Originally chartered by the Rhode Island General Assembly as Katy, USS Providence was a sloop in the Continental Navy. The ship took part in a number of campaigns during the first half of The American Revolutionary War before being destroyed by her own crew in 1779 to prevent her falling into the hands of the British after the failed Penobscot Expedition. From early 1775, British men-of-war, especially His Majesty’s Frigate Rose, searched Rhode Island shipping and annoyed the colony’s merchants who had become wealthy through smuggling. On 13 June Deputy GovernorNicholas Cooke wrote James Wallace, the frigate’s Captain, demanding restoration of several ships which Rosehad captured. Two days later the Rhode Island General Assembly ordered the committee of safety to fit out two ships to defend the colony’s shipping, and appointed a committee of three to obtain the vessels. That day the committee chartered the sloop Katy from John Brown of Providence and the sloop Washington at the same time. The General Assembly appointed Abraham Whipple, who had won fame in the burning of British armed schoonerHMS Gaspée in 1772, commander of Katy, the larger ship, and made him commodore of the tiny fleet. Before sunset that day Whipple captured a tender to HMS Rose. Katy cruised in Narragansett Bay through the summer protecting coastal shipping.
The supply of gunpowder, an essential commodity scarce in the Continental Army throughout the Revolutionary War, was desperately low during the first year of the struggle for Independence. Late in the summer of 1775 the shortage in Washington’s Army besieging Boston became so severe that he was unable to use his artillery and his riflemen would have been unable to repel an attack had the British taken the offensive.
In an effort to obtain precious powder for the Continental Army, Cooke ordered Whipple to cruise for a fortnight offSandy Hook, New Jersey, to intercept a powder-laden packet expected from London. He was then to proceed toBermuda to capture the powder stored in the British magazine there. Katy departed Narragansett Bay 12 September but caught no sight of the packet. Later upon reaching Bermuda, Whipple learned that the powder from the magazine was already en route to Philadelphia. Soon after she returned to Providence, Katy was purchased by Rhode Island 31 October. Late in November, Katysailed for Philadelphia carrying seamen enlisted by Commodore Esek Hopkins in New England for Continental service. Arriving 3 December, Katy was immediately taken into Continental service and renamed Providence.
Captain Whipple assumed command of USS Columbus, a larger ship; and Captain John Hazard was placed in command of Providence, later formalized by a commission from Congress dated 9 January 1776. The ships joined a squadron being formed by Congress under the command of “Commander in Chief of the Fleet of the United Colonies” Esek Hopkins.
On 5 January 1776, Congress ordered Hopkins to sail for Chesapeake Bay and clear waters there of the ships of a fleet organized the previous autumn by Governor Dunmore of Virginia. These English and Tory ships had ravaged the shores of the bay and the rivers which empty into it. Once Whipple’s ships had completed this task, they were to move south and clear the Carolina coast of enemy shipping. before sailing North to Rhode Island to perform a similar service.
Providence and her consorts departed Philadelphia early in January but, delayed by ice, did not get to sea until 17 February. Deeming it unwise to cruise along the southern coast, Hopkins led his little fleet to Abaco in the Bahamas which they reached on 1 March and staged for a raid on New Providence. The next day they seized two sloops on which Hopkins placed a landing party of 200 marines and 50 sailors. At mid-morning of the 3rd, under cover of guns of Providence and Wasp, the Americans went ashore unopposed on the eastern end of New Providence and advanced toward Fort Montagne which opened fire interrupting the invader’s progress. The defenders spiked their guns and retreated to Fort Nassau. The next day Nassau surrendered and gave the Americans the keys to the Fort. Hopkins then brought his ships into the harbor and spent a fortnight loading captured munitions, before heading home 17 March.
Off Block Island, Hopkins’ ships captured the schooner Hawk, belonging to the British fleet at Newport, Rhode Island 4 April, and at dawn the next day took the brigBolton. That evening the Americans added a brigantine and a sloop, both from New York, to their list of prizes.
About 0100, 6 April, USS Andrew Doria sighted HMS Glasgow, a 20-gun sloop carrying dispatches from Newport to Charleston, South Carolina. The American fleet engaged the enemy ship for one and one-half hours before she turned and fled back toward Newport. After daylight Hopkins ordered his ships to give up the chase and headed with his fleet and prizes for New London where they arrived on the 8th.
On 10 May, John Paul Jones assumed command of Providence with temporary rank of Captain. After a voyage to New York returning to the Continental Army about 100 soldiers whom Washington had lent to Hopkins to help man the American fleet, and after returning to Providence, Jones hove down the ship to clean her bottom and sailed 13 June escorting Fly to Fishers Island at the entrance to Long Island Sound. En route he saved a brigantine bringing munitions from Hispanola from the British frigate Cerberus.
Providence next escorted a convoy of colliers to Philadelphia arriving 1 August. There, a week later, Jones received his permanent commission as Captain. On the 21st, Providence departed the Delaware Capes to begin an independent cruise, and in a few days took the brigantine Britannia and sent the whaler into Philadelphia under a prize crew. On 1 September, daring seamanship enabled Jones to escape from the British frigate Solebay. Two days later Providence captured Sea Nymph, carrying sugar, rum, ginger, and oil, and sent the Bermudan brigantine to Philadelphia. On the 6th Providence caught the brigantine Favourite carrying sugar from Antigua to Liverpool, but HMS Galatea recaptured the prize before she could reach an American port.
Turning north, Jones headed for Nova Scotia, and on 20 September escaped another frigate before reaching Canso two days later. There he recruited men to fill the vacancies created by manning his prizes, burned a British fishing schooner, sank a second, and captured a third besides a shallop which he used as a tender. Moving to Ile Madame, Providence took several more prizes fishing there before riding out a severe storm. One more prize, the whaler Portland surrendered to Providencebefore she returned to Narragansett Bay 8 October.
While Providence was at home, Hopkins appointed Jones the Commander of Alfred, a larger ship and the Commander in Chief’s flagship on the expedition to the Bahamas. Shortly thereafter, Capt. Hoysted Hacker took command of Providence. The two ships got under way 11 November. After ten days they took the brigantineActive and the next day took the armed transport Mellish carrying winter uniforms and military supplies for the British Army. On the 16th they captured the snow Kitty. The next night, Providence, troubled by leaks which had developed during bad weather on the cruise, headed back for Rhode Island and arrived at Newport two days later.
The British seized Narragansett Bay in December 1776 and Providence, with other American vessels there, retired up the Providence River. In February 1777, under Lt. Jonathan Pitcher, Providence ran the British blockade; after putting into New Bedford, she cruised to Cape Breton where she captured a transport brig loaded with stores and carrying two officers and 25 men of the British Army besides her crew. Under command of Capt. J.P. Rathbun, Providence made two cruises on the coast and about mid-January 1778, sailed from Georgetown, N.C., again bound for New Providence in the Bahamas, this time alone. On 27 January she spiked the guns of the fort at Nassau, taking military stores including 1,600 pounds of powder, and released 30 American prisoners. She also made prize of a 16-gun British ship and recaptured five other vessels which had been brought in by the British. On 30 January the prizes were manned and sailed away. Providence, with her armed prize, put into New Bedford.
During the early part of April 1779 Providence was ordered to make a short cruise in Massachusetts Bay and along the coast of Maine. She later sailed south of Cape Cod and on 7 May, captured the brig HMS Diligent, 12 guns, off Sandy Hook. She fired two broadsides and a volley of muskets during the engagement and Diligent, with mast rigging and hull cut to pieces, was forced to surrender. Providence then was assigned to Commodore Saltonstall’s squadron which departed Boston 19 July 1779 and entered Penobscot Bay 25 July. Providence was destroyed by her crew, along with other American vessels in the Penobscot River, 14 August 1779, to prevent her falling into the hands of the British towards the end of the failed Penobscot Expedition.