all;
Her bravest sons expire;
Did Mars himself approach so nigh,
Even Mars, without disgrace, might fly
The Randolph's fiercer fire.

The Briton views his mangled crew;
"And shall we strike to Thirty-Two"
(Said Hector, stained with gore);
"Shall Britain's flag to these descend--
Rise, and the glorious conflict end,
Britons, I ask no more!"

He spoke--they charged their cannon round,
Again the vaulted heavens resound,
The Randolph bore it all,
Then fixed her pointed cannons true--
Away the unwieldy vengeance flew;
Britain, the warriors fall.

The Yarmouth saw, with dire dismay,
Her wounded hull, shrouds shot away,
Her boldest heroes dead--
She saw amidst her floating slain
The conquering Randolph stem the main--
She saw, she turned, and fled!

That hour, blest chief, had she been thine,
Dear Biddle, had the powers divine
Been kind as thou wert brave;
But fate, who doomed thee to expire,
Prepared an arrow, tipped with fire,
And marked a watery grave,

And in that hour when conquest came
Winged at his ship a pointed flame
That not even He could shun--
The conquest ceased, the Yarmouth fled,
The bursting Randolph ruin spread,
And lost what honor won.

USS Randolph
USS Randolph

Paul Jones's Victory

(September 23, 1779)

An American frigate, a frigate of fame,
With guns mounting forty, the Richard by name,
Sail'd to cruise in the channels of old England,

With valiant commander, Paul Jones was the man.
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our country for ever, Hurrah!

We had not cruised long, before he espies
A large forty-four, and a twenty likewise;
Well-manned with bold seamen, well laid in with stores,
In consort to drive us from old England's shores.
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our country for ever, Hurrah!

About twelve at noon Pearson came alongside,
With a loud speaking trumpet, "Whence came you?" he cried,
"Return me an answer, I hail'd you before,
Or if you do not, a broadside I'll pour."
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our country for ever, Hurrah!

Paul Jones then said to his men, every one,
"Let every true seaman stand firm to his gun!
We'll receive a broadside from this bold Englishman,
And like true Yankee sailors return it again."
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our country for ever, Hurrah!

The contest was bloody, both decks ran with gore,
And the sea seemed to blaze, while the cannon did roar;
"Fight on, my brave boys," then Paul Jones he cried,
"And soon we will humble this bold Englishman's pride."
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our country for ever, Hurrah!

"Stand firm to your quarters--your duty don't shun,
The first one that shrinks, through the body I'll run;
Though their force is superior, yet they shall know,
What true, brave American seamen can do."
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our country for ever, Hurrah!

The battle rolled on, till bold Pearson cried:
"Have you yet struck your colors? then come alongside!"
But so far from thinking that the battle was won,
Brave Paul Jones replied, "I've not yet begun!"
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our country for ever, Hurrah!

We fought them eight glasses, eight glasses so hot,
Till seventy bold seamen lay dead on the spot.
And ninety brave seamen lay stretched in their gore,
While the pieces of cannon most fiercely did roar.
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our country for ever, Hurrah!

Our gunner, in great fright to Captain Jones came,
"We gain water quite fast and our side's in a flame;"
Then Paul Jones said in the height of his pride,
"If we cannot do better, boys, sink along-side!"
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our country for ever, Hurrah!

The Alliance bore down, and the Richard did rake,
Which caused the bold hearts of our seamen to ache;
Our shot flew so hot that they could not stand us long,
And the undaunted Union of Britain came down.
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our country for ever, Hurrah!

To us they did strike and their colors hauled down;
The fame of Paul Jones to the world shall be known;
His name shall rank with the gallant and brave,
Who fought like a hero our freedom to save.
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our country for ever, Hurrah!

Now all valiant seamen where'er you may be,
Who hear of this combat that's fought on the sea,
May you all do like them, when called for the same,
And your names be enrolled on the pages of fame.
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our country for ever, Hurrah!

Your country will boast of her sons that are brave,
And to you she will look from all dangers to save;
She'll call you dear sons, in her annals you'll shine,
And the brows of the brave with green laurels entwine,
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our country for ever, Hurrah!

So now, my brave boys, have we taken a prize--
A large 44, and a 20 like-wise!
Then God bless the mother whose doom is to weep
The loss of her sons in the ocean so deep.
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our country for ever, Hurrah!

Model of the Bon Homme Richard
Model of the Bon Homme Richard


October 10th 1776--


We learned some time ago with much concern that the expedition we had planed for you to execute, woud prove abortive; as the ships had gone out a Cruizing under the sanction of Governor Trumbulls recommendation, with which we cannot be well satisfied, altho in this instance, we are disposed to pass it by in silence being well convinced both he and the several Captains meant to perform service at a time the Ships were idle. Supposing therefore that you will have been obliged to lay aside the expedition to Newfoundland, We now direct, that you immediately collect the Alfred, Columbus, Cabbot & Hampden, take them under your command and proceed for Cape Fear in North Carolina where you will find the following Ships of war

The Falcon of 18 Guns,
The Scorpion of 16 Guns, &
the Cruizer of 8 Guns

and a number of valuable prizes said to be 40 or 50 in number, and other vessels under their protection the whole of which you will make prize of with ease. We understand they have erected a kind of a fort on Baldhead at the enterance of Cape fear River but it being only manned with a few people from these Ships we expect you will easily reduce it and put the same in possession of the State of North Carolina or dismantle it as may appear best. When you have performed this service you had best deliver to the Continental Agents there such of your prizes as may sell well or be useful in North Carolina others you may convoy into Virginia or this place for we don't recommend your remaining at North Carolina for fear of being blocked up there; perhaps you will receive advice that will render it eligible to proceed farther Southward to rout the enemies ships at South Carolina and Georgia and if that is practicable you have not only our approbation but our orders for the attempt.

We hope, Sir, you will not loose one single moment after receipt of this Letter but proceed instantly on this expedition. We are Sir

Your hble servants

P: S: Should the Cabbot be still on a Cruize, or if returned cannot be ready to proceed upon the Above expedition as early as one of the frigates lately launched at Rhode Island, you will proceed with the later in lieu of the Cabot as soon as she can be prepared for the Sea or you may take both the Cabot and frigate if to be done without delay. We wish your plan for manning this fleet from the State of Rhode Island may prove effectual, and we do in the warmest manner urge you to omit nothing on your part which may tend to promote so important a purpose and which we have most earnestly at heart. The Commissions for the officers of the frigates will be forwarded immediately.--


November 11th 1776


We have received intelligence that our enemies at New York are about to embarque 15000 Men on board their Transports, but where they are bound remains to be found out. The Station assigned you makes it probable that we may best discover their destination by your means for it will be impossible this fleet of Transports can get out of Sandy hook without your seeing them; and we particularly direct you to take such station as will prevent a probabillity of their passing you unseen the Wasp must act in conjunction with you, and for that purpose you will concert with Lieutenant Baldwin what is best to be done and give him orders accordingly, when you discover this fleet watch their motions and the moment they get out to Sea and shape their course send your boat on Shore with a Letter to be despatched by express informing us what course they steer--how many sail they consist of if you can ascertain their numbers and how many Ships of war attend them. We expect this Letter will be sent off to you by Mr. James Searle who is at Shrewsberry and he will either receive your letters and send them off to us by express or get some proper person to do it. If this fleet steer to the Southward either the fly or wasp which ever sails fastest must preceede the fleet--keeping in shore and ahead of them, and if you find they are bound into the Capes of Delaware, run into some of the Inlets on the Jersey Shore, and send one of your officers or some proper person to us instantly with an Account thereof. The dullest sailer of the Fly or Wasp must follow after this fleet and watch their motions and whenever you make discovery of their destination so as to know it with certainty put in for the Land and send us the information by Express. Thus you must watch this fleet one before and the other after them until you can inform us where they arc bound. Should they go for Chesapeake Bay, put into some of the Inlets on the Coast and give advice to the Council of Safety of Virginia and Maryland by express. If they go for North Carolina South Carolina or Georgia observe the same conduct, and if they go to the Northward do the like. In short we think you may by a Spirited execution of these Orders prevent them from coming by Surprize on any part of this Continent, and be assured you cannot recommend yourself more effectually to our freindship. If you could find an opportunity of attacking and taking one of the fleet on their coming out it might be the means of giving us ample intelligence, in such case send all the papers and prisoners here expeditiously.--

We are sir
Your hble servants

Model of USS Raleigh
Model of USS Raleigh


April 29th. 1777


Should you see this Letter it will be forwarded to you by Thomas Thompson Esqr. Commander of the Raleigh Frigate in the Service of the United States of America. This Ship was built in New Hampshire where is no Foundreys for Casting Cannon and the distance from the places where they are Cast to Portsmouth where the frigate now lies is so great that we think it better to put on board such Guns as can be got for her in the Neighbourhood and send her to France to be compleated, than to Hall them by Land such an amazing distance, or than to trust them by Water to her, or her along the Coast to them, now that the enemies Ships are so numerous and powerful at the Mouths of our Bays and Harbours. We have ordered her to Brest as the most suitable Port for supplies. Captain Thompson will transmit you an Indent of all the Guns, Stores and Materials he wants and we hope you may procure an order for his being Supplied out of the Kings Arsenals or Stores. Orders are given to the Commercial Agents to pay your drafts for the amount of such supplies, but if you cannot obtain them in the way proposed, you will write to the said Agents William Lee & Thomas Morris Esqrs. to purchase every thing necessary on the best terms and in the most expeditious manner they can.

We have told Captain Thompson if you had any particular service, Cruize or enterprize to point out for the benefit of these States, that he should obey your Orders, otherways to return to America well manned and fitted Cruizing on our enemies ships the whole voyage, you will therefore write to him giving such Instructions as you may think best calculated to promote the honor, Interest and welfare of these States. With great esteem and regard we remain Honorable Gentlemen

Your Obedt. servants


May 9th 1777


The Congress have thought proper to authorize the Secret Committee to employ you a voyage in the Amphitrite from Portsmouth to Carolina and France where it is expected you will be provided with a fine frigate and as your present Commission is for the Command of a particular Ship we now send you a new one whereby you are appointed a Captain in our Navy and of course may command any Ship in the service. You are to obey the orders of the Secret Committee.

We are Sir
Your hble servants

USS Ranger and HMS Drake
USS Ranger and HMS Drake


June 18th 1777


Your Letter of the 26th May to the Secret Comm[itt]ee was laid before Congress and in consequence thereof the design of fitting the Mellish is laid aside and you are appointed to Command the Ranger Ship of war lately built at Portsmouth. Colo Whipple the Bearer of this carrys with him the Resolves of Congress appointing you to this Command and authorizing him Colo Langdon & you to appoint the other Commissioned as well as the Warrant Officers necessary for this Ship and he has with him Blank Commissions & Warrants for this purpose.

It is our desire that you get the Ranger equipped Officered and Manned as well and as soon as possible, and probably we may send you other Instructions before you are ready to Sail, however the design of the present is to prevent your waiting for such after you are ready for Service in every other respect and if that happens before the receipt of further Orders from us you must then proceed on a Cruize against the enemies of these United States conforming to the Orders and regulations of Congress made for the Government of their Navy, and in conformity thereto Take. Sink, Burn or destroy all such of the enemies Ships, Vessels, goods and effects as you may be able. We shall not limit you to any particular Cruizing Station but leave you at large to search for yourself where the greatest chance of success presents. Your Prizes you will send into such safe Ports as they can reach in these United States, your Prisoners must also be sent in and we recommend them to kind treatment. Any useful intelligence that comes to your knowledge must be communicated to us whenever you have opportunity.

You are to preserve good order and discipline but use your People well. The Ship her Materials & Stores must be taken good care of, and every officer to answer for any embezzelments that happen in his department. You are to make Monthly returns of your Officers Men &c to the Navy Board. You are to be exceedingly attentive to the Cleanliness of your ship and preservation of the Peoples healths.--

You are to afford Assistance and protection to the American Commerce whenever in your power & on your return from this Cruize lay Coppies of your Journal & Log Book before the Navy Board and inform us of the wants of your Voyage.

We are Sir your hble servants


Septemr 14th 1778


The French fleet under the command of vice Adl. the Count D'Estaing now lying in the harbour of Boston being much in want of Provision, you are hereby directed forthwith to purchase three thousand Barrels of good Flour, and deliver the same to the Deputy Quarter Master at Albany to be by him transported to Boston for the use of the said fleet. We are

Your hble servants


October 27th 1778.


This will go by a Continental Frigate from Boston which Congress has Ordered to carry their despatches as well as to accommodate the Marquis De Lafayette and his Suit with a passage to France.

The Captain will on his Arrival inform you thereof, and we have directed that he get his Vessel in readiness to follow any orders which you may think proper to give, which orders he is bound to obey. Should you send him back with dispatches he will take in any Stores for the use of the States that may be in readiness at the Port where he may arrive so as not to incommode the sailing or fighting of his Ship. We have the honor to be

Honble Sir
Your very Hble Servants

American sloop Providence captures English brig Dilligent
American sloop Providence captures English brig Dilligent


May 26th 1779


Your Excellencys Letter to this committee of the 25th instant together with an Extract from another of the 17th instant to the President of Congress has been duely considered by the Committee.

Unfortunately the situation of our frigates is such as to afford no reason to expect that they can possibly be collected in season to execute the plan proposed. 1.The Providence of 32 Guns and the Ranger of 18 are already ordered on a Cruize and it is supposed must be at Sea before different orders can reach them at Boston.

The Warren of 36 Guns and the Queen of France of 20 have lately returned from a Cruize and are unmanned. Although the Naval force of the enemy at New York is at present trifleing, yet as their situation in this respect is very fluctuateing they may probably be so reinforced as to render it too hazardous to risque only the Two frigates in this River vizt. the Confederacy of 36 Guns & the Deane of 28 Guns the latter of which wants a great number of hands to make up her complement.

Add to this that though the force of the enemy on the water would be inferior to ours, yet might they not retire under cover of the Batteries on shore and receive effectual protection from any annoyance that could be attempted from the Guns of our small Ships. I am desired by the Committee to Assure you Sir that they shall always be ready with the greatest alacrity to employ our little fleet in the execution of such plans as may be suggested to them by your Excellency when our circumstances shall be such as to render it practicable.

I am yr. Excellencys
Obdt. Servt.
S: Adams Chn.


1. A joint expedition of the French and American fleets against Canada and Newfoundland.


June 25th 1779


You are hereby directed to proceed in company with the Frigate Boston from the Capes of Delaware into Chesapeake Bay and on your arrival there, at Hampton, or any other way, endeavour to obtain the best intelligence if any of the enemies Ships of war or Privateers are in the Bay, and if you find there are and of such force as you are able to encounter you are to proceed up and attack them and after taking or destroying as many of the said Vessels as may be in your power--or should there not be any British vessels in the Bay, then without any loss of time you are to sail out of it on a Cruize in which you are to choose such stations as you think will be best to accomplish the double purpose of intercepting the enemies outward bound Transports for New York from Great Britain and Ireland, and the homeward bound West India Ships. We are of opinion that between the Latitudes of 36 and 41, and 100 Leagues to the Eastward of the Island of Bermuda will be your best Cruizing ground, but in this we do not mean to restrict you, leaving you to exercise your own Judgment which probably may be assisted by information obtained in your Cruize. All Prizes which you make you are to send for the nearest or most convenient Ports in these States addressed to the Continental Agents. You are to continue Cruizing for the above purposes to the middle of September next or longer if your Provisions and other circumstances will admit of it, and afterward to return to the Port of Boston where you must be governed by the Orders of the Navy Board of the Eastern Department. we have ordered the Continental frigates at the Eastward to Cruize for the same purposes you are now going on, and we think it very probable that you will fall in with them, In that case you or they or any of them are hereby directed to Cruize in Company under the command of the Senior officer and should you be joined by any of those frigates and find by any intelligence you may receive of the situation of the enemys Sea force at Bermuda that it will be adviseable to make an attempt on their Shipping we recommend your undertaking it. By late Accounts from that Island the Virginia Frigate and a Privateer out of London mounting 20 nine Pounders were the only vessels of war then there. We now wish to draw your Attention to the execution of the business before you. The great Expence and dificulty that attends the fitting and manning of our Ships must make you and every Commander in our service fully sensible how much they Should exert themselves to employ them usefully while at Sea. This consideration we hope will have due weight in your mind, and will call forth such active and prudent behaviour as will be of Essential service to your Country, and add to your own reputation and the honor of our Flag. We wish you health & Success

and are Sir
Your hble servants

P: S: The Confederacy being designed for an other Service we have ordered her up here. Messrs. Bar[r]ons at Hampton in Chesapeake Bay will be proper persons for you to enquire at respecting the enemies Shipping.

USS Lexington
USS Lexington


August 14th 1780


Enclosed is a Letter which the Board have received from General Washington and their answer thereto. By the latter Congress will become Acquainted with the Orders which the board have given to the Ships, and how far they co-incide with what seems to be the wish of the Commander in Chief. We trust they will not be disagreeable to Congress. Whether it was the intention that the General should take the direction of our little fleets before they had formed a junction with the fleet of our Ally we leave with Congress to determine; but until that shall become practicable we think it would be most conducive to the Public interest, and most satisfactory to the Officers and men that they should be employed in cruizing as we have directed. Congress will be pleased to observe that they are to return in fourteen days to the Capes. It was with this veiw that they might be at hand and ready to receive and execute such Orders as might be given to them.--

It is with great concern that we inform Congress that it is impossible to proceed with any celerity in fitting the Confederacy for sea. We have strained our Credit to the greatest stretch, and are Afraid that the Cable which is making for the Confederacy will not be delivered to us unless we can furnish Money to discharge part at least of the great debt which we owe to the Rope Maker, beside this we are indebted to others--Provisions &c are wanted for the ship and a large sum must be advanced to induce men to enlist on board of her, and all the Money we have yet received from our warrant on the Treasury is only 7000 Dollars. To avoid Censure and hoping that Congress may be able to find out ways and means to fit out this fine frigate we trouble you with this melancholy picture. We are

Your Obedt Servants
by Order


April 7th. 1780


The News Papers makes mention of a prize ship laden with Jamaica Spirit, taken by the frigate Deane being arrived at your port, If this be true the Board think it extra ordinary that you have not advised them of it, and desire that you will not dispose of any part of the Continental share of her Cargo without their Orders, and that you strictly Observe that Rule in similar cases hereafter.

I am sir
Your Hble servt.


Septemr. 5th 1780


The Board have appointed you to the command of the Continental frigate Alliance now in the Port of Boston. You are therefore directed to repair thither as soon as possible, and when you arrive apply to the Honble the Commissioners of the Navy Board of that Department who will give you directions for your conduct in fitting and preparing the Alliance for Sea with all possible despatch.

I am Sir
Your very hble Servant
by Order

Captain John Barry
Captain John Barry


Published: Wed Feb 14 09:32:31 EST 2018