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The Continental Gondola Philadelphia

John Raymond Bratten
Dissertation: May 1997
Chair: Crisman
Nautical Archaeology Program


The Continental gondola Philadelphia is the oldest intact warship currently on display in North America. With her recovery in 1935, Philadelphia testified to the heroic struggle between a tiny fleet of American warships and an overwhelmingly superior British fleet on the waters of Lake Champlain in October of 1776. Although the Americans were defeated and Philadelphia sank, the shipbuilding race and naval contest delayed the British invasion of the rebelling colonies for one year. This delay, according to most historians, gave the American forces much needed time to muster a defense that ultimately resulted in the British defeat at Saratoga in 1777.

Philadelphia's role in the naval engagement of 1776 has been the subject of several professional papers and the construction of her hull has been documented graphically. Nevertheless, in the 62 years since her recovery no comprehensive analysis of this vessel and, especially her associated artifacts has ever been produced. The primary focus of this dissertation is a study of the gunboat's history, construction, armaments, tools, utensils, personal items, and rigging elements. This will be accomplished by taking advantage of contemporary records, describing the previously undocumented collections of Philadelphia artifacts, and by analysis of recently-discovered photographs taken during the 1935 recovery of the vessel. As assessment will also be made of Philadelphia II built at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum during 1989-1991. The replica has provided a firsthand opportunity to evaluate how a vessel of this type was built, manned, sailed, and propelled by sweeps.