Archive for the 'Revolutionary War' Category

Sep 23

The Search for Bonhomme Richard: By NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch

Monday, September 23, 2013 8:32 AM

The hunt for the remains of Bonhomme Richard continues in the North Sea. On September 23rd, 1779, Bonhomme Richard engaged in fierce combat with HMS Seripis during the Battle of Flamborough Head off the English coast. Captained by the formidable John Paul Jones, who is often credited as the “father” of the U.S. Navy, Bonhomme Richard emerged victorious from the battle, but proved irreparably damaged. Despite all efforts to save the ship, Bonhomme Richard sank into the North Sea on September 25th, 1779.

Between 21 May and 9 June, 2012, the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), partnered with Ocean Technology Foundation and the U.S. Naval Academy, to continue the multiyear, multinational effort to locate the remains of the historic ship. The 2012 survey mission was accomplished with generous support from the French Navy (Marine Nationale) and the Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVO). The mission was conducted off of three vessels French vessels that provided remote sensing technology, utilizing Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) along with French Navy divers. During the three week mission, the teams covered 37 square nautical miles, identified over 80 targets, and conducted several remote-sensing and dive team operations on targets of particular interest. The 2012 survey provided an excellent opportunity for real-world operational cross-training with the French Navy. After data analysis, one target proved of significant interest for any future survey efforts.

In 2013, a documentary was released on the 2011 Bonhomme Richard expedition aboard USNS Grasp on the Discovery Channel show Mighty Ships. If you wish to read about past expeditions, including the 2011 survey mission, click on the “Bonhomme Richard” tag below. For more information on the Naval History and Heritage Command and the NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology Branch visit our website at

View NHHC’s photo presentation:
“23 Sept 1779: Continental Frigate Bonhomme Richard vs HMS Serapis”
on our Facebook fan page:

American and French teams on the 2012 search for Bonhomme Richard. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Robert Neyland).

American and French teams on the 2012 search for Bonhomme Richard. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Robert Neyland).

Jul 18

John Paul Jones Remembered

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 8:15 AM

Portrait of John Paul Jones by Cecilia Beaux in the U. S. Naval Academy Museum

The United State’s first well-known naval fighter died 220 years ago, on July 18, 1792. Originally published in the July 1947 issue of Proceedings to mark the bicentennial of his birth, the following article outlines the life of John Paul Jones and his contributions to the Navy.



VIEWED from the bicentennial of his birth, John Paul Jones has even greater eminence now as a leader of the American Navy at its beginning than he won at the time of his incomparable triumph in the battle of the Bonhomme Richard with the Serapis. The climax of his intrepid career on this occasion was in keeping with his life so that he remains today, even following the panorama of heroic exploits of two world wars, an indomitable warrior of unique personality. He became the first American naval officer to set a tradition of victory, to win respect for the flag by other nations, and to have the statesmanship to foresee and urge the paramount importance of the Navy in our future history. Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 17

Innovative Scientific Analysis Tool at Underwater Archaeology Conservation Lab

Monday, October 17, 2011 1:54 PM

Dr. Raymond Hayes (left) and Head Conservator George Schwarz examine p-XRF data taken from a Civil War-era Aston pistol recovered from USS HOUSATONIC at the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory.

NHHC volunteer, Dr. Raymond Hayes, Professor Emeritus at Howard University, Washington DC, and Woods Hole Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA, has partnered with the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory (UACL) to analyze archaeological materials from historic naval shipwrecks.

Dr. Hayes has been awarded a Research & Discovery Grant from Olympus INNOV-X to examine archaeological components from shipwrecks using an innovative Delta portable X-Ray Fluorescence (pXRF) unit. This state-of-the-art technology uses an x-ray beam to identify the specific elements present within archaeological material. Dr. Hayes’ research endeavors to use this data to trace the elemental composition of a wood sample back to original construction materials, marine sediments, and sealing or fastening materials applied to wooden ships. Included in the study are data from USS Housatonic, USS Tulip, and CSS Alabama, as well as recently recovered artifacts from the 2011 USS Scorpion field project, the archaeological investigation of a Patuxent River shipwreck believed to be the flagship of the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla, which fought to defend Washington D.C. from the British during the War of 1812. As part of the Navy’s commemoration of the Flotilla’s important role in the War of 1812, a full excavation of the USS Scorpion site is anticipated.

Scientific technologies like pXRF provide archaeologists and conservators valuable chemical information that can be used to better conserve and interpret submerged cultural heritage. An innovative feature of pXRF devices is that they can be used in both the laboratory and the field to analyze artifacts recovered from wet environments. Artifacts from underwater sites can be difficult to initially identify as they may be encased within thick concretions or obscured by unidentifiable corrosion products, however, pXRF data can give archaeologists data which can signal the presence of an artifact. 

Detail of portable X-Ray Fluorescence machine collecting data from Civil War-era pistol.

Following recovery from underwater archaeological sites, artifacts are particularly susceptible to damage caused by soluble salts (e.g., chlorides) accumulated from the water or sediment that surrounded them for decades or even centuries. If allowed to crystallize, the salts expand and cause catastrophic damage which may result in complete destruction of the artifact. Data from pXRF can determine the concentration of chlorine within an artifact to help conservators understand the degree of salt contamination and mitigate it properly. During conservation, pXRF can help conservators develop the most optimal treatment plan for artifacts and reveal the presence of toxic components, such as lead, cadmium or arsenic. Comparative data may also reveal similarities or differences in artifact composition that could suggest age and geographic origins.

This is only one part of the extensive research that goes on at the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Lab, where over 2300 artifacts recovered from US Navy shipwrecks and aircraft wrecks are curated, 140 of which are currently undergoing active conservation treatment. The Laboratory, located in BL 46 of WNYD, also hosts public tours showcasing important artifacts that span from the American Revolution to World War II and make the Navy’s history come alive! Please feel free to contact us anytime (202.433.9731) if you’d like to visit!

 For more information about the NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch and the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory, please visit

Jul 19

On the Hunt for Bonhomme Richard!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 3:39 PM

On July 17th, the NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) along with partners from Ocean Technology Foundation, Naval Oceanographic Office, SUPSALV, Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MSDU) 2 and the US Naval Academy, set out to continue the search for one of the Navy’s first fighting vessels, Bonhomme Richard. Captained by the father of our Navy, John Paul Jones, the ship was lost in 1779 after engaging in combat with HMS Serapis off the Yorkshire coast of England. Although Jones emerged victorious, Bonhomme Richard was irreparably damaged. After transferring all men and supplies safely to the captured Serapis, Jones set the beleaguered U.S. frigate adrift to sink into the North Sea. Its final resting place has remained unknown ever since.

USNS Grasp as seen from one of its tenders while conducting AUV operations over four neighboring targets. Photo courtesy of Alexis Catsambis.

Over the next three weeks, the expedition will be conducted aboard Safeguard-class USNS Grasp. The team on deck will use survey data collected from remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) equipped with side-scan sonar and multibeam echosounder equipment to investigate targets of interest gathered from previous surveys. The side-scan sonar and multibeam echosounder relay data to create an image of the sea floor using sound waves; if a particular target looks promising, archaeologists will investigate it more closely and, if possible, deploy divers to take an even closer look.

Officer-in-Charge Ray Miller and midshipman Joseph Walter discuss the Swordfish AUV that is being prepared for the first launch of the mission. Photo courtesy of Alexis Catsambis.

Stay tuned for more updates from the field!

May 18

The First Enterprise

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 1:34 AM

May, 18th 1775
Benedict Arnold captures a British Sloop and renames her Enterprise, the first of many ships with this name.

Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 3

DNU on the Search for Bonhomme Richard

Wednesday, November 3, 2010 9:22 AM

Image courtesy of

NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch Head, Dr. Robert Neyland, spoke with DMA sailors about the search for Revolutionary War vessel Bonhomme Richard. The interview was featured in a Daily News Update flash and can be viewed using the following link: DMA BHR AHU
Oct 30

The Continental Congress Commits to a Navy, 30 October 1775

Saturday, October 30, 2010 12:01 AM

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.

Oct 13

The Birth of the Continental Navy

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 12:01 AM

For those Americans who lived on the continent’s coastal waterways in the fall of 1775, the question of naval defense was of no small moment. Hostilities with Great Britain were well into their sixth month and the prospect of a peaceful political settlement with the mother country appeared to be fading rapidly. Seizures of American shipping and harassment of local residents in northern and southern waters vividly illustrated the reach of the Royal Navy and the vulnerability of the continent’s seafaring communities to waterborne assault. For a maritime people whose prosperity and fortunes were tied to the sea, the prospect of full-scale conflict with the greatest sea power in the world must have been a chilling one indeed. Because Congress had already provided for an army to contend against the red coats, those who feared the British trident might reasonably have asked why could not Congress create a navy?

Over an eleven-day period in early October 1775, Congress deliberated on just this question, considering several schemes to fund the purchase or building of ships to defend the colonies. A number of congressmen argued vehemently against these proposals. Samuel Chase of Maryland declared one of the plans under consideration “the maddest Idea in the world,” one that would bankrupt the continent. Edward Rutledge of South Carolina called another plan “the most wild, visionary mad project that ever had been imagined.” He predicted “it would ruin the Character, and corrupt the morals of all our Seamen . . . [making] them selfish, piratical, mercenary, [and] bent wholly on plunder.” These arguments were countered effectively by John Adams and other pro-naval congressmen who forcefully articulated the advantages of a navy not only in “distressing the Ennemy,” but in making possible “a System of maritime and naval Opperations” to protect the American colonies.

Ultimately Adams and his fellow navalists carried the day and on 13 October Congress voted to fit out two sailing vessels, armed with ten carriage guns, as well as swivel guns, and manned by crews of eighty, and to send them out on a three-month cruise to intercept transports carrying munitions and stores to the British army in America. This was the original legislation out of which the Continental Navy grew and as such constitutes the navy’s birth certificate.

Once the decision to purchase a modest size naval force was made, the push within Congress to create a regular naval establishment gained momentum. Before the year was out, the lawmakers had authorized the purchase of an additional six ships and the construction of thirteen frigates; selected a commander for the Continental fleet, Esek Hopkins; commissioned eighteen naval officers; created two Marine battalions; established service pay and subsistence tables; authorized prize moneys for the capture and sale of enemy warships; adopted a naval code of discipline drafted by John Adams; and formed an administrative body, the Marine Committee, to give force, guidance, and direction to the new navy.

The frenetic pace of activity in naval affairs continued through the first months of 1776 enabling Esek Hopkins to have his squadron of eight vessels manned and ready to put to sea on 17 February. Hopkins returned less than two months later with a large store of ordnance and munitions taken at New Providence Island in the Bahamas and with two British warships as prizes.

The work of John Adams and others in effecting the creation of the Continental Navy in the fall and winter of 1775-76 was an impressive achievement. In five months these dedicated navalists had brought together ships, men, and administrative machinery, and launched a fleet on its first operational cruise. It was a bold signal by America’s Continental leaders that they were willing to challenge Great Britain on the high seas.

While the Continental Navy never achieved the heights of greatness many Continental leaders envisioned for it, its accomplishments were nonetheless noteworthy and enduring. Over the course of the War of Independence, the navy sent to sea more than fifty armed vessels of various types. The navy’s squadrons and cruisers seized enemy supplies and carried correspondence and diplomats to Europe, returning with needed munitions. They took nearly 200 British vessels as prizes, some off the British Isles themselves, contributing to the demoralization of the enemy and forcing the British to divert warships to protect convoys and trade routes. In addition, the navy provoked diplomatic crises that helped bring France into the war against Great Britain. And at a time when the country had few national symbols to look to, the Continental Navy helped provide a focus for unity at home and a demonstration of national resolve abroad. Finally, the Continental Navy bequeathed a legacy of wartime experience, traditions, and heroes that has guided and inspired sailors and civilians in the United States Navy down to the present day.

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