authored by Nicholas Nemeth and Joshua Rasor

    The birthdate of US Navy Warrant Officer is December 23, 1775, just 71 days after the birth of the US Navy. Prior to the official establishment of the US Navy and US Navy Warrant Officers, General George Washington created his own fleet and appointed early versions of Warrant Officers to his fleet. This article tells the story of George Washington’s Fleet and the roles within his fleet that would eventually become US Navy Warrant Officers.

    The American Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775. Congress created the Continental Army on June 14, 1775 and appointed George Washington as a full General and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. General Washington wasted no time taking charge of colonial forces and organizing the Continental Army. General Washington soon understood that a Navy was needed to disrupt the Royal Navy supply lines. General Washington, using the vague authority given to him by Congress, took it upon himself to establish his own fleet. This fleet would eventually be adopted by Congress as the United States Navy on October 13, 1775.

    General Washington had his work cut out for him. The Continental Army was essentially raw and untrained. In the summer of 1775, the British Army had taken shelter in Boston. General Washington knew it would have been a difficult undertaking to take on the British Army. He decided that his best bet would be to strike the supply lines of the Royal Navy. In order to strike the British supply lines, General Washington would need small cruisers. Kellow wrote:

Perhaps as early as 4 August 1775, more probably by 15 August, a small schooner had been chartered at Beverly for conversion to a cruiser. She was the Hannah, the first vessel of Washington’s Fleet, and was a 78 ton schooner. Her charter rate was $1.00 per ton per month, and she was in service for two months and twenty-one days, at a total cost of $208.06 (Kellow, 2017).

The owner of Hannah was an army Colonel, John Glover, who offered the ship under certain conditions. MH wrote:

Washington agreed to the terms, and the colonel selected a crew of 43, most of them men from Marblehead. They would receive army pay and would split amongst themselves one-third of whatever cargo they captured except military and naval stores which with vessels and apparel are reserved for public service (MH, 2017).

Colonel Glover recommended Nicholson Broughton placed in command of Hannah due to his extensive sailing experience. General Washington agreed and Nicholson Broughton became our country’s first at-sea Commanding Officer. Most of the crew was pulled from Colonel General’s regiment, others were hired from Broughton’s own company, and a small amount of would-be sailors were hired at Beverly. General Washington established roles/ratings and detailed the sharing of prizes as shown in Table 1.

Ratings/Prize Shares For Continental Army Naval Squadron at Boston

(Washington’s Fleet)


Prize Share



First Lieutenant


Second Lieutenant





1½ shares


1½ shares

Gunner’s Mate

1½ shares


1½ shares




1½ shares

Private (each)

1 share

Table 1. Roles within Washington's Fleet (Kellow, 2017)

The roles of Master, Gunner, and Boatswain would be adopted by Congress as Warrant Officers in the United States Navy.

    General Washington’s fleet would grow to six cruisers. This fleet would achieve many successes intercepting ships and obtaining muskets, flint, gun powder, and other supplies it would have taken over a year to produce. This squadron of cruisers used a flag, The Pine Tree Flag, to distinguish themselves. This flag is shown in the following illustration. 

Pine Tree Flag (Gadsden & Culpeper, 2017) 

The flag was designed by General Washington’s secretary, Colonel Joseph Reed. This flag was used throughout the history of George Washington’s Fleet. The original flag was destroyed by the British. Other than the flag, there were no other distinguishable items, such as uniforms, in this fleet. 

    George Washington essentially started a Navy from the ground up. He gave orders, created/appointed roles, established a system for prizes, and made payments. Among the roles in his fleet were Master, Boatswain, and Gunner. These roles would be adopted by Congress as the rank of Warrant Officers in the United States Navy.



Gadsden & Culpeper. Retrieved February 17, 2017,

Kellow, D. The Origins of Washington’s Fleet. Retrieved February 17, 2017,

Massachusetts Humanities (MH). Washington Commissions First Naval Officers. Retrieved February 17, 2017,