The United States Navy has a long tradition of making the record of its activi ties and accomplishments available to the public through publication of historical documents. The tradition goes back to the 1880s, when the Navy's judgment that it was important to make known the record of its contributions to the winning of the Civil War resulted in the publication of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion in thirty-one volumes between 1894 and 1927.
Commodore Dudley W. Knox, who was in charge of the Navy's Historical Section and subsequently the Office of Naval Records and Library from 1921 to 1946, attributed the scarcity of works on the history of the United States Navy to the "inaccessibility of authentic sources." His remedy was twofold. First, he transformed the Office of Naval Records and Library into a modern archival repository, where records were systematically collected and professionally processed. Second, he undertook to collect, edit, and publish selected naval records. Under his direction, the Navy published Naval Documents Related to the Quasi-War Between the United States and France, in seven volumes, between 1935 and 1938, and Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers, in seven volumes, between 1939 and 1945. The Naval Historical Center is currently continuing this function with two major series, The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, and the series in which the volume in hand is the latest contribution, Naval Documents of the American Revolution.
Published documentary collections encourage research and writing. They save research time by identifying and bringing together related sources from scattered locations. They suggest historical connections and highlight neglected subjects. They identify obscure persons and references mentioned in the documents. They ease reading the documents, while they help avoid misreading texts. Perhaps most important, they stimulate intellectual curiosity.
More than forty years ago, in a review of William Bell Clark's book on George Washington's Navy, Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison noted the need for a comprehensive naval history of the American Revolution. Clark, who at the time was working under contract to the Navy as the first editor of the Naval Documents of the American Revolution series, responded in a private letter,
Nobody will be able to write a naval history of the American Revolution, cover ing all the aspects you mention, until the documents I am editing are published....Without the facilities the [Director of Naval History] has placed at my disposal the task would be almost insurmountable, as no one man could in a dozen lifetimes dig into the repositories of Europe and America and extract the mass of material available.
With the project approximately half completed, many historians of the American Revolution have been making good use of the series to write on operational, economic, and local aspects of the war at sea. Just as every serious naval his tory of the Quasi-War, the Barbary Wars, and the Civil War written since publication of the Navy's documentary series on those conflicts has relied heavily on them, every serious scholar of naval warfare of the American Revolution mines deeply from Naval Documents of the American Revolution.
Dr. Michael J. Crawford, editor of this volume and head of the Early History Branch of the Naval Historical Center, and his assistant editors, E. Gordon Bowen Hassell, Dr. Dennis M. Conrad, and Mark L. Hayes, labored together many years in surveying collections, selecting documents, transcribing, translating, and annotating the materials, and, finally, preparing the comprehensive index. I am deeply grateful to Dr. Crawford and his associates for so ably producing a volume that will be of continuing value to scholars, students, naval personnel, and other individuals interested in the crucial role played by the sea and by those who go down to the sea in ships in the development of the American nation. This volume is a major contribution to the Naval Historical Center's mission to promote an understanding of America's naval and maritime heritage.
William S. Dudley, Ph.D.
Director of Naval History