The first ship authorized to serve in the Continental Navy and the fifth ship commissioned, Providence spent four years fighting for the fledgling country.
Sometimes Providence was sent to search and seize something specific, like gunpowder. Other times the ship ferried soldiers or supplies from one place to another.
But most of the time Providence’s captain and crew were on the hunt for other ships they could take as prizes.
As a small sloop with only 12 four-pound cannons, Providence would not attempt to take heavily armed ships of the British Navy, but lightly armed merchant ships from Britain and its allies made good targets. When a prospect was sited, Providence would sail in pursuit until the ship was in close range. The usual approach was to fire a broadside and hope the other ship would strike its colors in acknowledgment that they lacked the firepower or manpower to win against Providence and its crew. If they put up resistance, the crew on Providence would have to go into battle, firing their cannons and swivel guns at the enemy ship until the captain capitulated for the sake of saving life and limb aboard his ship.
A small “prize crew” from Providence would go aboard the prize ship to take control and sail it to the closest port while key members of the prize ship’s crew would come aboard Providence to make sure that the defeated sailors didn’t attempt a mutiny against the prize crew. As the Continental Navy was always short of manpower, Providence’s captain would frequently try to convince crew members from the other ship to join his own. Apparently, John Paul Jones was particularly good at this!
During its four years of service, Providence and its crew took more than 40 prizes. That is a solid number for any ship, but truly remarkable for a ship as small as Providence.