Sep 4

A French Double: Two dates in the Storied Partnership of America and France

Thursday, September 4, 2014 10:07 AM
Artist Benjamin West (1730-1820) painted the depiction of the signing of the treaty between America and Great Britain on Sept. 3, 1783, but was never finished because the British delegation refused to pose. Pictured are John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens and William Temple Franklin. National Archives photo

Artist Benjamin West (1730-1820) painted the depiction of the signing of the treaty between America and Great Britain on Sept. 3, 1783, but was never finished because the British delegation refused to pose. Pictured are John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens and William Temple Franklin. National Archives photo

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Today we recognize two events that showed the United States’ appreciation for France’s support during the six years the young nation actively fought for independence from Great Britain. Benjamin Franklin, America’s first diplomat, was the driving force behind the warm relationship between the U.S. and France which readily agreed to recognize the 13 former British colonies as their own nation.

And so it was on Sept. 3, 1782, the United States gave as a gift to King Louis XVI a not-yet-completed 74-gun man-of-war to be named America, and a year later, it was in France where the Treaty of Paris would be negotiated and signed Sept. 3, 1873, officially giving the United States of America its freedom from Great Britain.

Neither effort by the Americans to honor their French partnership were sustained. The ship America lasted only three years sailing for the French. And less than 10 years after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the death of King Louis XVI would end more than 1,000 years of continuous rule by French monarchy during the French Revolution. And with the Louisiana Purchase 10 years after that, the French had no territory left near their former ally.

America, the only liner built of those authorized by the first American legislation. Presented to France prior to launching, she did not commission in the Continental Navy. Oil by Blunt, 1835. Courtesy of the Marine Historical Association, Inc., Mystic, Conn.

Oil painting by John S. Blunt, 1834, depicting the warship America, 74 guns, built in Portsmouth, NH, in 1781 and presented to France. Image courtesy of Mystic Seaport.

 Not the first USS America

She had at one point two legends of the U.S. Navy assigned as her commanders. She was the largest and most powerful man-of-war built in her day, constructed in a shipyard of a fledging nation still fighting for its independence.

Yet in a twist of fate, by the time the warship to be named America was ready to leave the dock, she would instead fly under the French flag. On Sept. 3, 1782, Congress decided to give the nearly finished America to King Louis XVI of France to replace the French ship of the line Magnifique, which had run aground and was destroyed Aug. 11, 1782 while attempting to enter Boston harbor. America was to symbolize the new nation’s appreciation for France’s service to and sacrifices on behalf of the cause of American patriots during the American Revolution. It had been less than a year earlier when France’s intervention during the Battle of Yorktown Oct. 9, 1781 resulted in British Gen. Cornwallis retreating, effectively ending the war.

The Continental Congress had authorized the construction of three 74-gun ships of the line on Nov. 9, 1776. America was laid down in May 1777 in the shipyard of John Langdon on Rising Castle Island in the Piscataqua River between Portsmouth, N.H. and Kittery, Maine.

Progress on her construction was delayed by a chronic scarcity of funds and a consequent shortage of skilled craftsmen and well-seasoned timber. After dragging on for two years, the Marine Committee named Capt. John Barry as her prospective commanding officer Nov. 6, 1779. He had already kept the Marine Committee from down-grading the 74-gun man-of-war to a 54-gun frigate. He was ordered to hurry the process and get the ship finished.

But Barry could do little about getting more skilled labor and seasoned wood. On Sept. 5, 1780, he was ordered to Boston to take command of what many considered the finest ship to serve in the Continental Navy, the 36-gun frigate Alliance, which had recently arrived from Europe.

But the loss of Capt. Barry would hardly be felt since the ship’s next commanding officer was Capt. John Paul Jones, legendary already for his exploits in fighting the British earlier in the war. He arrived at Portsmouth on Aug. 31, 1781, where he threw himself into the task of getting the man-of-war to sail within a year.

But then fate would change the ship’s journey, and effectively ended Capt. Jones’ career in a post-Revolutionary War navy. When the French ship Magnifique was destroyed entering Boston Harbor, Congress took the opportunity to play a bit of politics by giving the not-yet-completed ship to King Louis XVI on Sept. 3, 1782.

Greatly disappointed, Jones remained in Portsmouth striving to finish the new ship of the line. On Nov. 5, 1782, Jones watched as the America, partially held back by a series of ropes calculated to break in sequence to check the vessel’s acceleration, slipped gracefully into the waters of the Piscataqua.

After she was rigged and fitted out, the ship, the former commander of Magnifique, M. le Chevalier de Macarty Martinge, departed Portsmouth on June 24, 1783 and reached Brest, France, on July 16, six years after her keel was laid.

As her wake dissipated, so, too, was Jones’ career in the United States. With no ship to command, there simply was no position for Jones. He returned to Europe in 1783 to collect prize money due his crew. By 1787, he was a rear admiral in the Russian Navy. Five years later, while still pleading for a position within the U.S. Navy, he would die in France.

Alas, America’s service with the French was fleeting. Three years after receiving America as a gift, dry rot would do her in. A survey committee determined the dry rot, probably caused by her wartime construction from green timber, was beyond economical repair. She was scrapped and a new French warship bearing the same name was built in 1788. That Temeraire-class America was captured by the British during the Battle of Glorius First of June in 1794. Renamed HMS Impetuex, the ship served in the Royal Navy until she was broken up in 1813. But she became the prototype for the Royal Navy’s own America-class ships of line.

 Signing the preliminary Treaty of Peace at Paris. John Jay and Benjamin Franklin are standing at the left. The scene depicted took place on Nov. 30, 1782, one of many treaty signings between Great Britain, the United States and other European countries. This is a print of a painting by German artist Carl Wilhelm Anton Se8iler (1846-1921). Photo courtesy of U.S. Diplomacy Center

Signing the preliminary Treaty of Peace at Paris. John Jay and Benjamin Franklin are standing at the left. The scene depicted took place on Nov. 30, 1782, one of many treaty signings between Great Britain, the United States and other European countries. This is a print of a painting by German artist Carl Wilhelm Anton Se8iler (1846-1921). Photo courtesy of U.S. Diplomacy Center



 Diplomatic Dream Team

That the Treaty of Paris was developed where it was would come as no surprise to those who knew Benjamin Franklin. A distinguished scientific and literary scholar, French aristocrats and intellectuals alike embraced Franklin as a perfect example of New World Enlightenment. (We’ll forgive Franklin his preference of the turkey for our national bird). He had the popularity of a rock star in France, where ladies would fashion their hair in a style that imitated the balding diplomat’s fur cap he wore instead of a wig.

After Britain’s defeat at Yorktown in Oct. 1781, America’s dream team of diplomats – Franklin, John Adams and John Jay – began hammering out a treaty. Franklin started by asking for Canada, knowing the British government would never accept that offer. But asking for the moon allowed Franklin to gain fishing rights off the Newfoundland coast, plus expanded the young nation west to the Mississippi River, to the Florida border (then owned by Spain) to the south and to the Canadian border to the north. The formal treaty was signed by Great Britain on Sept. 3, 1783, although it wasn’t ratified by the United States Congress until the following year. The treaty also included a promise to give back to British Loyalists their land confiscated during the American Revolution. Some states did, others not so much.

Ironically, France’s appreciation for enlightened thinkers like Franklin and Jefferson, and the creation of a constitution that emphasized reason and individualism rather than tradition, would play a large part in the bloody French Revolution. Less than 10 years later, King Louis XVI, who had ruled for nearly 20 years, would be overthrown and guillotined in January 1793.

An offer he couldn’t refuse

Just another decade later, former Treaty of Paris dream team negotiator and now president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, would pull off the April 11, 1803 Louisiana Purchase from the French at a time when Napoleon needed money more than land to fight the British. Prepared to purchase just the city of New Orleans for $10 million, Jefferson quickly accepted Napoleon’s offer to purchase all of the Louisiana Territory for $15 million, which doubled the size of the United States to the Rocky Mountains on the west and completely boot their former ally out of owning any territory near America’s borders.

Aug 19

USS Constitution: Presence Then, Presence Now

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 5:13 PM

By Cmdr. Sean Kearns
73rd Commanding Officer
USS Constitution

Cmdr. Sean Kearns, 73rd Commanding Officer of USS Constitution

Cmdr. Sean Kearns, 73rd Commanding Officer of USS Constitution

The Chief of Naval Operations’ Guiding Principles (Warfighting First, Operate Forward, Be Ready) were as important and applicable to the early chapters of our Navy’s history as they are today. In the months leading up to our declaration of war against Great Britain, Captain Isaac Hull personally witnessed the rising tension between our Navy and the Royal Navy. As he departed Cherbourg to bring USS Constitution home in January 1812, he was hailed by British ships in the Mediterranean Sea. Upon reaching Washington, D.C., Captain Hull’s suspicions that our country was on a trajectory to war were confirmed. By early-March, Constitution was undergoing a major refit and on June 18, the very day war was declared, Constitution sailed from Washington to Annapolis and received orders to sail to New York to rendezvous with other ships. Less than a month later, Constitution was nearly ambushed by a squadron of five British warships while executing these orders. Captain Hull and his First Lieutenant, Charles Morris, expertly evaded capture in the face of negligible winds and high temperatures in a 57-hour affair July 15-17, 1812 that became known as the “Great Chase.”

 On August 19, Constitution came across one of the five ships she evaded the previous month – HMS Guerriere. The ensuing 35-minute battle with Guerriere resulted in America’s first victory over a ship of the Royal Navy and earned Constitution her famous nickname, “Old Ironsides.” This victory would not have been possible without foresight and attention to world affairs and current events by Captain Hull. Nor would this victory have been possible without Captain Hull’s determination to train his crew in sailing their ship and firing her guns. And, perhaps most-importantly, this victory would not have been possible without the willingness and determination of Captain Hull to sail into harm’s way. This victory embodied principles laid out by John Paul Jones during the American Revolution; these principles live on in the CNO’s Guiding Principles.

One can conduct a cursory review of the events surrounding this chapter in USS Constitution’s history and easily find the Secretary of the Navy’s Four Ps (People, Platforms, Power, and Partnerships). At the time of her construction, USS Constitution was an expression of outer limits of shipbuilding technology; a hull design with a higher length-to-beam ratio for speed, heavy construction employing Southern Live Oak that made “Old Ironsides all but impenetrable, diagonal riders to reduce hogging, and a heavy gun armament. These signature features made for a strong ship that could sail fast and easily defeat ships of equal size. The U.S. Navy of 1812 was, as is the case today, a volunteer force which, because the U.S. Navy certainly offered a better quality of life and more pay than the Royal Navy or many of the merchants, attracted high-quality Sailors. Without the best and brightest Sailors or Captain Hull’s leadership, Constitution could never have served her long and distinguished career. After the War of 1812, Constitution would serve the Navy as a tool for diplomacy and partnership. From 1844 to 1846, the ship sailed around the world; her feats during this voyage include transporting the U.S. Minister to Brazil, rescuing hostages from Da Nang, and impressing the Hawaiian King Kamehameha with a demonstration of the Paixhans guns (precursor to the Dahlgren gun that fired exploding shells). She even received Pope Pius IX – the first Pontiff to ever set foot on sovereign American territory – on August 1, 1849, during her last voyage to the Mediterranean Sea.

For more on the USS Constitution click here.

Action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, August 19, 1812: "In Action" Oil on canvas, 32" x 48", by Michel Felice Corne (1752-1845), depicting the two frigates firing on each other, as Guerriere's mizzen mast goes over the side. Painting in the collections of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, transferred from the Navy Department in 1869. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives Photograph, K-26254 (Color).

Action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, August 19, 1812: “In Action” Oil on canvas, 32″ x 48″, by Michel Felice Corne (1752-1845), depicting the two frigates firing on each other, as Guerriere’s mizzen mast goes over the side. Painting in the collections of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, transferred from the Navy Department in 1869. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives Photograph, K-26254 (Color).

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).

Oct 22

Cuban Missile Crisis: “When the Right Words Counted”

Monday, October 22, 2012 1:00 AM

On 22 October 1962, President John F. Kennedy delivered a televised speech, arguably “the most serious speech delivered in his lifetime” and the “most frightening presidential address” in U.S. history.’ Soviet missile-launch sites had been discovered under construction in Cuba. The response resuIted from deliberations among the President and his ad hoc Executive Committee (ExCom).

Its final draft was improved significantly by an unlikely person: the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral George W. Anderson, Jr.  Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 3

Adventures of Old Glory

Tuesday, July 3, 2012 12:46 PM

The U.S. Flag taken while looking up from the USS Utah Monument along "Carrier Row", Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Oahu.

A brief American flag history from 1777-1927 is presented in celebration of Independence Day. In the March 1927 issue of Proceedings, an article was published with a chronology of some “firsts” for the American flag. Another “first” not included in the following article: On July 4, 1777, John Paul Jones and the crew of the Sloop-of-War Ranger hoisted the first “Stars and Stripes” flag to be flown on board a continental warship.

Adventures 0f “Old Glory”

By William E. Beard

The flag of the United States, adopted June 14, 1777, was thereafter in the Revolution thirteen stars and thirteen stripes. The War of 1812 was fought under a flag of fifteen stars and fifteen stripes. Effective July 4. 1818, the original number of stripes, thirteen, was restored, and the number of stars was made to depend upon the number of states. The flag of the Mexican War bore twenty-nine stars; that of the Civil War, thirty-one to thirty-five; of the Spanish American war, forty-five, and of the World War, forty-eight.

Displayed in battle for first time. The United States flag was displayed in battle for the first time on August 3, 1777, at Fort Stanwix, or Fort Schuyler (the present site of Rome, New York), by the command of Colonel Peter Gansevoort on the appearance of a force of British, Tories and Indians led by Colonel Barry St. Leger, who was acting in concert with Burgoyne in the latter’s ill-fated invasion of New York. The record reads: “Aug. 3d. Early this morning a Continental flag made by the officers of Colonel Gansevoort’s regiment was hoisted and a cannon levelled at the enemy camp was fired on the occasion.” The improvised flag continued to flaunt a defiance to St. Leger’s blood curdling threats, though the fort was closely beset and an expedition commanded by Gen. Nicholas Herkimer failed, after a furious woodland battle, to relieve it. The siege was not raised until August 22, 1777, when the enemy decamped on the approach of an American brigade led by Arnold. The brave Gansevoort died in 1812 still remembered as “The hero of Fort Schuyler.” Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 10

236th Birthday of the U. S. Marine Corps

Thursday, November 10, 2011 1:00 AM

November 10th, 1775

Congress Establishes U. S. Marine Corps

The First Recruits, December 1775, by Col. Charles Waterhouse, USMCR, shows Capt. Samuel Nicholas, 1st Lt. Matthew Parke, and a scowling sergeant with prospective Leathernecks on the Philadelphia waterfront. (USMC Art Collection)

236 years ago, the Continental Congress first established the Marine Corps to assist the Continental Navy in the American Revolution. At the time, Marines were already serving in various State Navies, and their exemplary service conviced the Congress that a Marine Corps would be of great value in winning the Revolution. An article in the June 1923 issue of Proceedings, by Major Edwin N. McClellan, USMC, documents vividly the first years of the U. S. Marine Corps. McClellan’s article gives a detailed account of the founding of the Marine Corps, as well as its recruiting methods, the many services perfomed by Marines, and even the uniform and salary given to the Continental Marines. Noting the great role played by the Marine Corps in the American revolution, the article begins with a quote from the American writer, James Fenimore Cooper:

“At no period of the naval history of the world, is it probable that Marines were more important than during the War of the Revolution,” wrote J. Fenimore Cooper, and “the history of the Navy, even at that early day, as well as in these later times, abounds with instances of the gallantry and self-devotion of this body of soldiers.” Read the rest of this entry »

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!

Oct 13

Reflecting on the Navy’s Heritage on its 235th Birthday

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 8:00 AM

Adapted from Chapter 2 of the 24th edition of The Bluejacket’s Manual by Thomas J. Cutler

Even though the United States is the fourth largest nation in the world in terms of land area, it has always been a maritime nation, focusing on the sea as one of its most important assets. During the colonial period and in the early days of the Republic, it was much easier to travel from colony to colony or state to state by ship than by horse or on foot, and fishing, whaling, and overseas trade were among the fledgling nation’s earliest businesses. One of its earliest challenges was the War of 1812, which was partially decided by a series of stellar naval victories against the world’s foremost sea power at the time. A naval blockade and riverine warfare were essential elements in the Civil War, and the war against Spain at the end of nineteenth century was begun by a naval tragedy and decided largely by naval victories. American commerce would never have thrived without open sea lanes, two world wars could not have been won without the lifelines maintained across the world’s oceans, and United States control of the sea was an essential element in the victory over Communism in the Cold War. Throughout the nation’s history, the sea has played an important role in America’s economy, defense, and foreign policy. Today, the modern United States of America continues to look to the sea for these same things and relies upon its Navy to preserve and further the nation’s maritime interests.

Being a maritime nation means having a comfortable relationship with the sea, using it to national advantage and seeing it as a highway rather than as an obstacle. An illustration of this point can be seen in World War II. By 1941, Hitler had conquered much of the land of Europe, but because Germany was not a maritime power, he saw the English Channel (a mere twenty miles across at one point) as a barrier, and England remained outside his grasp. Yet the Americans and British were later able to strike across this same channel into Europe to eventually bring Nazi Germany to its knees. And in that same war, the United States attacked Hitler’s forces in North Africa from clear across the Atlantic Ocean—a distance of more than 3,000 nautical miles.

The navy of a maritime nation must be able to carry out a variety of strategic missions. Currently, the U.S. Navy has 6 important missions, all of which have been carried out effectively at various times in the nation’s history:
• Sea Control
• Deterrence
• Forward presence
• Power projection
• Maritime Security
• Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response

Read the rest of this entry »