Last month, we delved into the North of Boston’s historical contributions to the US military. As we wrote, Salem is the birthplace of the National Guard while Newburyport is officially designated as a “Coast Guard City” (and has a signed proclamation from 1965 by then-President Johnson declaring it the official birthplace). But what about the US Navy? 5 (yes, 5) cities/towns across the East Coast claim to be the Navy birthplace – two of them, Beverly and Marblehead, are right within our region (the other 3 cities are Whitehall, NY, Providence, RI, and Philadelphia, PA). So, who’s correct?
Let us first look into each city’s claims. Providence, RI “asserts its title as the site of the first call for the establishment of a Navy.” In other words, Providence was the first to say “Hey. We should probably have some sort of amphibious military branch.” Not to discredit our smallest state, but after reading into the history of the Navy, Providence’s claim appears to be the weakest.
In September 1775, George Washington ordered the HMS Hannah to be outfitted as a war ship. The Hannah was built, outfitted in, and sailed out of Beverly. However, it was built by a contractor from Marblehead and manned by a Marblehead crew. In our opinion, the two coastal towns worked together to send out the Hannah under Washington’s command. There’s just one slight hitch – George Washington was commander of the Continental Army.
Around the same time, another section of the Continental Army, under the soon-to-be-strongly-disliked Benedict Arnold, undertook some maritime endeavors on Lake Champlain in Whitehall, NY, the basis for Whitehall’s claim to the birthplace title. Both military groups, as we have mentioned, were under the Continental Army. There was a Continental Navy established in October 1775 in Philadelphia, PA. The first ships were bought and outfitted in Philadelphia. This leads many to cite Philadelphia as the birthplace of the US Navy.
So, who gets to claim the title? The city who had the idea first? The city who first established a military branch with the word “navy” in the title? Or the cities who first brought their military efforts to the sea? When discussing the origins of the Navy, it’s not as simple as just saying “this city is the birthplace.” From our research, the official origins of the Navy seem to be a hot button issue and the Navy itself does not claim any one city as its birthplace. According to a US Navy website, “Unquestionably the contributions of all of these as well as of other towns to the commencement of naval operations in the American Revolution deserve recognition in any naval history of our country. Perhaps it would be historically accurate to say that America’s Navy had many “birthplaces.” In the end, it’s fair to say that each city played an important role in American naval history and all contributed something to the creation of the US Navy. That being said, in our (biased) opinion, Beverly and Marblehead share the honor of being the Navy cities. Under the command of George Washington, they made the first aquatic military endeavors in US history.