Date of Award


Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Dr. Matthew Casey

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Kyle Zelner

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. Deanne Stephens

Committee Member 3 School



The standard answer to why the American colonies defeated the most powerful military force on Earth is French aid. The American Revolution may have been short-lived without the help of the avenging Bourbon Dynasty, but this thesis argues that privateering was just as pivotal to victory. If historians even mention the role of privateering in the Revolution, most acknowledge either the impact it had on the British economy or how it helped turn the tide of public opinion in Great Britain against the war. Few have mentioned the fact that privateers also helped smuggle munitions and supplies to the colonies via the West Indies, aid without which the Continental Army could not have achieved its victories at Saratoga and Yorktown. This thesis examines all three factors.

It was the fledgling Republic that resurrected the practice. Over the course of the Revolution the Continental Congress issued no fewer than 1700 Letters of Marque. In totum, over 55,000 colonists served aboard privateer ships. These seafaring rebels captured or sunk, by some estimates, over 3000 royal vessels. Some American privateers were bold enough to capture enemy ships in the English Channel. This strategy so disrupted the British economy that it turned the tide of public opinion against the war, helped convince the French that victory was possible, and provided invaluable foreign aid to sustain the Continental Army and win the war.

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