Privateering and the Battle of Groton Heights

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Whaleship in New London, oil painting by D. Walter Blake. QO 25/1933.0213.000001

Sometimes it takes just one object in the Collection to open up a world of exciting stories. In this case, an oil painting caught my eye the other day and reminded me of a history that excited me when I first learned about it.

During the American Revolution the Americans had a fledgling Navy, made up of the small fleets that each state could muster together. These ships were not able to match the well-trained, battle-hardened British Navy, so the Americans turned to privateers to help in the fight. A privateer was a private citizen who owned a ship and offered to arm that ship to fight against the British merchants. They had a better chance of success fighting merchants than a ship of the line, plus we needed the merchants’ cargo and supplies. In return the privateers received a portion of the money from the sale of the captured prize ship and the goods it carried. The profits could be high, but so was the danger. Whether these sailors were pirates or not completely depended on the paperwork and whose side of the war you were on.   Read more