Along with service in the Continental Army and Navy and the various state militias, American patriots during the Revolutionary War had the option of sailing aboard privateers, private ships authorized to attack British commerce during the war. Where studies analyzing other military forces during the Revolution have been more nuanced, scholars that have looked at privateering have either focused on its strategic effectiveness during the conflict or merely written it off as a profit-driven phenomenon of maritime plunder. Privateering played a role in the course of the Revolution to a degree, but more importantly the practice was influenced by the ideological considerations that framed the Revolution itself—considerations that are ignored when privateering is seen through the eyes of the profit-narrative. While in part motivated by profit, privateering during the American War for Independence can only be fully understood when placed in the context of contemporary debates over liberty, republicanism, and identity. These debates stretched across the range of actors involved in privateering, from the sailors crewing privateer vessels to the merchants investing in privateer expeditions. This thesis will draw upon existing literature on privateering, Revolutionary ideology, and original analysis of primary source information including correspondence, government documents, and individual narratives to place privateering within the broader framework of the Revolutionary period. In doing so, it will add a more complex and multilayered approach to privateering to place that scholarship alongside other studies of military phenomena during the American Revolution.


Welsch, Christina




Military History | United States History


American Revolution, Privateering, Ideology

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis Exemplar



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