USS Philadelphia (1776)
The USS Philadelphia is a gunboat (also called a gundalow or gondola) of the Continental Navy, now on permanent display in the National Museum of American History. This ship was once part of a fleet under the command of General Benedict Arnold, which fought in the 1776 Battle of Valcour Island against the Royal Navy on Lake Champlain. She was discovered at the bottom of Lake Champlain in 1935 and donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1961. The USS Philadelphia is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is also a National Historic Landmark.
The USS Philadelphia on display at the National Museum of American History
Backstory and Context
The USS Philadelphia was one of eight gunalows built at Skenesboro (now Whitehall, New York), which was the location of American shipbuilding efforts following their retreat from Quebec during the Revolutionary War. The shipbuilding operations on Lake Chaplain were overseen by Hermanus Schuyler, and military engineer Jeduthan Baldwin managed the outfitting. The idea behind the effort was to produce boats suitable for combat with the British, who were also building up their fleet.
This ship was constructed and launched in the summer of 1776. It was built mostly of oak wood and measured 53 feet 2 inches long, with a beam of 15 feet 2 inches. The single mast was 36 feet, upon which was attached a square-rigged sail and topsail. Being made specifically for war, the ship also housed 3 cannons. The forward cannon was a 12-pounder, and the port and starboard cannons were 9-pounders. The ship could also be armed with 8 additional swivel cannons.
Despite the impressive armaments, the Philadelphia had a relatively short service life. Shortly after its construction, General Arnold Benedict ordered his fleet to provoke the British by sailing in the northern areas of Lake Champlain. Expecting a fight, he then stationed the ships in Valcour Bay. The provocation was successful and, on October 11, 1776, American and British naval forces clashed in a 6-hour fight that would ultimately sink the Philadelphia. Although Arnold managed to escape, most of the ships in his fleet was destroyed.
The USS Philadelphia is notable owing to the condition in which it was discovered, and the fact that it is one of the few Revolutionary War ships raised from beneath the waters. In 1935, the Philadelphia was located and raised by Lorenzo Hagglund, resting in an upright position at the bottom of the lake. In addition to the ship's hull and its guns, many artifacts were found within the vessel. The artifacts included shot, tools, and other items, as well as human bones. Other well-preserved ships from the battle have been discovered in Lake Champlain.
The ship has been exhibited in various locations since it was raised, including Exeter, New York. However, in 1961, Hagglund bequeathed the Philadelphia to the Smithsonian Institution in an effort to ensure its conservation. Despite preservation efforts, the ship has deteriorated significantly since it was raised. The boat was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and 1961, respectively.
"USS Philadelphia (1776)." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed October 7, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Philadelphia_%281776%29.