There is not a lot known about the first ship to carry the name Independence in the fleets of the United States Navy. The ship is a bit of a mystery. There are some basic facts known about her and her commander, but not an awful lot; not nearly enough to satisfy my scholarly curiosity. Since I built the model I have been infected a strong desire to know as much as I can about the real Independence.
It's been 8 years since I built this model and I continue to research this vessel and will post my findings on this page.
Independence: What's in a name?
In fact, so little is known about this ship there are only a handful of concrete sources I have been able to locate that say anything more than just a passing reference to the name of the ship. The best source in book form I have found is the classic of US Naval history written by Howard I. Chapelle: The History of the American Sailing Navy: The Ships and Their Development. I have found this book to be a gold mine of information on sailing ships in the American Navies since 1775, including details on battles they fought and pictures of their plans.
Chapelle states that the Independence was a sloop of war, of 10 guns, purchased and commissioned in 1775 and was lost at Cracoke Inlet, North Carolina in 1778. Nothing in Chapelle's book sheds any light on her armament, crew size, or list of engagements, if any. The note that she was lost at Cracoke Inlet might be a mention of a battle, or maybe she just was sunk in a storm or ran aground and was burned to prevent capture---an all too often occurrence with American ships in the Revolution. At any rate, she obviously didn't have a long career with the fledgling Navy. However, I have come to discover that she did have a very distinguished, if brief, career under the command of Captain John Young.
There was another Independence commissioned in 1777, a brig of 12 guns. Very little is known about this ship as well, except that she was apparently sold in 1779. According to Wikipedia, which is a source I do not count as infallible, this second Independence was in fact a part of the Massachusetts state navy and only patrolled the New England coast during her service. Additionally, according to the book by Edgar Stanton Maclay, A History of American Privateers, this Independence was a privateer. (Click on the title of this book to go to Google Books and read the book online!) It would certainly explain the problem of having two vessels named Independence serving the Continental Navy under two captains at the same time.
The third ship of the sailing navy to bear the name Independence was America's first 74 gun ship of the line, built in 1814. She had a long and illustrious career with the navy and was converted to a frigate in 1836. She was finally destroyed for her metal fittings in the early part of the 20th century, having served the United States for over a hundred years.
The name Independence continued in the US Navy: In World War II, there was a light aircraft carrier (CVL-22) named Independence, later destroyed during weapons tests in the early 1950s. In 1959, another aircraft carrier (CV-62)was commissioned Independence and decommissioned in 1998 after an honorable service to America's freedom. Currently, the Navy is building another U.S.S. Independence, (LCS-2), a Littoral Combat Ship, the future of small, fast, coastal-waters surface warfare vessels.
The Truxton Debate: Which Ship? Finally Solved!
There is one more intriguing piece of information I can attach to my ship: Commodore Thomas Truxton of U.S.S. Constellation fame was a naval officer in the Revolutionary War, and in 1777 was in command of a vessel named Independence, according to Chapelle's book. Unfortunately, Chapelle failed to state which Independence, as in 1777 the 10 gun sloop o'war was still in existence, and the 12 gun brig was purchased.
Chapelle goes on to say that Truxton served out the rest of the war "with great success" starting in 1777 with the Independence, then the Mars, and finally the St. James. Maclay states the same, but because Truxton is mentioned as having command of several privateers throughout the Revolution before joining the Navy and having an illustrious career with the U.S.S. Constellation, I now believe he cannot be the commander of the ship I built. I originally had two assumptions (nearly 9 years ago):
Assumption 1: That Truxton was in command of the 10 gun sloop Independence, and when she was lost in 1778, he transferred to the Mars. In 1777, the 10 gun Independence was still in existence, and he could therefore have been in command of the ship I'm building for a year or so before she was lost. Which would be really fascinating, because he went on to become one of America's greatest naval officers of the period. However, since I have discovered that the Mars was in fact a privateer, this Independence, documented as commanded by Truxton must therefore be a privateer.
Assumption 2: That Truxton was the first commander of the second Independence, the 12 gun brig, starting in 1777. Then in 1779, when she was sold, he moved to the Mars. In which case, he wasn't near my Independence, and there's no point in continuing this line of inquiry.
Independence: Sloop of War
From my sources therefore, I can conclude that the Independence that I built was in fact the sloop of war, 10 guns. She was the first ship purchased by the fledgling Continental Navy and built in 1775 in the Baltimore shipyards. She had an illustrious but brief service record, under the sure guidance of Captain John Young.
The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, a site hosted by the US Navy, is in total agreement with Wikipedia on this subject, and I couldn't be happier. The Independence was purchased by the Marine Committee and her keel layed in 1775. By September, 1776 she was launched under the command of Captain John Young and tasked with protecting American Merchant ships. The Independence patrolled along the Eastern Seaboard and into the Caribbean, hunting British warships and privateers.
Little is known of the first year of her service, other than patrolling and escorting merchant ships. However, because the war so costly, the Marine Committee ordered the Independence to Martinique to pick up molasses and other trade goods, in effect acting as one of the merchant vessels she had been tasked to defend. Independence was regarded as a good sailor and capable of carrying a goodly amount of cargo, so it was deemed that with France unwilling to jump into the Revolution, the Independence would come to France and ferry some military supplies back to the colonies.
On July 5, 1777, the Independence was sent to France to carry diplomatic dispatches (just before the Battle of Saratoga) and pick up those long-promised supplies for the American cause. During the transit, she engaged two English vessels and captured both of them, and arrived at Lorient, France, towards the end of September, 1777. The Independence spent the winter hunting English merchant ships off the coast of France and was joined by Ranger in November, another American sloop of war under the command of John Paul Jones.
Jones had been dispatched in November, following the Battle of Saratoga and had brought news of the smashing American victory to Benjamin Franklin. France openly declared war on England soon after and John Paul Jones, on board the Ranger received the first salute of the U.S. flag by a foreign nation on February 14, 1778. The next day, the 15th, Jones was on board the Independence with Captain Young as she sailed through the French fleet, offering a 13-gun salute (for the 13 colonies).
In return, Independence received a 9-gun salute, thus becoming the second American vessel to receive military recognition by a foreign power.
After loading up with supplies for the war effort back home, Independence left Jones and his little fleet when they sailed "into harms way" and brought the war to England's shores. The Independence sailed for home to bring news and supplies. The return trip would prove to be her last, however, as she made way for Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina (called Cracoke Inlet by some, including Chapelle). On the shifting sand bars outside the protected inlet, the Independence ran a ground and was a total loss. It is not known if foul weather or the enemy were involved in the accident.
At any rate, the Independence, the fine sailing little sloop o'war saluted by the French, was destroyed. Captain Young went on to command two privateers from Pennsylvania, the Buckskin and Impertinent and was subsequently given the command of the famous sloop-of-war Saratoga.
Tragically, after a brilliant few years on the Saratoga, both ship and captain and crew were mysteriously lost at sea during a storm after capturing a British ship. The event was witnessed by the prize crew that had just left the Saratoga. They described the scene as a 'fierce blow' and when they looked up from securing their own ship, the Saratoga and Captain Young were simply gone. No one has ever discovered what really happened. But that is a story for another day.
But Back to the Independence for one last tidbit of information which also ties in John Paul Jones. During his assault on the coast of Britain, certain men of his were captured during engagements. Those men, along with other American sailors taken on the high seas, were transported to Edinburgh, Scotland, to Edinburgh Castle. There they were interred in the ancient castle as prisoners of war. This is a view out the tiny prison window, looking north over Edinburgh. This is what our sailors would have seen over two hundred years ago (obviously minus the cars and paved road and the modern building on the left).
In June, 2008, my wife and I took our long overdue honeymoon to Scotland. We were on a tour of Edinburgh Castle when the tour guide relayed the story that follows:
The American prisoners were held there with men from other nations, mostly French and Spanish sailors.
Over time, European sailors built a scale model ship out of scraps of wood and cloth in their long hours of incarceration. They named her St. George.
They presented it to the Duke of Edinburgh on a visit to the prison towards the end of the Revolution. He was so moved by the act of generosity that he paid the prisoners for it, the money going to buy them extra food and clothing while they were waiting ransom. Here is that ship, now on display inside the prison. It is very impressive and about 4 feet long, encased in a protective display case.
The American sailors took no part in building the St. George. Instead, the story goes they were more sullen about being captured. As an act of defiance, one American carved a little ship with the brand new Stars and Stripes (then called the Grand Union Flag) flying proudly. The British, after the war, realized the value of this carving, removed the door and encased it in a protective display case next to the ship model. There are carvings all over the door, mostly graffiti, some modern, some ancient. But the little ship stands out quite nicely and you can clearly see Old Glory on the left. Here it is:
It appears to me to be a 2 masted ship, possibly a sloop because she's not ship rigged, that's for sure. Here's my drawing over the carving to highlight the ship's shape after I inverted the picture so you can see the lines better:
Could this be a crude depiction of the Ranger or possibly the Independence? I like to think so.
Chapelle, Howard I. The History of the American Sailing Navy:The Ships and Their Development
Maclay, Edward Stanton. A History of American Privateers
(published by the U.S. Navy)