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Where did the American patriots acquire cannons for their fledgling navy besides re-purposing cannons from captured British ships? The French? Or were captured cannons their only source?

Many thanks in advance

Mary Dover




Dear Ms Dover,

Britain had prohibited the production of cannon in the colonies, and yet when the American rebellion broke out in April 1775, the Continental Navy seems to have had little trouble acquiring the 10 guns fitted out in its first ship, the procured merchant ship Black Prince rechristened Alfred, in October. The original source was, of course, arms stolen or captured. The greatest windfall for the fledgling Continental Army came on May 9, 1775, when Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen surprised and seized Fort Ticonderoga, after which John Knox transported them to Boston, where they made it possible to drive the British out in March 1776. Those guns were then adapted for a variety of uses, both on land or aboard ship. Another windfall occurred when Esek Hopkins, with Alfred and seven other ships as well as 200 Continental Marines, landed at Nassau in the Bahamas on March 3, 1776, secured the town the next day and spent the next two weeks gathering up all the guns and ammunition they could carry off. Throughout the war, the privateers as well as Continental Navy ships seized whatever British vessels they could overpower, motivated by a bounty on captured cannon from the Continental Congress. Such acquisitions went both ways, of course—whenever the Continental Army suffered a major defeat or a Continental ship was captured, the British often got some of their guns back.

At the same time, iron works were being established throughout the rebelling colonies, to reverse engineer captured cannon for home production. Still, the most important source of reliable cannon the Patriot cause had was from the allies it made from February 1778 on—starting with, and principally, France.



Jon Guttman

Research Director

World History

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