The Watch: 240 Years of U.S. Naval Excellence, Celebrating the U.S. Navy’s Birthday

October 13, 2015 is the 240th anniversary of the United States Navy.

The unofficial motto of the U.S. Navy is “Non sibi sed patriae” (Not for self but for country).

At the beginning of the Revolutionary War the new Continental Congress had little financial resources and was divided over strategy. General George Washington left Congressional debate and acted. He chartered a fishing schooner, named Hannah, and began raiding British ships to obtain military supplies.

Hannah was the first of eleven vessels Washington chartered to fight the British, which became known as “Washington’s Navy.” Over a six-month period alone, Washington’s Navy captured roughly fifty-five ships, which furnished supplies to the troops and boosted morale.

Washington said,

To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.”

Washington’s naval successes since April 1775 also gave the Continental Congress the push it needed to authorize a national naval force.

On October 13, 1775 the Continental Congress resolved to procure two armed ships to fight the British. A few days later, Congress established a Naval Committee tasked with purchasing, outfitting, manning, and operating its new Navy’s ships. Later on the Committee drafted naval legislation, rules and regulations to govern its new Naval fleet and administration.

Philadelphia was the port where the first four vessels of the new Continental Navy were readied for battle.

In The Federalist No. 24, Alexander Hamilton asserted without a “federal navy . . . of respectable weight . . . the genius of American Merchants and Navigators would be stifled and lost.”

By September 7, 1776, designs for a new invention, the submarine, were unveiled.

Washington later wrote Lafayette in 1781:

Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, And with it, everything honourable and glorious.”

240 years later, despite recent actions to gut the U.S. military, the U.S. Navy today comprises a fleet of 271 deployable ships, more than 3,700 operational aircraft, 328,000 active duty sailors, and 110,000 reserve sailors, and also employs nearly 200,000 civilians.

To learn more about Naval history and its birthday and Navy Day, visit Naval History and Heritage Command and

Thank active duty sailors and seamen and veterans for their service to their country.

October 13, 2015


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