Courtesy of our friends at History.com, I am pleased to begin each and every day of the week here at Bulldog Pundit with a snippet of some important event that occurred on this date sometime in the past. Some events might come readily to mind while others may take a bit of effort to recall. Not all are historically portentous and some may even seem whimsical. Nevertheless, each and every one is a grain in the hourglass of human history.
The U.S. Navy is the only branch of our armed forces specifically mentioned in the Constitution (Article I, Section 8, paragraph 13). Paragraph 14 refers to armies in the plural and stipulates that appropriations for land forces have a two year time limit). Long before Alfred Thayer Mahan, the Framers understood the critical importance of a navy to the future survival of our republic.
It is also interesting to note that the Gadsden Flag – appropriated by the Tea Party movement as its symbol and banner – was the first battle standard of the Continental Navy.
On Friday, December 22, 1775, the Continental Congress creates a Continental Navy, naming Esek Hopkins, Esq., as commander in chief of the fleet.
Congress also named four captains to the new service: Dudley Saltonstall, Abraham Whipple, Nicholas Biddle and John Burrows Hopkins. Their respective vessels, the Alfred,Columbus,Andrew Doria and Cabot, became the first ships of the Navy’s fleet. Five first lieutenants, including future American hero John Paul Jones, five second lieutenants, and three third lieutenants also received their commissions.
The new Admiral Hopkins, as he was dubbed by George Washington, was a Rhode Islander of some standing. His brother was Stephen Hopkins, the state’s governor. Esek Hopkins had married well and used his wife’s fortune to buy a ship. It proved a wise investment. He added to his wealth working as a privateer during the Seven Years’ War. In his new position, Congress promised to pay him 125 dollars per calendar month; they also informed that he could look forward to some share of the prizes allotted to the captors. Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina designed Hopkins’ personal standard, which flew from the first navy fleet. The yellow flag bore the image of a coiled snake and the Patriot motto, Don’t Tread on Me.
Hopkins’ first assignment was to assess the feasibility of an attack on British naval forces in the Chesapeake Bay. After sailing south with his meager force of eight ships, Hopkins decided that victory in such an encounter was impossible. He sailed to the Bahamas instead, where he attacked the British port of Nassau, a decision for which he was relieved of his command upon returning to the continent.
Times were tough for our fledgling navy and battle conditions at sea were often brutal, as this excerpt from the HBO miniseries “John Adams” graphically depicts: