Today, October 13th, is celebrated as the birthday of the United States Navy, not to be confused with Navy Day, which is celebrated on October 27th. The current “birthday” may have more to do with bragging rights than real birthdays.
For many years, the founding of the Navy was celebrated on various dates, the most common being either March 27th, the day in 1794 when the Congress authorized the construction of five frigates, or on April 30th, the day in 1798 when the Navy Department was first established.
This was all well and good until 1921 when the US Marine Corps decided to claim the date of their founding as November 10, 1775, when a resolution was passed by the Continental Congress to officially form the Continental Marines. In one fell swoop, the Marine Corps became older than the US Navy.
Finally in 1972, the Navy brass decided that if the Marines were founded by a resolution of the Continental Congress, then so was the Navy. On Friday, October 13, 1775, the Continental Congress voted to fit out two sailing vessels, armed with ten carriage guns to cruise for three months to intercept British ships carrying munitions and stores. Friday the 13th is not necessarily a fortuitous day to start an enterprise and sailors have always found Friday to be unlucky, but nevertheless, by adopting October 13th, the Navy was once again older than the Marine Corps. The inter-service battle had been won.
Of course, some may find it odd to claim that the Navy and the Marine Corps of the United States of America were founded before the founding of the United States of America itself. Indeed in 1775, the Continental Congress had not yet even declared independence from Great Britain. Also, at the end of the war, the fledgling republic sold off what ships survived and fired all its sailors and marines. It would be another eleven years before the republic reestablished a Navy and a Marine Corps.
And why does the Navy League celebrate Navy Day on October 27th? That is Theodore Roosevelt’s birthday, who has been called the “father of the modern Navy” for his deployment of the ”Great White Fleet” in in the early twentieth century.
If the date of the founding of the US Navy is a point of contention, then what of its birthplace? Five town and cities currently lay claim to the birthplace of the US Navy. (Thanks to Irwin Bryan for passing this along.) They are, Marblehead and Salem, which both claim ties to the Hannah, the first Continental vessel outfitted by Washington; Whitehall, New York, where Benedict Arnold built a small fleet in Lake Champlain; Providence, Rhode Island, where the citizenry was first to call for the establishment of a navy; and Philadephia, PA, where the Continental Congress voted to outfit ships for war. Like success, the Navy has many fathers.
So, happy birthday US Navy, wherever and whenever you may have been founded.