This is a model of HMS Minerva, one of the last new warships produced by the British navy during the 18th century. As the dominant maritime power for centuries, the influences of the British navy were significant in the U.S. Navy’s development. From force structure and operational style, to ranks, to ship and cannon technology, the American navy relied heavily on the influences of its precursor, and many of those influences are still seen today. The Minerva was innovative in many ways, but today Naval Academy Museum education specialist Grant Walker takes us through two of the biggest.

Posted by LTJG Chris O'Keefe in History, Navy, Podcasts
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  • Byron Audler

    Is that an Admiralty model? I.E., a model made to exacting detail and then used as a scale model to build the ship it represents? I saw several in a museum in Savannah at one time years ago and was stunned at the detail.

  • Chipp Reid

    While it is true that Thomas Truxton, in his “Remarks, Instructions and Examples, etc.” and James Barron, in his “Instructions to Commanders” both relied heavily upon Royal Navy examples, the early U.S. Navy , for some reason, took many of its instructions and inspiration from the French and not the English navy. The first artillery manuals were all translations from the French (see de Tousard, The Artillerist’s Companion”); tactics were also borrowed heavily from the French due to the small size of the fledgling U.S. Navy. Ship design also owed more to the French than to the British — Josiah Fox, who along with Joshua Humphreys designed the Constitution-class and Constellation-class frigates, was enamored of French design. Even the British acknowledged that France out-designed the Royal Navy in the late 18th century and captured French warships were prized in the RN. The real mystery is why the new U.S. Navy didn’t borrow MORE from the Royal Navy — France was good on the land, but at sea, well, they were pretty poor! Certainly Minerva was a ground-breaking vessel, but coppering the bottom of ships had started in the 1760s and was well-known among American shipbuilders by the time of the Revolution and was becoming more and more common in the RN. (it was a copper bottom that defeated the first sub attack by David Bushnell in the Turtle.) Also, the contention that coppered bottoms allowed Rodney to trap de Grasse at the Battle of the Saintes isn’t entirely accurate. The British held the weather gauge for most of the two-day engagement and de Grasse was actually under strict orders NOT to engage an equally sized British force. As de Grasse tried to escape, Rodney was able to box him in off the island of Dominica where poor ship-handling on the part of the French allowed Rodney to break the French line into three pieces and rake the French ships without opposition. Finally, you really can’t call the Royal Navy the “precursor” to the U.S. Navy. That implies that the Continental and later U.S. Navy were somehow connected to the RN, which they were not. As long as we remained part of the British Empire, the Royal Navy protected our shores, shipping and trade routes. It was loss of this protection and the attacks and tribute demands of the Barbary Pirates that led directly to the creation of the U.S. Navy (under the constitutional government). Moreover, at the time of the Navy’s creation (1794) the practice of impressment was going into high gear in the Royal Navy, causing a considerable amount of anti-British sentiment in the country. it is likely that any overtly “British” influence would have given a penny-pinching Congress, which was already highly suspicious of any standing military force, another excuse to dissolve the Navy. (See the Navy Act of 1794 which called for cessation of construction of warships should the U.S. buy peace with Algiers and the Senate debates in Senate Journal.) It is more than true that individual commanders, such as Truxton, Preble and Samuel Barron borrowed heavily from Royal Navy examples, to make a sweeping statement that the entire Navy did so is a bit of an over step.