Privateering in the American Revolution

By Eric Jay Dolin
Published by Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company

The United States Navy was founded during the Revolutionary War, but the fledgling nation might not have emerged victorious – and independent – were it not for a ragtag fleet of privately owned vessels. The Continental navy, at that time comprising no more than about sixty ships, was engaged in combat with the most formidable naval force the world had ever seen.

When the new government granted permission for privateers, as they were called, to seize British merchant ships and men-of-war, legions of daring sailors aboard nearly two thousand vessels answered the call. Mostly refitted merchant ships, privateers came in all shapes and sizes, from twenty-five-foot whaleboats to full-rigged ships over one hundred feet long. Armed with cannons, swivel guns, muskets and pikes, privateers would seize an amazing eighteen hundred British ships by the time the war had run its course.

Yankee privateers tormented British shipping on the open Atlantic, as well as bays and harbors on both sides of the ocean. Whaleboat privateers were particularly active on Long Island Sound, then known to mariners as The Devil’s Belt for its swift currents and shifting shoals, sailing out from creeks along the Connecticut coast to conduct nighttime raids. A compelling tale of patriots whose bravery was integral to America’s victory in the War of Independence, Rebels at Sea is highly recommended.

Eric Jay Dolin is an award-winning author and historian whose other books include Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America, Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America, When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail, Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse, and Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America’s Most Notorious Pirates. A graduate of Brown, Yale, and MIT, where he earned his PhD in environmental policy, he lives Marblehead, MA with his family. You’ll find more information including a list of Dolin’s upcoming speaking engagements at ■