MERCHANT MARINE OF THE UNITED STATES. The merchant marine of the United States— that is to say, the ship ping on ocean, lake and river engaged in the carrying of merchandise, mail and passengers — is the second largest shipping in the world, only the fleet of Great Britain exceeding it. By far the larger part of this American ship ping has tong been employed in domestic navi gation between one American port and another. But the shipping registered for foreign com merce, which after a splendid growth began to decline before the Civil War, began again to increase in 1914 with the Great War in Europe.
America throughout most of its history has been distinctively an adventurous and success ful maritime country. For many years after the founding of Jamestown and Plymouth the construction of ships for coastwise and over seas trade was the chief manufacturing indus try pursued upon this continent. There was an abundance of stout timber near the water's edge, and the pioneers brought a love of the sea from Great Britain, Sweden and Holland.
Maritime spirit, stirred by necessity, was es pecially active in the northern colonies. Lord Bellamont, colonial governor, declared in 1698: "I believe I may venture to say there arc more good vessels belonging to the town of Boston than to all Scotland and Ireland, unless one should reckon the small craft, such as herring boats." In the colonial era the sea was the easiest highway connecting the long range of settlements that clung to the Atlantic Coast. Small craft — ketches and schooners — ran along shore and to the West Indies, and brigs and ships to the British Isles, France, Spain, Portugal and the Mediterranean. Colonial shipyards made swift improvement in rigs and models, and found a market for their craft abroad. Out of 1,332 vessels built in Massa chusetts between 1674 and 1714, 239 were sold for British or foreign registry. In 1724 Thames builders complained that their trade was being destroyed by the emigration of their best mechanics to America.
Shipbuilding and navigation were the most energetic and profitable of vocations, and were particularly encouraged by colonial govern ments. Bounties were granted for the con struction of ships, and shipwrights were ex empted from compulsory military service. To spirited youth the sea made irresistible appeal. Sir Joshua Child, chairman of the British East India Company, in his discourse on trade lamented that there were "none so apt as the North American colonies for the building of ships; nor none comparably so qualified for the breeding, of seamen, not only by reason of the natural industry of the people, but principally by reason of their cod and mackerel fisheries, and in my opinion there is nothing more prej udicial and in prospect more dangerous to any mother kingdom than the increase of shipping in her colonies, plantations, or provinces."
In response, the British Parliament pro hibited the insportaticm of Continental products into the colonies except in English-built ships, and even sought to destroy the colonial trade with the West Indies. The colonists retaliated by forming associations to boycott British manufactures. Against such resistance the re pressive British laws failed, and the merchant ships and sailors of America so steadily in creased that at the outbreak of the Revolution there were more people in northern New Eng land engaged in shipbuilding and navigation than there were in agriculture.
These merchant ships and sailors proved a powerful resource in the war for independence. The Continental navy as a whole was weak and unsuccessful. In 1781, the seventh year of the war, there survived only nine Continental cruisers carrying 164 guns, while American privateers, converted from merchant ships and owned and managed by merchants, numbered 449, tarrying 6,735 guns. These private-armed ships, with merchant officers and crews, in the course of the Revolution seized or destroyed three times as many British vessels as did the regular Continental sloops and frigates. And in the year 1777, when the battles of Bennington and Saratoga were fought, the American merchant seamen afloat in private-anned ships nearly equalled the strength of the army under the immediate command of Washington. These swarming American privateers cruised not only in mid-Atlantic but in the British Channel, the Irish Sea and all around the coasts of the United Kingdom. Their harrying of British commerce brought a stream of arms and sup plies to the Continental government and did more than Paul Jones' victories in the Ranger and the Bon Homme Richard to impress the governments of France and Holland with the vigor and audacity of the American people and the probable success of the American cause.