General Washington’s Wolfpack


From Geoff Hunt’s spectacular series of prints depicting dramatic naval actions associated with the War of Independence and the War of 1812. Continental Army schooners raiding British supply ships off Cape Cod, March 1776. Encamped outside Boston in 1775, General Washington’s forces outnumbered the British trapped within the city. But the British commanded the sea, and Washington could see their supply ships going to and fro as they pleased. There was no Continental Navy to stop them.

Washington was very anxious to disrupt this trade and if possible capture munitions, particularly gunpowder; of which his army was desperately in need. The resourceful general improvised his own navy, leasing eight small schooners and manning them with soldiers from sea-minded units of his army, such as the 21st Massachusetts, who hailed from Marblehead. These little vessels – only about sixty feet long, armed with a handful of four-pounder cannon – when handled with determination, played havoc with British supplies and even captured the longed-for powder ship. During March 1776 they were operating together in groups of up to five. Their career lasted until the fall of 1777, when the last of them passed into history. Their work was done. The continental Navy was going to sea – some of its officers having first served their country in the schooners of Washington’s army.

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