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History Day

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Privateers

Privateers

Note: See also other time periods, such as the War of 1812. Some items listed here may cover time periods beyond the American Revolution - check sources.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition:

privateer, n.
1.  a. An armed vessel owned and crewed by private individuals, and holding a government commission known as a letter of marque (see letter of marque n. at marque n.1 2) authorizing the capture of merchant shipping belonging to an enemy nation. Now historical.
   b. The commander or a member of the crew of a privateer. Now historical.

- "privateer, n.". OED Online. September 2021. Oxford University Press. https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/151605?rskey=os5nXq&result=1 (accessed November 16, 2021).


During the American Revolution, the Continental navy needed support against the British Navy and turned to privateers. It was an established practice with European countries that, during a war, contracted privateers could attack enemy vessels (including trade vessels). Privateers were issued letters of marque that granted them permission to seize enemy ships. Pirates lacked the legal letters of marque issued from a valid government. England did not recognize the Colonies as a legitimate government, and considered the privateers to be pirates. Letters of marque were issued by Continental government, and Connecticut issued their own as well. Journals of the Continental Congress and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set contain information about who were issued letters of marque. There was a question during the U.S. Civil War if the ships supporting the Confederate army were privateers or pirates. Privateering was prohibited by the 1856 Treaty of Paris, but the U.S.A. did not sign the treaty.

Long Island Sound supported privateers, with the lower Connecticut River and New London Harbor prime locations. There were several shipyards, which built smaller and faster ships than the British naval ships. These locally built ships could escape up the Connecticut and Thames Rivers. New London had a large whaling fleet and the Thames River was deep enough to accommodate larger ships. Nathaniel Shaw, Jr., of New London, acting as Connecticut’s Naval Agent and Continental agent, issued the letters of marque for that area.

Some Connecticut people involved in privateering, or owning shares in privateer ships: Benedict Arnold; Nathaniel Shaw, Jr.; Captain Thomas Allon; William Packwood; Joseph Packwood; Samuel Smedley; Ashbel Riley; Capt. Gideon Olmsted.

Some ships were: General PutnamJohn; Governor Trumbull; Ranger; Snake.


Sources are from items listed on this page.

 

Archives

Archives

Books, Documents, etc.

Books, Documents, etc.

These are resources that cross over more than one time period. See sections for specific wars/time periods.

Articles - Privateers

Articles

These are resources that cross over more than one time period. See sections for specific wars/time periods.

Privateers - American Revolution

American Revolution Privateers

These are resources for this specific time period. For resources that cover more than one time period, see other sections on this page.

Books, Documents, etc.

Other Institutions

Privateers - War of 1812

War of 1812 Privateers

These are resources for this specific time period. For resources that cover more than one time period, see other sections on this page.