Document Type

Honors Thesis

Publication Date



The story of the land war of the American Revolution has been told many times. However, the naval conflict remains largely ignored except for its most famous aspects, such as the voyages of John Paul Jones. When the sea battles of the Revolution have been discussed it has mostly been in the context of the end of the war when the navy had already existed for some time. Historians such as William Fowler and Nathaniel Miller have attempted comprehensive studies of the Continental Navy, but neither focus on the character and significance of naval combat in the first year of the war. The early naval battles of 1775-1776 demonstrate that the navy of the United Colonies was still a decentralized, disorganized force that was controlled not by a central governing agency but by independent local leaders. These men looked for opportunities for success and valor, perhaps even for personal profit, and took advantage of opportunities as they arose, whether it was part of the navy’s larger plan or not. These characteristics were illustrated in the Battle of Machias, the Battle of Nassau, and the Battle of Valcour, in each of which men acted on their own initiative, and with the exception of Valcour, experienced success. The valuable and unique nature of the naval war of the American Revolution from 1775-1776 becomes clear through a close examination of the formation of the Continental Navy and the interconnections between the land and sea war.