The Sloop Providence is a 110' foot replica of a Revolutionary War Sloop. Today's Providence was built in the Bicentennial Year of 1976 to honor a vessel that played a key role in the fight for American Independence.

In many ways, the American Revolution began in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, a full two years before the Boston Tea Party, Rhode Islanders burned the British custom schooner Gaspee. This was one of the first acts of American protest against the British.

The British Navy sent the 20-gun frigate, HMS Rose, to take the place in Narragansett Bay. The struggle between Rhode Island merchants who believed that they were entitled to free trade, and the British government, which tried to control profit by this trade, led to the birth of the Rhode Island Navy. Soon after the Continental Congress's meeting in Philadelphia, the American Navy was formed.

The first ship in Rhode Island's navy was the original Providence. Originally christened Katy, she was built as a merchant ship in Providence, RI. Katy sailed the eastern seaboard and the Caribbean carrying cargo. She may have also been involved in whaling and privateering. Hired for the Rhode Island Navy in June of 1775, Katy was renamed the Providence when she "graduated" to the American Navy later that year. She was the first command of John Paul Jones and won over forty battles - the most successful American vessel of the Revolutionary War. Her accomplishments were well known and she earned the nickname the "Lucky Sloop".

The end of her career came at the hands of her own crew in 1779, when she was scuttled in the Penobscot River, Maine, to avoid capture by the British. Her remains are still at the bottom of the river in Bucksport, Maine, but an original cannon can be found near the site of the wreck.

You can read more about the Sloop Providence's history and adventures in the book "Valour Fore & Aft" by Hope S. Rider. This book is available through Borders, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

Today, Sloop Providence has a new (and less dangerous) mission. She sails the waters of Narragansett Bay and all of New England with the mission of educating young and old about the history of our country, the math and sciense of sailing, and the technology of yesterday and today.


Sloop Katy/Providence Chronology

Mid 1760's through 1774
Sloop Katy was built by John Brown, in Providence, RI as a cargo vessel, armed for privateering.  Although big and beamy for a sloop, she carried enough sail to make her both fast and agile.

After several years of sailing on merchant voyages for Brown, in November 1774, when HMS Rose arrived at Newport, Katy carried off the canon from Fort Island to keep the British from using them.

1775 - Captain Abraham Whipple
On 12 June the General Assembly of the Colony of Rhode Island voted to acquire
Katy as flagship of its navy, first in the colonies.  Captain Abraham Whipple was given command

On 15 June Katy recaptured an American sloop, Diana, firing the first American Naval broadside of the Revolution.  Throughout the summer Katy skirmished with British tenders, warned incoming ships, and sailed on a mission to Bermuda for General Washington.

On 13 October the Continental Congress created the Continental Navy, choosing Katy for its first ship.

In November, she sailed from Philadelphia carrying seamen and marine recruits for the Continental Navy.  On the way, she took the first of many prizes.  She was refitted in Philadelphia and with two long four-pounder cannons added to her old armament, became a 12-gun sloop.  She was also re-christened, and Katy was thereafter known as Continental Navy Sloop Providence.

1776 - Captain John Hazard
Captain John Hazard was given command of the Sloop
Providence.  Her 1st lieutenant was Jonathan Pitcher, and her 2nd, John Peck Rathbun, both Rhode Islanders.  On 18 February she sailed with seven other vessels of the Continental Navy for the island of New Providence. On 3 March she landed marines on the island, east of Nassau, the first American naval vessel to land marines on foreign soil.

After two weeks loading captures ordinance, Providence, returned to New England with the fleet, which had an unfortunate encounter with HMS Glasgow off Block Island. Providence did not engage.

On 8 May in Providence, RI, Captain Hazard was court-martialed on complaint of Providence officers for failure to attack the Glasgow.  He was found guilty and dismissed from the service.

1776 - Captain John Paul Jones
John Paul Jones came aboard as Captain of the
Providence.  After taking some of General Washington’s soldiers to New York, Providence returned to Narragansett Bay, where she rescued the brig Hampden, which was closely chased by HMS Cerberus, by diverting the British frigate to pursue the Sloop.  Ordered to escort duty, she took a convoy of colliers from Boston to Philadelphia, where Captain Jones received coveted orders to take the Providence on an independent cruise.

On 21 August , Providence sailed down the Delaware River on the prowl for prizes.  Finding Lt. Rathbun not only a kindred spirit but also the best sailor of the Sloop, Jones promptly made him his Executive officer.

Together they took the Providence on a wild and wonderful cruise that John Paul Jones later remembered as the happiest of his career.  After capturing three brigantines in the latitude of Bermuda, they turned northward.  Having by a sudden daring gibe across the bow of a British frigate escaped almost certain capture, they played a game of hare-and-hound with another, easily out sailing her.  They burned the fishing industry warehouses at Canso, N.S. taking several more prizes for a cruise total of 16 before heading for home.  In October Providence returned in triumph to Narragansett Bay, where reports of her success earned Captain Jones orders to command the Continental Navy Flagship Alfred.

November - December 1776 - Captain Hoysteed Hacker
Captain Jones took the entire crew of the
Providence with him aboard Alfred, and Captain Hoysteed Hacker was given command of Providence with orders to cruise in company with the flagship.  The two vessels stopped at Naushon Island to retrieve a couple of navy deserters from a merchant ship, commandeering a few seamen at the same time, before heading northeastward.  Their first prize, ship Mellish, surrendered to the Providence.  Captain Hacker sent aboard a prize crew which took the ship and her cargo of woolen uniforms safely into New Bedford in time for those red coats to warm General Washington’s soldiers at the Battle of Trenton.

Pounding winter gales opened the seams of the Providence which, leaking badly, one night in a blizzard turned back for home. She arrived safely in Narragansett Bay just in time to be bottled up with several other Navy vessels when a huge British fleet sailed into Newport Harbor. On 7 December Providence, with the rest of the fleet, moved upriver to the city for which she had been named.

January - June 1777 - Captain Jonathan Pitcher
After three frustrating months behind the blockade,
Providence made a bid for freedom.  Captain Hacker had been transferred and Jonathan Pitcher was in charge of fitting out and manning the sloop.  In mid-April, Captain Pitcher took the Providence down river one dark night and into Narragansett Bay.  In agonizing silence Providence threaded her way through the British fleet safely out to sea– the first naval vessel to successfully run the blockade.  Stopping at New Bedford to pick up more men , Captain Pitcher headed northeastward, where Providence fought a bitter but winning battle with an English brig carrying troops.  Badly damaged, the Sloop returned to New Bedford where Captain Pitcher, who had been wounded, was taken ashore.

June - December 1777 - Captain John Peck Rathbun
On 19 June Captain Rathbun assumed command of
Providence.  Looking for prizes off the New Jersey coast, the Sloop attacked three British vessels, one a heavily armed ship, the Mary.  After a hot engagement, during which Providence was heavily damaged, she captured a schooner but other vessels got away.

Having once more repaired at New Bedford, Providence sailed again in November.  When gale winds broke her bowsprit, she ran southward.  Off the bar at Charleston, SC, she fought and captured a privateer that was working with two British frigates.  Rathbun anchored the Providence at nearby Georgetown, and took his prisoners overland to Charlestown.  Here he learned that ship Mary was laid up in Nassau Harbor for repairs after running on a reef and he decided to capture her by repeating the Continental Navy’s 1775 raid on Nassau.  Only instead of a fleet with hundreds of men, he would do it with fifty men and Providence .

On 28 January
Providence anchored off the Nassau bar at 1 o’clock in the morning.  Captain Rathbun sent her boat ashore twice landing 28 men, led by Marine Captain John Trevett, and a scaling ladder.  Followed by his men, Trevett scaled the wall of Fort Nassau, overpowered the sentries, whose call of “all is well” was repeated by the Americans and answered from the Mary, moored below the fort.  Powder was readied and the fort’s cannon trained on the town and harbor.  At dawn the American flag flew over the fort, dismaying the townspeople.  Providence sailed into the harbor that afternoon to begin work of readying the Mary and two other prizes for sea.  On 30 January, the little flotilla left the harbor to head for home, the flag still flying over the fort.

Off Abaco Providence and Mary, sailing in company, were chased by an enemy ship.  Signaling Trevett, prize captain of Mary, to run, Rathbun decoyed the British away and, when Mary was safely out of range, escaped himself by one of the quick maneuvers of the Sloop.  Both vessels sailed in freezing weather, alone, back to New England, where they arrived badly damaged.  Captain Rathbun took the Providence on two more cruises to the eastward, sending in five more prizes.  He was ill, however, and decided to request permission to leave.

1779 - Captain Hoysteed Hacker
Command of the
Providence went for the second time to Hoysteed Hacker, who early in May engaged the Royal Navy brig Diligent, which  had specific orders to capture Providence.  After the bloodiest action of her entire career, during which she suffered the loss of several men, the Sloop forced her enemy to surrender.  It was a triumphant Captain Hacker who came into Bedford with his prize, one of the few British naval vessels captured during the war.

Shortly thereafter Diligent was taken into the Continental service, and ordered to cruise with Providence.  After a fruitless search for enemy ships in Massachusetts Bay and Vineyard Sound, the two came into Boston in July 1779.  The Massachusetts coast had been invaded by the British occupation of Bagaduce Peninsula, now the site of Castine, Maine, and the Commonwealth intended to oust the enemy by assembling a huge fleet, ultimately numbering forty vessels, including three borrowed from the Continental Navy.

Captain Dudley Saltonstall of the frigate Warren was put in overall command of the joint land-sea operation-a choice that was nothing short of disastrous.  Despite overwhelming superiority at sea– three sloops of war constituted the only British naval forces- Saltonstall persistently refused to attack and as weeks dragged on, the British got together a task force that sailed into Penobscot Bay on  August 14, 1779, trapping the entire American Fleet.  Most of the transports were run aground and burned;  two ships were captured trying to escape and most of the others were grounded and set fire.  Sloop Providence, Diligent , and three Massachusetts navy brigs sailed up the Penobscot River to the head of navigation, intending to make a stand, but when on August 16th they learned that Warren too had gone up in flames, Hacker and his fellow captains, totally deserted had no choice.  The five ships, last survivors of a proud fleet, were burned to prevent their being captured, and their crews set out on a long trek through the wilderness to civilization.

It was perhaps a fitting end to the career of the indomitable Sloop Providence that it took her own crew to accomplish what the British had tried in vain to do for four eventful years.  Her life total of forty prizes is a record unmatched by any other early Continental vessel and her quarterdeck served as a proving-ground for some of the greatest Revolutionary captains.  The spirit that animated them was nowhere more clearly manifested than in Providence, the sloop whose ‘luck’ became a symbol of the spirit that won the war.

© 2018 Providence Maritime Heritage PNTDN.