On 13 October 1775, the Continental Congress voted to purchase, arm, and fit out two warships for the purpose of capturing enemy transports “laden with warlike stores and other supplies.” It was a momentous decision by the lawmakers, one that prompted Massachusetts delegate and naval advocate John Adams to crow, “We begin to feel a little of a Seafaring Inclination here.”
While the 13th of October is recognized today as the Navy’s official birthday, it was far from certain in 1775 whether the two vessels Congress authorized that day would remain anything other than a token naval force. Some members of Congress continued to doubt the wisdom of establishing a Continental fleet. Others, who hailed from southern colonies, suspected that a navy, if established, would serve New England interests rather than those of the colonies as a whole.
On 30 October 1775, the Continental Congress passed several resolutions that moved the Revolutionary government closer to a adopting a full-scale naval program. One of these resolves directed the purchase of an additional two warships to be employed with those authorized on the 13th. A second called for the appointment of a seven-man committee to oversee the management of the four-ship fleet once purchased. According to historian Gardner Allen, the vote of 30 October “fully committed” Congress “to the policy of maintaining a naval armament.” By year’s end Congressional representatives had passed additional measures relating to manning, pay, discipline, and ship construction that finalized the establishment of the nation’s new sea service. On 17 February 1776, the Continental Navy under Ezek Hopkins sailed on its first wartime mission.