authored by Nicholas Nemeth and Joshua Rasor
The birthdate of US Navy Warrant Officer is December 23, 1775. It was one of the first five established ranks of the US Navy. Its birthdate, the day of the first Warrant Officer appointment, was just 71 days after the birth of the US Navy. This article explores the first couple months of the US Navy and the events that led to the birth of the US Navy Warrant Officer.
The official birthday of the US Navy is October 13, 1775. Prior to this date, on October 5, 1775, General George Washington wrote a letter to Congress recommending a plan that would allow for intercepting vessels coming out with stores and ammunition. On October 13, 1775, Congress read this letter and, after some debate, resolved the recommendation. The Journal of the Continental Congress states:
Resolved, That a swift sailing vessel, to carry ten carriage guns, and a proportionable number of swivels, with eighty men, be fitted, with all possible despatch, for a cruise of three months, and that the commander be instructed to cruize eastward, for intercepting such transports as may be laden with warlike stores and other supplies for our enemies, and for such other purposes as the Congress shall direct (Journal of the Continental Congress, 13 October 1775 in Naval Documents of the American Revolution, Volume 2 Part 3 of 9 ).
Before the year was out, the lawmakers had authorized the purchase of an additional six ships and the construction of thirteen frigates (U.S. Naval Institute).
After establishing a US Navy, the Congress would need to establish rank, roles, and pay. On October 30, 1775, Congress established the personnel and associated pay required to man a ship as shown in Figure 1. Notice in this figure that, in the beginning, there were just Captains, Lieutenants, Warrant Officers, Petty Officers, and Seamen.
Figure 1. Journal of the Continental Congress, 30 October 1775 from Naval Documents of the American Revolution, Volume 2 Part 4 of 9
The Mates that were assigned to Warrant Officers were Petty Officers and this figure is the first written occurrence of rates (Boatswain’s Mate, Gunner’s Mate, etc.).
Once roles were established, rules and regulations would then be needed. On November 28, 1775, the Rules for the Regulation of the Navy of the United Colonies of North-America were established and promulgated. This is the first occurrence of the written words “Warrant Officer” in the US Navy. Article 5 of the Rules for the Regulation stated:
The Captain is never by his own authority to discharge a commission or warrant officer, nor to punish or strike him, but he may suspend or confine him; and when he comes in the way of a Commander in Chief, apply to him for holding a court-martial (Regulation of the Navy of the United Colonies of North-America from Naval History and Heritage Command, November 28, 1775).
On December 9, 1775, the Congress would add additional Warrant Officers of Midshipman, Yeoman, Quartermaster, etc. (Journal of the Continental Congress, 30 October 1775 in Naval Documents of the American Revolution, Volume 3 Part 1 of 8).
The final step in creating the Navy is to appoint personnel. The first Navy Warrant was issued on December 23, 1775 as shown in Figure 2. The warrant is signed by Congressmen Step Hopkins, Christ Gadsden, Silas Deane, Joseph Hewes, and Richard Henry Lee (Naval Documents of the American Revolution, Volume 2 Part 4 of 9, 2012).
Figure 2. Continental Navy Warrant, 1775, Naval History and Heritage Command
Since the US Navy and the role of Warrant Officers were established before the first Warrant Officer was appointed, some may confuse other dates as the official Warrant Officer birthday. The Navy has set precedent regarding this matter. This precedent can be seen by the officially recognized US Navy Chief Petty Officer birthday of April 1, 1893. Although their birthday is April 1, 1893, the role of the US Navy Chief was officially established on March 13, 1893 from U.S. Navy Regulation Circular No. 1 (United States Navy Memorial, 2014). The Navy recognizes April 1, 1893 as the official US Navy Chief birthdate because that’s the date the first US Navy Chief appointments were made (United States Navy Memorial, 2014).
The first Warrant Officer was appointed on December 23, 1775, officially establishing the US Navy Warrant Officer community. Similar to the US Navy Chief, the birthday of the US Navy Warrant Officer is the day the very first appointment was made. All Warrant Officers, past and present, should take pride in knowing that the US Navy Warrant Officer is amongst the original five established ranks. Hooyah, Warrants!
The Birth of the Continental Navy. Retrieved January 5, 2016, from: https://www.navalhistory.org/2010/10/13/the-birth-of-the-continental-navy
Regulation of the Navy of the United Colonies of North-America. Retrieved January 5, 2016, from: https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/r/navy-regulations-17751.html
Continental Navy Warrant. Retrieved January 5, https://www.history.navy.mil/our-collections/photography/numerical-list-of-images/nhhc-series/nh-series/NH-92000/NH-92791.html
United States Navy Memorial. History of The Chief: Legacy of Excellence. 2014. Virginia Beach, CA: The Donning Company Publishers.