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Chapter Eighteen. George Washington's Navy

John B. Hattendorf

Subject History » Maritime History

Place Americas » Northern America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799

Key-Topics American War of Independence

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444331035.2012.00020.x


George Washington knew little about ships and the sea. Only once had he been a passenger on a sea voyage, when he and his brother sailed to Barbados in 1751–52. He only visited two major warships: the French 80-gun Duc de Bourgogne at Newport, Rhode Island, on 6 March 1780, and the 104-gun Ville de Paris at Cape Henry, Virginia, on 17 September 1781. Despite his lack of naval knowledge, Washington instinctively grasped the strategic importance of a navy as an essential complement to the Continental Army's operations ashore. This became a consistent thread in Washington's thinking throughout the war. With the arrival of the French army in 1780, Washington emphasized that “In any operation, and under all circumstances, a decisive naval superiority is to be considered as a fundamental principle, and the basis upon which every hope of success must ultimately depend” (WGW, 19:174). “George Washington's Navy” or “Washington's Fleet” are names that historians have given to a small force of Massachusetts fishing schooners. Before the Continental Navy was authorized, Washington hired them at Continental expense under his authority as commander-in-chief to support the Continental Army's military operations in New England between 1775 and 1777. This force was one of several impromptu local maritime forces that Americans developed to meet urgent practical necessities in fighting the British ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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