The first thing you see when you go to the website for the Whitehall Chamber of Commerce is “Whitehall, NY—Birthplace of the U.S. Navy.” Wait, what? How could a small, slightly rundown town in Upstate New York—that’s more than 150 miles from the nearest ocean, may we add—be the place where the world’s most powerful naval fleet got its start?
The chamber’s site goes on to explain that when Whitehall (then known as Skenesborough) was founded in 1759 by British Army Captain Philip Skene, it was the first settlement on Lake Champlain, which was then a center for maritime trade. During the Revolutionary War, Skene’s trading schooner was captured, and American troops, led by famed future traitor Benedict Arnold, built a fleet of ships in the town. These actions led to a declaration by the New York State Legislature, almost 200 years later in 1960, naming Whitehall as the birthplace of the US Navy.
One report on military.com tells a slightly different story. The website (not affiliated with the US government) pinpoints the birthday of the US Navy as October 13, 1775, the year before Arnold built his fleet at Skenesborough and on the day that the Continental Navy was adopted through legislation in Philadelphia. Along with Philly, the Navy also recognizes Machias, ME; Providence, RI; and Marblehead, MA as playing significant roles in the creation of the service branch. The claim that it’s Whitehall, however, “is based on naval and amphibious operations on Lake Champlain undertaken by the Continental Army under the command of Benedict Arnold,” the article explains. The US Navy considers its beginnings to be the Continental Navy, not the Continental Army.
But Whitehall says Navy shmavy. Whatever ol’ Benedict did way back then was good enough for the state legislature, so it’s good enough for us.