Reviving the Revolutionary War Naval History

Bill Lescher

October 19, 2022


Reviving the naval history of the Revolution is one way of learning about the period’s naval activities. This article will explore the French Navy under the tutelage of the “Sun King,” pirates, ships of lesser importance, and Anarchy on board French ships. You’ll also learn about the naval activities of the French government during this time. Regardless of your background, you’ll find this article fascinating. Louis XIV of France shaped the French Navy during the seventeenth century. The fleet was well-equipped and well-financed, and it had a proud tradition of naval victories, including a decisive victory over the English at the Battle of Sluys. But the French Navy also suffered strategic reversals at the hands of the Dutch under Michiel de Ruyter.

Privateers in naval history

In the years following the Revolution, the American colonies never challenged the dominance of Britannia on the seas, but they did have one advantage over the motherland. As Declaration of Independence signer Robert Morris once said, “The British have more to lose than we do.” In response, the Continental Congress enacted a law authorizing the construction of six frigates and a fleet of warships.

The French Navy, however, was limited to 75 ships of the line and about 70 frigates. Their lack of discipline meant they were disadvantaged in battles against disciplined foes. Many French seamen would not fight when faced with an enemy, and many officers had trouble delegating authority. In addition, there were many cases of gross cowardice. For example, the French ship Tourville was sunk early in 1793 when the crew refused to work the ship after losing its captain. Similarly, the crew of the Republicain refused to work after losing twelve men. Moreover, they failed to coordinate the rotation of ships refitted in ports.

Ships of lesser importance

The naval history of the American Revolution is largely land-based, but there are ships, especially in Boston. Only one significant naval battle was recorded during the war. Boston continued to sail as HMS Charlestown throughout the war, intercepting French ships en route to Boston in June of 1781. But as the war ended, Boston was no longer of great importance to the British Navy. This meant that it no longer served as a ship of war and was ultimately sold in 1783 – likely to pay off war debts.

In 1794, American merchant vessels were attacked by pirates from North Africa, leading to a national navy re-establishment. On March 27, 1794, Congress passed an act reestablishing the Navy. However, this act also stipulated that construction would cease once peace with Algiers was achieved. This peace was eventually achieved early in 1796, and construction on three frigates began in 1797.

Anarchy on French ships

Anarchy was a problem on many French ships during the Revolution. Merchants and property owners were vilified as anarchists. The anarchists controlled the convention and ruled by dictating its decisions. The French revolutionaries were furious and did not pardon the anarchists.

Anarchists had no place in the convention. They believed they belonged in the street. The federation of labor unions and consumer groups was ill-defined and unrealistic. They needed to be able to gain support from the public.

French Navy victories during the Franco-Dutch War

The French Navy achieved several early victories in the Nine Years War against the Dutch and Royal Navy. However, as the war continued, the French Navy suffered more defeats. This led to the English and Dutch regaining the initiative at sea. The Dutch, meanwhile, resisted the French occupation of the Dutch territories and remained afloat.

The French Navy’s strategic priorities were tied to their European ambitions, and they often struggled to maintain the same level of readiness as their land-based counterparts. As a result, training and operational performance were often neglected. As a result, the Royal Navy’s dominance of the seas accelerated during the eighteenth century, with the French enduring several significant defeats. Finally, in 1781, the French fleet under de Grasse defeated the English at the Battle of Chesapeake. This battle paved the way for the Franco-American victory at Yorktown.

Admiral Tourville’s victories during the War of the Grand Alliance

The War of the Grand Alliance, also known as the League of Augsburg, was a military conflict in the early seventeenth century. It was the third of the great aggressive wars of Louis XIV of France, which he waged against Great Britain, Spain, and the Dutch Republic. The war was fought in Holland and Spain.

On 30 May 1692, the main French fleet, consisting of 35 ships, was four kilometers away from the allied fleet. However, because of their badly damaged Soleil Royal, the French fleet could not keep up with the allied fleet. Therefore, the French decided to use the Raz de Blanchard, a channel with heavy currents between Alderney and Cotentin.

United States Navy during the American Revolutionary War

The British and the Americans used the Navy to defend their trade and lands during the American Revolutionary War. It also helped the British army hold off the Dutch and Spanish during the war’s later years. At the war’s end, the United States Navy was formally established with the creation of the federal Department of the Navy in April 1798.

The Naval Documents of the American Revolution series, compiled by the Naval History and Heritage Command, contains various primary sources for studying the Navy’s role in the war. These documents are composed of letters, diaries, and ship logs. Each volume is available for download in PDF format.