About This Document
During the American Revolution, privateers played a major role in disrupting British commerce. A privateer is an armed ship owned by private individuals and are authorized for use in war. Of the British ships (both merchantmen and Royal Navy) captured or destroyed during the war, privateers were responsible for nearly 75% of those conquests. This document is a “Letter of Marque” issued for the sloop Revenge out of Stonington, Connecticut. It allows the ship and its crew to “to seize all British property on the Seas” and divide the spoils amongst the crew. When a ship was captured, the ship, cargo, and crew were all taken back to port and brought before an Admiralty Court. This court would decide whether the capture of the ship was legal and proper. If it was determined that it was, the ship and cargo would be sold and the proceeds would be split between the capturing owners, captain and crew. More...
In the early days of the American Revolution, the United States had no standing army and no navy, yet Congress was tasked with building a fighting force to take on the British. In October 1775, the Congressional delegation from Rhode Island proposed the creation of a Continental Navy. Some in Congress thought the idea preposterous, but by the end of the month, Congress had approved the building and staffing of four ships. These four ships, however, would not be enough to cause any trouble for the British Royal Navy, the undisputed best navy in the world. More...
Questions for Further Thought
- How is a privateer different from a pirate? How could one become the other? How might point of view make a difference?
- How might the American Revolution have been different if Congress did not authorize privateers?
- Why, do you think, would a sailor choose to sign up on board a privateer rather than join the Continental Navy?