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Rebels at Sea: Privateering in the American Revolution

National Archives Museum

Tuesday, June 28, 2022 - 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. EDT

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The heroic story of the founding of the U.S. Navy during the Revolution has been told many times, yet largely missing from maritime histories of America’s first war is the ragtag fleet of private vessels. In Rebels at Sea, historian Eric Jay Dolin corrects that omission and contends that privateers, as they were called, with their privately owned vessels, were in fact critical to the American victory. Dolin explains that at a time when the young Continental Navy numbered no more than about 60 vessels, privateers rushed to fill the gaps. Nearly 2,000 set sail over the course of the war, with tens of thousands of Americans serving on them and capturing some 1,800 British ships. The author argues that privateersmen were as patriotic as their fellow Americans and that they greatly contributed to the war’s success: diverting critical British resources to protecting their shipping, playing a key role in bringing France into the war on the side of the United States, and bolstering the new nation’s confidence that it might actually defeat the most powerful military force in the world.


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