Keeping it all in the family, Robert Gwyn Mitchell (1852-1909) as well as his daughter, Margaret Gwynette Mitchell (1892-1933) both wrote prize winning DAR essays.
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ESSAY THAT WON THE D. A. R. PRIZE WRITTEN BY ROBT. G. MITCHELL
Condition and influence of Our Navy During the War of the American Revolution
When a British officer shouted to the patriots at Lexington on the morning of April 19, 1775, “Disperse, ye rebels,” the colonies did not possess a single ship with which to form a beginning of a navy.
For many years the colonies had been actively engaged in coasting trade and had aided England in her wars with France. They had a good many hardy, skilledseamen with which to man a navy, but no ships to put them on. Congress was not long in seeing theneed of a navy and in the same year ordered the construction of 13 vessels, one for each state. Two of these vessels carried 24 guns each. The rest of the 13 consisted of six brigs, carrying from ten to 12 guns; two schooners, each of eight guns and three sloops of ten guns. All of these were poorly equipped.
Early in 1776 Congress issued “letters of Marque and Reprisal” which authorized private parties to fit out ships and to attack the enemy’s ships and to do anything that a “Man o’ War” might do. It also authorized them to seize English merchantmen and to divide the spoils of prize money as it was called, among themselves.
It was a very tempting field for the brave and enterprising young American. It was not very long, after these letters were issued, until the swift sailing privateers put to sea. They helped the new Republic far more than we give them credit for.
In the year 1776, they captured 342 British ships, some of which were supply ships for the English army. This of course wrought a great damage to English shipping, and thus hurt the British land forces as well as her naval forces, for, to a certain extent, it cut off supplies from the outside.
Among the harvest of our Revolutionary naval heroes was an (unintelligible). He was a Scotchman and at the age of 12 years began a career as a sailor on a merchant vessel. After a good many years as a sailor he went to Virginia and made his home with his brother. When the war broke out he was among the first to offer his services on the side of liberty.
Paul Jones was the first man to hoist an American flag on an American Man of War. It was the well known rattle snake which bore the motto, “Don’t tread on me.”
Very few of our ships were up to the standard of the English ships, but we made the best of what we had and did it so effectively that when Jones sent to England he was looked upon with great terror. It was not our small, old ill-equipped vessels that frightened them, it was our unerring gunners. Bravery and skill that made them sit up and take notice. There is one exploit of Jones’ which shows his skill in baffling the enemy. One day he saw an American ship returning from the West Indies, heavily laden with supplies for Washington’s army. A British frigate was in hot pursuit and was gaining rapidly. Jones ran in between them and induced the British vessel to let the American vessel go and chase him. The British took advantage of this and started for Jones. Jones dodged them and thus the British frigate lost both.
England, thinking that her ships would do some good in America, sent most of them over here. I do not imagine she took into consideration that we might have a force on the water too.
From the time they came our ships kept them busy, not in actual fighting all the time, but in continual nagging and interferring, which kept the British from doing very great damage.
England, with France and Spain allied against her, Holland hostile to her and her navy over here in America, was a good place for us to strike. Jones saw this and sailed in the eighteen gun ship “Ranger” for Nantes, Frances. From here he went to Brest, refitted there, and in April, 1778, sailed for the British coast.
After taking (unintelligible) but failed. (unintelligible) fought a superior ship by the name of “Drake”, won the battle and returned to France.
From France he wrote for a larger and better ship. The ship that Franklin sent was an old Indiaman in which forty-two guns were placed. The original name for the ship was “Duras,” but at Jones’ request it was changed to “Bonhomme Richard.” It was in this ship that John Paul Jones had his famous fight with the “Serapis.”
In this fight with the “Bonhomme Richard” suffered from her own guns as well as those of the enemy. Two eighteen pounders out of a battery of six exploded killing the men that served them and tearing the deck away above them. The English shot a great hole through the hull of the American ship, but still Jones kept on. An explosion on the “Serapis” caused by the effect of a hand-granade thrown from the yard arm of the “Bonhomme Richard,” stopped the fight. At the same time the American ship was on fire and in danger of blowing up at any minute.
Of course, no matter how daring our cruisers, they did not always escape disaster. At the end of the warwe had lost twenty-four vessels, carrying four hundred and seventy guns; several of these were ship-wrecked. Contrast this with the loss of Great Britain: they lost one hundred and two vessels carrying two thousand, six hundred and twenty-four guns. The total number of vessels of allkinds captured by our cruisers and privateers was about eight hundred.
The influence of our navy in the war for independence was very great as I have shown. Some people go so far as to say we would not have gained our independence if it had not been for the navy. I hardly believe this, but at any rate, the war would have been longer and more disastrous had it not been for the timely and effective service rendered by our navy.