Rebels at Sea: Privateering in the American Revolution (Liveright, 2022) by Eric Jay Dolin is the story of the founding of the U.S. Navy during the American Revolution. The story has been told before, yet missing from most maritime histories of America’s first war is the ragtag fleet of private vessels, from 20-foot whaleboats to 40-cannon men-of-war.
In Rebels at Sea, best-selling historian Eric Jay Dolin corrects that significant omission, and contends that privateers, as they were called, were in fact critical to the American victory. Privateers were privately owned vessels, mostly refitted merchant ships, that were granted permission by the new government to seize British merchantmen and men of war.
As Dolin demonstrates, at a time when the young Continental Navy numbered no more than about sixty vessels all told, 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. Privateers came in all shapes and sizes, from twenty-five foot long whaleboats to full-rigged ships more than 100 feet long. Bristling with cannons, swivel guns, muskets, and pikes, they tormented their foes on the broad Atlantic and in bays and harbors on both sides of the ocean.
The men who owned the ships, as well as their captains and crew, would divide the profits of a successful cruise ― and suffer all the more if their ship was captured or sunk, with privateersmen facing hellish conditions on British prison hulks, where they were treated not as enemy combatants but as pirates. Some Americans viewed them similarly, as cynical opportunists whose only aim was loot.
Yet Dolin shows that privateersmen were as patriotic as their fellow Americans, and moreover 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, providing much-needed supplies at home, and bolstering the new nation’s confidence that it might actually defeat the most powerful military force in the world.
Dolin reclaims such forgotten privateersmen as Captain Jonathan Haraden and Offin Boardman, putting their exploits, and sacrifices, at the very center of the conflict. Abounding in tales of daring maneuvers and deadly encounters, Rebels at Sea presents this nation’s first war as we have rarely seen it before.
The Fraunces Tavern Museum has announced the Battles of Lexington and Concord Dinner and Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award Presentation is set for Monday, April 24th.
During this event, the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York will commemorate the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which took place on April 19, 1775. At this commemoration, they will also honor the winner of the Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award, presented annually to the author of the best newly published work on the American Revolutionary War that combines original scholarship, insight, and good writing. This year’s winner is Rebels at Sea .
Eric Jay Dolin is the author of fifteen books, including Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America, which was chosen as one of the best nonfiction books of 2007 by the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe, and also won the 2007 John Lyman Award for U.S. Maritime History. His most recent book before Rebels at Sea is A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America’s Hurricanes, which was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize, and was chosen as one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, Booklist, Library Journal, and the editors at Amazon. It was also selected as a “Must Read” book by the Massachusetts Center for the Book for 2020. A graduate of Brown, Yale, and MIT, where he received his PhD in environmental policy, Dolin lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts, with his family.
The program will begin at 6:30 pm with a reception and brief remarks by Dolin, followed by the dinner, a full lecture by the author, a Q & A session, and the award presentation.
Tickets are now on sale and must be purchased by April 19th. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.