The War at Sea

Great Britain, the world's leading maritime power, hardly feared the infant colonial navy. The British ships plied coastal waters, supplying the redcoats with whatever was needed, including more of His Majesty's troops. Still, the small patriot navy won a few surprising victories, such as when a small American squadron captured the port of Nassau in the Bahamas.

Farther out at sea, American naval power did far better, capturing some British ships and cargo. Continental navy captains — the likes of John Paul Jones from Scotland, Joshua Barney, and Irishman John Barry — proved to be heroic at sea. John Paul Jones is by far the most famous Revolutionary naval hero. In 1778, Jones raided the port of Whitehaven in England and then captured the British sloop called the Drake. On September 23, 1779, when the British attacked his converted merchant ship the Bonhomme Richard and demanded his surrender, Jones answered with the famous words, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

When was the earliest use of a submarine in American history?

The American Turtle submarine was launched in the dark of night on September 6–7, 1776, against the British flagship, HMS Eagle, which was moored in New York harbor. The submarine crew attempted to attach a bomb to the rudder of the British ship. While the American Turtle failed to destroy its target, the British recognized the threat and moved the fleet.

By 1781, there were more than 450 privately owned vessels that had received commissions to attack British shipping. And although these did not impede the British troops and their supply provisions, they added tremendous cost to the war Britain waged.

Thanks to the French navy, Britain's supremacy was sufficiently threatened, and the war at sea saw fewer American defeats with added victories. French naval forces fought off the Virginia coast, successfully trapping the British general Cornwallis and his army.

  1. Home
  2. American History
  3. Revolution Reigns
  4. The War at Sea
Visit other About.com sites: