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December 2, 2014: Tim McGrath

Give Me a Fast Ship: The Continental Navy
Tim McGrath talk

Tim McGrath, author of Give Me A Fast Ship: The Continental Navy and America’s Revolution at Sea, delivered a humorous and engaging program about his book before a capacity crowd on Tuesday, December 2 at Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge. The talk, the third in the 2014–15 Speaker Series, was presented by The Friends of Valley Forge Park and Washington Memorial Heritage. The Sherrin H. and Bruce A. Baky Foundation sponsors the 2014-2015 Speaker Series.

Some points from the talk:

  • Tim fell in love with stories about the Navy and the sea when he was only a young lad.
  • The American economy in the 1700’s was dependent on the sea – both that of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
  • John Adams – who had no maritime experience - was a strong proponent of raising an American Navy.
  • Continental Congress established the Navy on October 13, 1775.
  • One year after the birth of the Navy, and desperate for men, the Navy recruited slaves, prisoners, foreigners, Frenchmen, and Native Americans to fill the ranks.
  • Few jobs were more dangerous than that of a sailor.
  • The Marine Corps was born in Philadelphia on November 10, 1775. The bill to establish the Marine Corps was written by John Adams.
  • The Constitution of the United States, ratified in 1789, empowered Congress “to provide and maintain a Navy.” In 1794 Congress acted on that power and authorized and manned six frigates.
  • Three of those frigates, USS United States, USS Constellation, and USS Constitution, were completed and launched in 1797.
  • The ships were innovation in design and beautiful to behold.
  • Congress never adequately funded the Navy.
  • Nicholas Biddle, one of the first captains of the Continental Navy, explored the North Pole in 1773.
  • John Barry and Anthony Wayne went on a cattle rustling expedition from Valley Forge.
  • John Paul Jones was a peerless mariner, a visionary, and his own press agent. Smitten with Phillis Wheatley, he wrote poems to her.
  • Gustavus Conyngham, who captured and burned more enemy ships than anyone else and brought France into the war, died in England by hanging.
  • Although the American Navy once had 57 ships, there were only two left at the end of the Revolutionary War.
  • John Adams – “It is very difficult to think of our Navy without tears.”