USS Philadelphia (1776)
|Philadelphia on display at the National Museum of American History|
The Philadelphia on display at the National Museum of American History
|Laid down:||July 1776|
Sunk, 11 October 1776|
|Length:||57 ft (17 m)|
|Beam:||17 ft (5.2 m)|
|Draft:||2 ft (0.61 m)|
• 1 × 12-pounder gun|
• 2 × 9-pounder guns
|U.S. National Register of Historic Places|
|U.S. National Historic Landmark|
|Location:||14th St. and Constitution Ave., NW|
|Governing body:||SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION|
|Added to NRHP:||October 15, 1966|
|Designated NHL:||January 20, 1961|
Continental gunboat Philadelphia is the only surviving gunboat built and manned by American Forces during the Revolutionary War. Part of a hastily constructed fleet, she is one of 15 small craft with which General Benedict Arnold fought about 30 British vessels off Valcour Island in Lake Champlain in October 1776.
Philadelphia was a gundalow (sometimes referred to as a gondola) constructed by General Arnold at Skenesboro, New York. Laid down early in July 1776, she was launched in mid-August, and placed in service shortly thereafter under a Capt. Rice.
Arnold's flotilla was built to check the expected British invasion being launched from Montreal by the Royal Governor of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton. A thrust down the historic Lake Champlain–Hudson Valley invasion corridor was chosen to sever New England from the middle and southern American Colonies. An almost complete absence of intercolonial roads demanded that the approach be made by water.
The Americans had enjoyed unchallenged supremacy on Lake Champlain since the capture of the British shipyard at St. Johns toward the end of the first month of the war, but after the Americans withdrew from the Richelieu River a year later, the British embarked on a vigorous shipbuilding program to achieve naval superiority. The British, aided greatly by skilled men, equipment, and material of the Royal Navy in the St. Lawrence River, won the construction race.
However, Arnold was undaunted. Late in August he assembled his little fleet and cruised provocatively on the upper lake. On 23 September he stationed his ships on the New York shore near Valcour Bay to intercept the British squadron's advance on Fort Ticonderoga. The two forces clashed on 11 October. During a six-hour fight the 12-gun schooner USS Royal Savage ran aground and was burned. Toward dusk the British guns holed Philadelphia with a 24-pound shot and she soon sank. Night closed the battle enabling Arnold to slip away with the remainder of his fleet, but he lost most of his ships during a two-day running battle.
The sacrifice was not in vain. Arnold's ships delayed the British advance until approaching winter caused them to suspend operations until spring. The Americans made good use of the year of grace which their ships on Lake Champlain had won. A much stronger patriot army awaited General John Burgoyne in 1777 and it finally forced him to surrender at Saratoga.
Raising and salvaging
Philadelphia was remarkably well preserved by the cold water when she was identified and salvaged in 1935 by a group of marine archaeologists headed by Colonel Lorenzo F. Hogglund. In addition to the guns and hull, hundreds of other items were recovered from the vessel. These relics included shot, cooking utensils, tools, buttons, buckles and human bones.
Philadelphia was exhibited at various locations on Lake Champlain and the Hudson River before becoming a long-term display at Exeter, New York. Bequeathed to the Smithsonian Institution in 1961, the Philadelphia and associated artifacts are part of the permanent collection of the National Museum of American History, in Washington D.C.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. http://www.nr.nps.gov/.
- "PHILADELPHIA (gundelo)". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=648&ResourceType=Structure. Retrieved 2007-11-04.
- Charles E. Shedd, Jr. and Blanche H. Schroer (February 24, 1977). Philadelphia (Continental Gundalow) / The PhiladelphiaPDF (269 KB). National Park Service and PDF (304 KB)
- This article includes text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.