WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Cruisers

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Cruisers

The sea hath no king but God alone…
Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Thinking about the American Revolutionary War conjures images of George Washington, tea in Boston Harbor, Valley Forge, and an ignominious surrender at Yorktown.

But what about The Pond?

Atlantic Ocean Map, 1544, Library of Congress.

The American Revolutionary War saw the birth of the United States Navy, but first there were privateers. For many, the word privateer is synonymous with pirate, but that’s too simplistic a view. Privateers sailed under Letters of Marque from a country for the purpose of striking a blow against that country’s enemies by capturing prizes – that is, enemy ships and cargo. They flew the flag of their sponsor country and were subject to all laws and treaties of that country. A pirate sailed for no man or country save himself, owed allegiance to no one, and plundered (stole, pillaged, and killed) at will. Some wily pirates did pledge allegiance to a country when the Marque provided access or legitimacy to big scores, but they quickly and indiscriminately dropped their loyalty when necessity withered.

Privateers have sailed the seas for centuries. Think Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha (Turkey), Sir Francis Drake (England), Sir Henry Morgan (Wales), and Jean Lafitte (French Louisiana). After the American Revolutionary War, new names were added to that roll call: Esek Hopkins, David Hawley, Noah Stoddard, and Ephraim Sturdivant.


Rogues ready to snap up any booty on offer, like privateers or pirates on a cruise.

Privateer Snow by Joe Hunt Joseph, 1977. Inscribed “with goodstaken from British merchantment being rowed up the Piscataqua to Portsmouth for offloading ca. 1780.” Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers, Boston.

Britain controlled the seas and coastline of its thirteen colonies prior to the American Revolution. In fact, they controlled most of the world’s seas, period. That all changed when the quarrel with the colonies developed, pitting loyal Englishman against disgruntled Englishman. Skirmishes steadily grew in frequency and severity as all-out war approached.

Because it lacked sufficient funds to build a navy of any count, the Continental Congress, in a bill signed by then-President John Hancock on 3 April 1776, gave privateers permission to disrupt the progress of any British ship involved in commerce. It read: “Commanders of Private Ships or vessels of War, which shall have Commissions of Letters of Marque and Reprisal, authorizing them to make Captures of British Vessels and Cargoes.” Congress soon upped the ante by issuing Privateer Commissions that allowed for direct harassment and attack of any British vessel regardless of purpose.

Privateer Commission 1813. Although this example is post-Revolutionary War, it’s a wonderful example of Privateering. Signed by President James Madison, the document authorized the New Hampshire schooner Dart to “subdue, seize and take any armed or unarmed British vessel.” After the successes enjoyed under the Continental Congress edicts during the Revolutionary War, a proviso was included in the U.S. Constitution to give Congress the authority to grant these commissions to private armed ships like the Dart.

Both levels of privateering drastically changed the War. By seizing British vessels and goods, privateers supplied their fledgling country (and enriched themselves in the process). They also dealt a stiff maritime blow to their Mother Country. An estimated 300 British ships were captured during the War. It’s important not to underestimate the importance of private American seamen capturing vessels of the country that heretofore ruled the seas: victories of both supply and morale. In effect, these colonial upstarts were hoisting the English by their own petard.

It’s likely impossible to determine which was the greater motivator for taking to the seas during this period – politics or profit – but New England was lousy with both whigs and privateers.  Huge prizes were taken and fortunes built as the war progressed. One such privateer, John Brown (1736-1803), used his newfound wealth to help found and construct the buildings for a new school in Providence known as Rhode Island College. That’s Brown University now, to you and me.

So as we celebrate our Independence from the tyranny of madness and taxation without representation (No More Kings!), let’s not forget to tip our hats to the unsung heroes of the Revolution. Those legal pillagers of all those who sailed under the flag, “His Majesty’s Jack.” Those harassers and despoilers of Redcoat ports and supply lines. Those usurpers of rum, sugar, and British nationalism.

American Revolutionary Cruisers.


WOW ~ Of Independence and Upstart Colonials

WOW ~ Of Independence and Upstart Colonials

For most modern-day Americans, Independence Day is less about remembering the winning of freedom from England and more about celebrating grilled food and hot summer days, and shooting fireworks in the backyard. Those of us who remember our American History lessons can speak of no taxation without representation, preparing a harbor for high tea, and the shot heard ’round the world.

independence philadelphia newspaper

Without seeming unpatriotic, what of the British perspective?

I’ve seen the 18th Century separation of England from its North American colonies blamed on the lack of decisive resolution of the Seven Year’s War, or simply thought of as another front in the War Against Napoleon. Most of my English friends never even studied it in school, other than the rare mention of it in passing as it affected exploration or foreign trade. Most know more about the American Civil War (or as it’s known in the south, The War of Northern Aggression), and even consider this a Civil War of British citizen versus British Citizen.

But it did make the news.

Page 1, Issue 11690, 6 August 1776, London Gazette, The Gazette.

Page 1, Issue 11690, 6 August 1776, London Gazette, The Gazette.

Well, maybe not much news. If you squint and search you’ll find, buried in the second column and second paragraph, the single solemn sentence, remarkable in its brevity:

the part

An eloquent, if verbose, pamphlet was written by Josiah Tucker, D.D. Dean of Gloucester, and reprinted in part in The Leicester and Nottingham Journal on 20 January 1776. He presented both sides of the arguments of war, but with the purpose of making “people truly sensible of the blessings they enjoy under the reign of his present majesty.”


Dean Tucker’s conclusion, as excerpted in The Leicester and Nottingham Journal:


By far, most information came to England via personal correspondence. Initially, letters were full of calm assurance of victory and thinly veiled disdain for people that were – at this point – English, fellow countrymen. As the conflict progressed, and success moved farther from their grasp, letters home changed drastically in tone and information.

“When an American falls, England feels it. Is there no way of trading back this step of Independency, and opening the door to a full discussion?” Admiral Richard Howe to his secretary, Henry Strachey, September 1776.

“Killing seems to me a very unnatural trade, but these people are beyond nature as well as reason. They might at this moment have peace and happiness, but they insist upon having their brains knocked out first.” Henry Strachey, secretary to General William Howe and Admiral Richard Howe, in a letter to his wife after the British won the Battle of Long Island in August 1776.

Henry Strachey also observed some colonists leaving hearth and home “to follow the standard of rebellion at the hazard of all they are worth, rather than acknowledge George for their king. The infatuation is inscrutable. I have read somewhere, and I begin to think it possible, that a whole country as well as an individual may be struck with lunacy.”

“[what] pernicious designs of those, who, giving a loose to their own immoderate notions of liberty, have by misrepresentation and perversion of facts, so long and so fatally blinded the eyes of a deluded multitude, and by the means of violence and threats compelled them to break out into rebellion, in search of a redress of grievances which never existed.” Lord George Germain, secretary of the colonies.

yorktown is won

missing you since 1776