Rebels at Sea: Privateering in the American Revolution (Hardcover)
The bestselling author of Black Flags, Blue Waters reclaims the daring freelance sailors who proved essential to the winning of the Revolutionary War.
The heroic story of the founding of the U.S. Navy during the Revolution has been told many times, yet largely missing from maritime histories of America’s first war is the ragtag fleet of private vessels that truly revealed the new nation’s character—above all, its ambition and entrepreneurial ethos.
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 stirringly 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.
Creating an entirely new pantheon of Revolutionary heroes, 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.
About the Author
Eric Jay Dolin is the author of fourteen books. His most recent is A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America's Hurricanes, which received a number of accolades, including being chosen by the Washington Post as one of 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction in 2020, by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2020 (in addition to being a Kirkus Prize finalist), by the Library Journal and Booklist as one of the Best Science & Technology Books of 2020, and by the New York Times Book Review as an "Editor's Choice." Other books include 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; and Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates, which was chosen as a "Must-Read" book for 2019 by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and was a finalist for the 2019 Julia Ward Howe Award given by the Boston Author's Club. A graduate of Brown, Yale, and MIT, where he received his Ph.D. in environmental policy, Dolin lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts, with his family.
Rebels at Sea is sure to be another successful addition to Dolin’s catalog. The narrative is fast-paced and exciting. . . . The work also has some stunning and colorful pictures, including paintings, maps and portraits. This ranks as one of the best books the Journal of the American Revolution has reviewed.
— Timothy Symington - Journal of the American Revolution
The author makes this solid work of scholarship the sort of book that starts a young person’s love of reading and interest in history. Dolin never loses the reader in his clear and concise prose.
— Robert S. Davis - New York Journal of Books
Dolin’s valuable achievement in recognizing and honoring these sailors’ oft-ignored contributions to American independence more fully fleshes out American naval history.
— Mark Knoblauch, Booklist, starred review
Scholars and general readers will enhance their knowledge of an often-neglected yet essential aspect of Revolutionary War history with Dolin’s cogent, absorbing, thoroughly researched account.
— Margaret Kappanadze, Library Journal, starred review
The bestselling maritime historian returns with a study of privateering activity during the Revolutionary War and its role in bolstering the Colonial cause . . . In this exciting narrative, Dolin, a 2020 Kirkus Prize finalist for A Furious Sky, demonstrates how privateering was a key element in America’s ability to secure independence . . . The author digs deep into the whole enterprise . . . In this characteristically well-researched history, Dolin describes the vital activities of two main types of privateers . . . The author also explores in fascinating detail the desperate circumstances of captured Americans aboard British prison ships . . . A thrilling, unique contribution to the literature on the American Revolution.
— Kirkus Reviews
[A] spirited account . . . The book’s greatest strength are the up-close portraits of the sailors themselves . . . This is a well-researched and thoroughly entertaining tribute to men who ‘stepped forward and risked their lives to help make [the United States] a reality.'
— Publishers Weekly