Richard D. Herron
CHESAPEAKE BAY PRIVATEERING DURING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: THE PATRIOTS, THE LOYALISTS, AND THE BRITISH.
(Under the direction of Professor William N. Still, Jr.) Department of History, October 1984.
The intention of this study is to discuss privateering activities in and from the Chesapeake Bay region during the American Revolution. Probably due to the paucity of contemporary resources, historians have traditionally assumed that privateering associated with the Chesapeake Bay region was extremely limited and, thus, not particularly significant. A closer examination proves that this was not the case.
The American colonists, because of their English heritage, had a long tradition of privateering in wartime. Because of this tradition, the colonists were quick to fit out privateers when the Revolution began in 1775.
Not everyone shared the same views concerning American privateering, however. The English Crown saw it as piracy. Even some American patriots, such as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, anathematized privateering - although they themselves fitted out privateers. Conversely, the majority of Americans favored privateering to such a degree that both Thomas Sim Lee and Thomas Jefferson frequently complained of not being able to obtain an adequate supply of commissions.
Historical documentation suggests that throughout the war there were fewer privateers fitted out in Virginia than in Maryland. This is probably true because British forces were nearly ubiquitous in Virginia, and the depredations wrought there were greater than those in Maryland. Nevertheless, privateers from both Virginia and Maryland brought valuable supplies into the Chesapeake region that otherwise would have been unobtainable. This helped to boost patriotic morale and contributed to the war effort in these two colonies.
British - and loyalist-owned privateers were also active in the Chesapeake region. They helped the king's ships blockade the bay and persistently harassed American shipping. But in 1783 England quit the war and privateering was officially terminated. This however, ended American privateering only briefly. Letters of marque were awarded to American vessels during the pseudo war with France; during the War of 1812 privateers, especially from Virginia and Maryland, again harassed the British; and privateers were fitted out even as late as the American Civil War.