Osprey's American Privateers of the Revolutionary War


Angus Konstam, illustrated by Paul Wright


Osprey Publishing


$19.00 MSRP


Scott Van Aken

Notes: 48 pages, 7 x 9 inches, softbound
ISBN: 978-1-4728-3634-2

When the American Revolution started. The Continentals did not have much in the way of a navy. Indeed, it wasn't until a year later that one was formed. Yet, it was important to break the British blockade of of American ports and to stem the flow of troops and materials to the British.

Realizing that building up a navy was going to take time and money, the Continentals decided that the best way to take the fight on the seas to the enemy was through the use of privateers. These were basically civilian ships that were provided letters of marque to capture enemy ships. This was a common practice at this time and was basically state sponsored piracy. Part of the deal was that a fairly hefty portion of the sales of the ship and cargo would go to the government  while the rest was split up between the owners of the ship and the crew. A successful trip would make enough to be very profitable. As such, it was not difficult to get crews for these ships.

Initially, these letters of marque were given by the individual colonies, but quickly this was centralized and offered by the Continental Congress. In terms of ships, you would find a wide variety of sizes with most of these ships being small converted cargo ships that were used in coastal trade. It did not take much armament to convince an unarmed transport to surrender and privateers carried sufficient additional crews to form prize crews and sail the captured ship to a friendly port.

Few of these vessels were initially sufficient for open sea voyages so early privateering took place fairly close to shore. Then investors decided to build purpose built ships with fairly heavy armament. This was found to be mandatory once cargo ships started arming themselves. Privateers were never intended to come up against standard Royal Navy ships and were built more for speed than weaponry in order to flee when outgunned. It is fortunate that the majority of American ship designs were originally built for shallow water and speed, traits which helped them not only overtake slower merchants, but also evade British Navy vessels.

In this book, the author does a superb job of describing the differences in ship building design and practice as well as taking the time to discuss the different types of ships that were used in Privateering. Thanks to some great period art work and drawings, we get to see what these ships were like. Add to it the excellent art work of Paul Wright and you have another fascinating book in this series. Well worth picking up.

January 2020

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