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USS Philadelphia

Gundalow (Gondola) Gunboat

Naval Warfare / Ships

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USS Philadelphia was lost during the American War of Independence to British guns in Lake Champlain - her remains uncovered in the 1930s.

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 7/27/2017 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
USS Philadelphia served the Continental Navy of America during the American Revolutionary War - the war between the Thirteen Colonies and the British Empire. The vessel was designed as a gondola (gunboat) and accordingly given a shallow draught to navigate the waterways near shore as well as those making up the American river network. She, along with six other gunships of similar design, were constructed at Skenesboro, New York and made up half of the total Continental Navy's strength on Lake Champlain - a strategic body of water found at the American-Canadian border between the states of New York and Vermont. The lake also gave access to the Canadian city of Montreal.

USS Philadelphia's hull was laid down during July of 1776 and she was launched just a month later. As completed, she was given a bow-to-stern measurement of 57 feet with a beam of 17 feet and a draught of just 2 feet. The top-down profile showcased a very wide hull and a single mast was fitted ahead of midships. Her top speed was 4 knots in ideal conditions and she carried a crew complement of 45 officers and sailors. Displacement was 29 tons (long). The onboard armament was a mix of guns led by a main 12-pounder gun supplemented by 2 x 9-pounder guns and 4 1 x 1-pounder guns (the latter on swivels). At four knots she was a slow vessel and known to be quite cumbersome in the water, lacking the agility needed to make tight turns in battle. The shallow draught was a good quality when navigating shallow waters but proved a hindrance in choppy surf.

On October 11th, 1776, USS Philadelphia joined the battle line west of Valcour Island in the west of Lake Champlain, the fleet falling under the overall command of General Benedict Arnold (Philadelphia fell under the direct command of Benjamin Rue). The American fleet was met by elements of a numerically superior Royal Navy fleet and a heavy exchange of gunfire ensued between the two sides (marking the Battle of Valcour Island). Philadelphia took a direct hit from a British 24-pounder gun along her waterline which forced her to take on water and ultimately sink where she fought. Her surviving crew were rescued by American ships and relocated south to Buttonmold Bay, Vermont. The Continental fleet suffered a devastating loss that day - many of its ships sunk or captured while others burned into the morning.

Fifteen Continental Navy warships with 500 sailors met a British force of 25 ships, nearly 700 sailors and 1,000 soldiers backed by some 650 Indians. Eleven of the American ships were lost, 120 persons captured and 80 killed or wounded. The British lost three ships and saw 40 killed or wounded.

Thus ended the sailing days of USS Philadelphia, marking a very short water-going career to say the least. It was not until the 1930s that her remains were finally located and an operation to raise her enacted (this in 1935). Her hull now makes part of an exhibit at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.


Ship Class [ USS Philadelphia ]
Ships-in-Class [ 1 ] Ship Names: USS Philadelphia
National flag of Colonial America National flag of United States United States; Colonial America
- Blue Water Operations
- Fleet Support
- Hunter
- Direct-Attack
57 ft (17.37 m)
Width / Beam:
17 ft (5.18 m)
Height / Draught:
2 ft (0.61 m)
Displacement (Surface):
29 tons
None. This is a wind-driven vessel with one main mast.
Speed (Surface):
4 kts (5 mph)
Essentially Unlimited
1 x 12-pounder gun
2 x 9-pounder guns
4 x 1-pounder guns (swivels)

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