Role in the Creation of the Continental Navy
Silas Deane (see portrait),
John Adams (see portrait) and
George Washington (see
three heroes of the Revolution who were keenly aware of the need
for a government-owned
and operated naval/marine force for the Revolutionary War. In the
early years of that long, eight- year conflict, vessels were being
rented or borrowed from private owners to defend the New England
coast or to try to capture British ships. It has been recorded that
George Washington himself at one point chartered a ship that he hoped
would capture a British ship to get much-needed supplies for the
continental soldiers. But this process was not efficient or cost
effective. It quickly became evident that the colonies needed a real
naval force of their own.
Establishing a navy was the
responsibility of the Continental Congress. With George Washington
no longer a member
of Congress after he was appointed head
of the continental army, it was left to other members to tackle the naval issue.
John Adams was appointed to be the head of the Naval Committee and Silas Deane
was named a member. Shortly after Deane was appointed to the Naval Committee,
however, he was removed as a representative of Connecticut. But even though
he was no longer an official congressman, his skill in naval affairs
so greatly by the members, that he was asked to remain in Philadelphia with
orders from the committee to form a navy (Docs.
15 and 16).
Naval Committee did not meet during the regularly scheduled daytime
sessions of the Continental Congress. In his autobiography, John
Adams writes that as
soon as the committee was formed in October of 1775 it
“…immediately procured a room in a public house and agreed to
meet every evening at six o’clock, in order to dispatch
this business with all possible cerlerity (sic)…”
Adams, vol. 3, p. 9)
There can be found references
to this committee working until close to midnight. Mention of poetry,
wine, and rum were
found. George Washington was kept
informed of the Committee progress and seemed anxious to have a true
navy in place as quickly as possible.
Deane had always been a vigorous
endorser of a strong navy (Doc.
68). We can assume that his background
as a merchant from a Connecticut town
on the busy
Connecticut River, coupled with the fact that his wife was from a very
prominent family in the maritime trade along the Long Island coast of
him a very valuable member of the Naval Committee. He was already hard
at work trying to have a ship built before his official instructions
the Committee on November 17, 1775 (Doc.
69 and Doc.
15). There were
vessels procured by Deane and other committee members. The first was
the ALFRED out of New London, with Deane’s brother-in-law Dudley
Saltonstall as captain, which was ready to set sail at the end of December
1775, barely two months after
being ordered to be built and armed. This naval activity on Deane’s
part got him dubbed “The Father of the Revolutionary Marine” by
at least one naval historian (Middlebrook, p. 244).
that Deane carried out at this time (the fall of 1775) was to write
a draft for the first rules and regulations of the
The Connecticut Historical Society has in its library (Silas Deane
Memorial Oversize Box 3 Folder 35, 10/30/75, No. 18) a copy of Deane’s
original hand written draft and the book Naval Documents edited
by William Bell Clark has a typed transcription of that work (pp.
date, October 30, 1775, can be called the date of the beginning of
the Continental Navy (Doc.
70). The first three pages of that document
are entitled “Estimate
for Fitting Out Warships for a Three Months Cruise,” also computed
by Deane, showing his expertise in the entire field of shipping and
At about this time, early
1776, Silas Deane continued to impress his comrades from the Second
Continental Congress as he
go to France
as a secret representative (Docs.
17 and 19)
so his work for the Naval Committee was
officially over. But careful reading of his vast correspondence
can pick up on his continued interest in naval affairs (Doc.
Deane writing about the navy, you should also see some words
to Deane from others about that navy. We will conclude by
to read a letter from the Revolutionary War’s most famous
naval hero, John Paul Jones (see signature).
On February 26, 1778 (Doc.
Captain Jones wrote to the Honorable Silas
Deane to describe his ship, the RANGER, receiving the very first
official recognition of an American war vessel by a French war
vessel, LA MOTTE PIQUET. This letter
from Jones speaks not only to Deane’s interest in the affairs
of the Continental Navy, but also to Deane’s great accomplishment
of being instrumental in the signing of the Treaty of Alliance
between France and the colonies not three
weeks earlier on February 8, 1778 (see: Lesson
biography). This treaty (http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/diplomacy/france/fr1788-2.htm)
France to come to the aid of the colonies resulting in the formation
of the United States.