The Pennsylvania State Navy was formed on July 6, 1775 by
the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety for the defense and safety of Philadelphia's
waterborne approach - the Delaware. Thirteen row galley's were ordered built, each
to be armed with a single large cannon in the bow. Amazingly, the first of these was
launched on July 19th, and by August there were six. Completed and commissioned,
they were named:
The armament ranged from 18-pounders up to
32-pounders. By the close of 1775, ten fire rafts were built. In 1776 two
floating batteries, the ARNOLD and PUTNAM, were
commissioned and crewed by Pennsylvania State Marines. By August of 1776, the
Pennsylvania State Navy totaled twenty-seven vessels crewed by 768 men.1
Toward the end of 1776, twenty-one smaller vessels were ordered built.
They were called "armed boats" or "guard boats", and each were armed
with a 4-pounder cannon in the bow. They were named:
The Navy saw action for the first time on May 6, 1776 when
it engaged the British ships ROEBUCK 44 and LIVERPOOL 28. After a
brief engagement, both enemy ships were forced to withdraw south past Newcastle, Delaware.
On September 26, 1777, British General Sir William Howe took possession of
Philadelphia. Keeping him from receiving the needed supplies were the Pennsylvania
State Navy, Fort Mifflin, Fort Mercer and other fortified posts along the Delaware River
south of the city. The Royal Navy was intent on forcing its way north up the
Delaware to relieve the troops in Philadelphia, and to do so meant fighting their way
clear of river obstructions and the State Navy.
On October 23, 1777, the British ship AUGUSTA 64 ran aground
midchannel off Fort Mifflin. Concentrated fire from the State Navy boats and from
Fort Mifflin set fire to the ship, and the Augusta exploded. The British ship MERLIN
18 also ran aground and was set on fire by its crew to avoid capture.
After the fall of both Forts Mifflin and Mercer, some of the State Navy
boats made their way north past Philadelphia where they were scuttled to avoid capture.
Larger State ships, such as the ANDREA DORIA, were set on fire by their crew to
keep them from falling into British hands.
Detailed accounts can be found in the following text:
and Seamen of the American Revolution" by Jack Coggins, Promontory Press,
"The Pennsylvania State Navy,
1775-1781. The Defense of the Delaware" by John W. Jackson, Rutgers
University Press, 1974.
Although both are out of print, they can regularly be found at www.abebooks.com.