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War on the Sea

The United States had no navy, but many private vessels were employed as privateers (an armed ship that is privately owned and manned, commissioned by the government to fight enemy ships), and the destruction of British merchant shipping was enormous. It is estimated that seventy thousand Americans were at one time engaged on the sea against the enemy. In 1775 Congress ordered the building of a national navy, which did great service for the country.

John Paul Jones was a resident of Virginia who became the hero of a famous naval duel in 1779. With a squadron of three ships, he met British Captain Pearson convoying a fleet of merchant vessels off the coast of Scotland, and at once the flagships engaged in a conflict. In the midst of the battle Jones ran his vessel into the enemy ship and ceased firing for the moment. Captain Pearson called out, "Have you struck your colors?" "I have not yet begun to fight," was the now famous answer of Jones. The bloody fight went on until the decks of both ships were covered with dead and dying. When American victory was complete, the news of the victory made a profound sensation on the continent. It called the world's attention to the rising nation in the West—this signal victory in sight of the British coast.

The American privateers did much damage to British shipping. After the alliance with France was established, the powerful French navy was employed in the patriot cause. Spain declared war against England in the summer of 1779, so the Spanish navy also aided the Americans.

Late in 1780, Holland also declared war against England, so the British had to fight three of the great European powers in addition to America. It was not possible for England to win against such odds, nor to regain her colonies in America.


Source: War on the Sea
Converted from Henry William Elson's History of the United States of America The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904; Public Domain

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