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 2-pounder, 3-pounder or 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,
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 vessles.
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 vessels from the State Navy made their way north past Philadelphia where they were
scuttled to avoid capture. Larger State ships were set on fire by their crew to
keep them from falling into British hands.
Detailed accounts can be found in the following
"The Pennsylvania State Navy,
1775-1781. The Defense of the Delaware" by John W. Jackson,
Rutgers University Press, 1974.
and Seamen of the American Revolution" by Jack Coggins, Promontory
Although both are out of print, they can regularly be found at www.abebooks.com.