USS United States on Patrol
Credit: Patrick O'Brien Studio /

Birth of the Navy

On October 13, 1775, less than six months after the outbreak of the American Revolution, the Navy was born in Philadelphia.

The Navy was created in Independence Hall months before the Declaration of Independence was adopted, and has served our Nation for over two centuries.

At the urging of General George Washington, the Second Continental Congress created the Continental Navy. In Philadelphia, the Congress commissioned the first Navy officers, including John Barry, regarded as the Father of the U.S. Navy, and John Paul Jones, who went on to fame by raiding the coasts of Britain itself.

On the Philadelphia bank of the Delaware River, the new Navy commissioned its first ship, the USS Alfred. On the Alfred, John Paul Jones was the first to hoist the original American national flag, the Grand Union Flag. Later, Francis Hopkinson, a New Jersey signer of the Declaration, designed the first Navy flag, which became the pattern for the Stars and Stripes.

In Philadelphia's Tun Tavern, John Adams wrote the Navy’s organizing document, the Articles of War. From the Delaware the navy’s first flotilla sailed, and escorted the Marines on their first amphibious operation to seize guns and gunpowder from the British in the Bahamas. The Navy’s efforts were organized in Philadelphia through most of the American Revolution, until the war ended and the Continental Navy was dissolved.

The U.S. Navy was reborn in Philadelphia after the Constitution was adopted there. A few years after Philadelphia became the Nation’s Capital, Congress met in Congress Hall and passed the Navy Act of 1794, creating the Department of the Navy. There President Washington nominated the first Secretary of the Navy, and Congress authorized construction of the famed six frigates, which were designed in Philadelphia. The first – USS United States – was launched on the Delaware and was the first U.S. Navy ship.

John Barry
John Paul Jones
Francis Hopkinson

Credit for all portraits: Independence National Historical Park

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