The pirates of the Mediterranean Sea caused the United States Congress in 1794 to begin building a navy for the protection of commerce. Shortly thereafter, depredations by the privateers of Revolutionary France required the US Navy to protect the expanding merchant shipping of the United States. Naval squadrons sought out and attacked enemy privateers until France agreed to an honorable settlement.
Captain Thomas Truxtun's insistence on the highest standards of crew training paid handsome dividends as the frigate Constellation won two victories over French men-of-war. Eight cutters (one sloop, five schooners, and two brigs) operated along the southern coast of the United States and among the islands of the West Indies. The two brigs and two of the schooners each carried 14 guns and 70 men. The sloop and the other schooners each had ten guns and 34 men. Of the twenty-two prizes captured by the United States between 1798 and 1799, eighteen were taken by unaided cutters. Revenue cutters also assisted in capturing two others. The cutter Pickering made two cruises to the West Indies and captured ten prizes, one of which carried 44 guns and was manned by some 200 sailors, more than three times Pickering's strength.