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Privateering in the American Revolution at New Haven Museum


New Haven, Conn. (January 12, 2023) –According to historian Eric Jay Dolin, a crucial element missing from most maritime histories of the American Revolution is the ragtag fleet of private vessels—from 20-foot whaleboats to 40-cannon men-of-war— that played a key role in winning the war. Dolin will fill in the blanks during a spirited Zoom presentation for the New Haven Museum, “Rebels at Sea: Privateering in the American Revolution,” on Thursday, February 22, 2024. at 6 p.m. Register here. This free NH250 event will also stream on FB Live.


Laden with tales of daring maneuvers and deadly encounters, Dolin will present the American Revolution as few have encountered it. He contends that privateers—armed vessels owned and outfitted by private individuals who had government permission to capture enemy ships in times of war—were often seen as profiteers at best, and pirates at worst, but were in fact critical to the Revolution’s outcome. Armed with cannons, swivel guns, muskets, and pikes, thousands of privateers tormented the British on the broad Atlantic and in bays and harbors on both sides of the ocean. Connecticut provided roughly 200 privateers to the war effort.


Dolin became interested in the topic while writing his earlier book, “Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates.”  He says, “When I gave talks on ‘Black Flags,’ people always seemed very interested in privateering, and invariably asked me if privateers were just ‘licensed pirates.’” While digging deeper, it became clear to him that the role of privateering in the Revolution had been largely ignored in the history of the conflict, “I hope those attending gain a better understanding of privateering, and that they leave believing that privateering was critical to winning the war,” he says.

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