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American Privateers of the Revolutionary War

American Privateers of the Revolutionary War Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review February 2020 Title American Privateers of the Revolutionary War
Author Angus Konstam Publisher Osprey Publishing
Published 2020 ISBN 9781472836342
Format 48 pages, softbound MSRP (USD) $19.00


Angus Konstam explores an arcane aspect of naval warfare in American Privateers of the Revolutionary War – number 279 in Osprey’s vast “New Vanguard” range.

The fledgling American navy proved too weak to face the Royal Navy – then the world’s strongest. So the Continental Congress “issued privateering ‘letters of marque’ to ship captains, empowering them to hunt down British merchant ships on the high seas”.

Privateers ideally functioned as “auxiliary warships, serving the needs of the state”. American authorities would then “take a cut of any profit made from the sale of [captured] prizes and their cargoes”.

But while some considered privateering little more than “legalize piracy”, Konstam notes that “[f]or a fledgling state such as the one the American rebels wished to create, privateering would become the centerpiece of its naval strategy”.

From small, converted vessels to larger purpose-built examples, Konstam thoroughly surveys his subject in just 48 pithy pages across four informative chapters:

  • Design and Development
  • The Business of Privateering
  • Life On Board
  • Privateers In Action

Rigging. Armament. Provisions. Craftsmen. Crew. Commissions. Legalities. Even geographic factors and “Quaker guns”.

No stone apparently remains unturned.

What distinguish brigs from schooners – and ships from sloops? What characterize snows, cutters, galleys, and whaleboats? Ditto for frigates, hagboats, pinks, cats, and barques?

Konstam offers answers.

Archival images, color plates, and action illustrations, augment the account. Extended captions and sidebars, further supplement the study. And a selected bibliography and index complete contents. But don’t expect annotations.

Ranging as far as Europe, American privateers caused “significant” British mercantile losses. “For privateersmen,” Konstam quips, “patriotism and profit went hand-in-hand.”

Discover the fascinating whys – and hows. Grab this handy little handbook.

My sincere thanks to Osprey Publishing for this review sample!