It was “the maddest Idea in the World to think of building an American Fleet.”

The above was famously spoken by Samuel Chase of Maryland scoffing at a proposal to build an American Navy before the Continental Congress.

Brittania ruled the waves in those days. Although it had been contested by the Dutch, Spanish, and especially the French, she beat every adversary it had fought. Now America itself was the Crown’s enemy for rebelling and seeking independence.

The Colonies ran up the Eastern Seaboard of North America and were entirely dependent on foreign trade for their economy.  Now with a war on, the Royal Navy was blockading or occupying the Colonies’ seaports and British ships were arriving from England laden with troops, ammunition, guns, and supplies.

Members of Congress, John Adams in particular, were strong advocates of a Continental navy that could capture British merchant vessels, raid British possessions in West Indies, and in doing so draw blockading Royal Navy ships away in pursuit.  This would allow American merchant ships a chance to bring much-needed war materials in from France.

Other members saw a navy as a waste of money and resources that were needed elsewhere desperately. Ships, crews, and especially cannons were expensive and Washington needed the guns more than the few ships the Continental navy could put to sea.

Besides, the various colonies had already commissioned dozens of privateers who were already preying on British shipping and doing some damage in the process. But these ships were privately owned and were not warships in the classic sense. They would run down a merchantman with a crew of 20 sailors to seize the ship and cargo for the financial incentive of a share of the value of both. Yet, taking on a Royal Navy frigate was just out of the question for privateers. They were in it for the money, not the glory.