Perceptions of Duty and Motivations for Service of American Seagoing Officers During the American Revolution
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This study utilizes correspondence, memoirs, and secondary sources to explore the lives and careers of six Continental Navy captains?Esek Hopkins, Joshua Barney, John Paul Jones, Hector McNeill, Lambert Wickes, and John Barry?and reveal the motivational factors of patriotism, a desire for fame and professional advancement, and financial stability which underlay their decisions to seek commissions in the Continental Navy, and influenced their conduct while in the service. Additionally, it suggests that prewar interactions in an "Atlantic World" context influenced the ideological and personal motivations that formed the foundations for service in the Continental Navy. All three motivations played a role in each captain's career and affected their conduct in relation to their understandings of duty, but the degree to which they influenced the captains varied. Although the promise of a steady income helped motivate initial service, financial considerations played a larger role throughout Barney's and Barry's careers than they did for other captains. The desire for fame and personal prestige also affected the conduct and service of all six men, though Jones and Hopkins provide more concrete examples of its influence. Finally, experiences interacting with West Indies and Atlantic trade networks before the war likely influenced the captains' development of revolutionary principles, and their dedication to the United States. In addition to patriotism, Jones professed a devotion to universal principles of liberty and rights, and McNeill perceived the Revolution as an attempt to establish God's Kingdom of the Just. The degree to which each captain succeeded in achieving his goals, and the affect his Continental service had on employment after the Revolution, also varied significantly. Hopkins failed as the navy's commander-in-chief, but his performance did not negatively impact his social and political standing in his native Rhode Island. Unlike McNeill, Captains Barry, Barney and Jones also utilized their networks of friends and acquaintances well, helping them find prestigious and stable employment in other seagoing capacities after the war. Wickes died in 1777, but his brief service also suggests he would have achieved success had he survived.
War for Independence
John Paul Jones
Duerksen, Benjamin (2012). Perceptions of Duty and Motivations for Service of American Seagoing Officers During the American Revolution. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from