Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2011

Document Type




First Advisor

Prof. Fred Anderson

Second Advisor

Prof. Anne Lester


Through the capture and sale of prizes in both the Caribbean and Europe, American privateers forced neutral nations to act openly on assertions of American sovereignty. Cruises in the West Indian colonies during the Revolutionary War strengthened a pre-established network of contacts. As in earlier colonial conflicts, American captains found island governors willing to overlook legal irregularities in exchange for profit. The smuggling of arms and ammunition from the Caribbean aided the land war while the seizure of British vessels in the Atlantic caused havoc amongst merchants in England. The effects of privateering in Europe proved to be of even greater consequence diplomatically. By forcing France to act openly on repeated assertions of American sovereignty, privateers such as Lambert Wickes laid the groundwork for a French declaration of open support. By increasing tension between France and Britain, privateers contributed to a crucial shift in French foreign policy. Privateering disputes during the spring and summer of 1777 suggest the French Alliance was not a direct effect of Washington‟s victory at Saratoga, but was rather the result of a continuum of events. Over the course of the war, thousands of privateers attacked British commerce. Operating with a considerable degree of freedom, individual privateers directly influenced the course of the Revolutionary War.