In an earlier post, The Strange Story of the Frigate L’Indien, was told. L’Indien, a.k.a. South Carolina (40 guns) was built in Amsterdam based on a French design. The South Carolina Navy came into existence in July 1775 when the Provincial Congress’ Council of Safety (officially it wasn’t a state until the Articles of Confederation were ratified on February 4th, 1778 by the South Carolina provincial legislature) authorized two captains to outfit a ship to assist neighboring Georgia to seize British gunpowder in Nassau, Bahamas.
Before the ship – Commerce – left Charleston, word was received that the British ships were headed to nearby Savannah. The action netted 25,000 pounds of gunpowder which was an enormous amount and desperately needed by the rebels. This success led to two more ships, the schooner Defence and a brig named Comet which was sent to Boston to recruit up to 300 men for the South Carolina Navy.
Of the 13 Colonies, three – South Carolina, Massachusetts and New York – formed what we would consider “blue water” navies, i.e. those that operated ships well outside territorial waters. Some of the other 10 Colonies formed smaller navies that stayed close to shore and could be classified as “brown water” navies. All of this activity was in addition to the Continental Navy that was formed by the Second Continental Congress and issuing letters of marque to consortiums who operated privateers.
Unlike the current U.S. Constitution, under the Articles of Confederation, the states had the rights to form their own armies and navies. The political and funding difficulties (because the Continental Congress could not levy taxes) with this situation plagued the Congress throughout the American Revolution.
Ultimately, in addition to L’Indien/South Carolina, the South Carolina Navy operated 10 other sea going ships – the frigates Bricole, (36 guns); Rattlesnake and Truite (26 guns) and General Moultrie (18 guns); brigs Polly (20 guns), Prosper (20 guns), Notre Dame (16 guns), Comet (16 guns), Hornet (14 guns), and Fair American (14 guns).
During their lifespan, the ships preyed on British merchant shipping and occasionally engaged smaller ships of the Royal Navy. Their primary mission was to keep the Royal Navy from effectively blockading Charleston.
History says the South Carolina Navy succeeded until 1780. The first British attempt to take Charleston was in 1776 and was beaten back. The landing failed and the Royal Navy had several ships heavily damaged and lost H.M.S. Acheon (28 guns) when it ran aground and couldn’t be pulled off. The failure to take Charleston caused the British to focus on the northern colonies.
But after the Royal Army’s defeat at Saratoga, the British strategy changed and again it turned its attention to Charleston. Knowing their ships could not stand up to the Royal Navy’s frigates that had more and heavier guns, the South Carolina Navy leadership pulled it ships into Charleston harbor.
Bricole was converted to a floating battery with fourteen 12-pounders and twenty-two 8-pounders. She was sunk along with Truite to prevent the Royal Navy from entering the harbor. Notre Dame and General Moultrie were destroyed and after Charleston was captured by the British, the South Carolina Navy no longer had a base and for the remainder of the war, was not very effective.