Book Review
American Privateers
American Privateers of the Revolutionary War
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by: Randy L Harvey [ HARV ]

Osprey Publications has released American Privateers of the Revolutionary War as Number 279 in their New Vanguard series. It is a soft cover book with 48 pages. Included with the text are black and white photographs and color photographs, color illustrations, detailed captions, and more. It has a 2020 copyright with a publication date of 20 February 2020 and the ISBN is 978-1-4728-3634-2. The book details the history of various Revolutionary War naval ships used by American Privateers.

Angus Konstam hails from the Orkney Islands, and is the author of over 100 books, 60 of which are published by Osprey. This acclaimed and widely published author has written several books on piracy, including The History of Pirates, and Blackbeard: America's Most Notorious Pirate. A former naval officer and museum professional, he worked as the Curator of Weapons at the Tower of London and as the Chief Curator of the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West, Florida. He now works as a full-time author and historian, and lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Paul Wright has painted ships of all kinds for most of his career, specializing in steel and steam warships from the late 19th century to the present day. Paul's art has illustrated the works of Patrick O'Brian, Dudley Pope and C.S. Forester amongst others, and hangs in many corporate and private collections all over the world. A Member of the Royal Society of Marine Artists, Paul lives and works in Surrey, UK.


** In 1775, Jeremiah O’Brien’s privateer Unity fired the first shots of the revolutionary War at sea, capturing a British armed schooner with just 40 men, their guns, axes and pitchforks, and the cry “Surrender to America”.

Struggling for independence against the world’s mightiest naval power, Congress issued almost 800 letters of marque during the war, enlisting ordinary American sailors in the battle against British. At first, it was only fishermen and the skippers of small merchant ships who turned to privateering, with mixed results. But by the end of the war, the largest American privateers could range the oceans, and were more powerful than most warships in the fledgling US Navy. Hundreds of vital British ships and thousands of men fell prey to the privateers’ campaign.

This fascinating book traces the development of these remarkable ships, explains the war that they fought against British merchantmen and warships, and unveils how they played such a significant role in America’s victory. **

** Quoted from the back cover of the book.


    - Introduction
    - Background
    - Design and Development
    - Design and shipbuilding
    - Vessel types and rigs
    - The purpose-built privateer
    - The Business of Privateering
    - Owners and captains
    - Letters of marque and instructions
    - Life on board
    - Privateers in Action
    - Further reading
    - Index

Author Angus Konstam covers the history of various Revolutionary War naval ships used by American Privateers. Konstam covers all aspects of these ships and provides excellent information in regards to the various classes of ships used and explains each such as brigantine, schooner, ship, sloop, snow, cutter, galley and boat. Konstam details which ships were converted for use by privateers and which ships were “purpose built” for the specific task of privateering. As well as the ship types Konstam also provides the names of various types of ships hulls as listed in Frederik Henrick’s book “Architectura Navalis Mercatoria” from 1768, and details each such as the frigate, hagboat, pink, cat and barque. As well as the ship types and hull types Konstam also provides information and details on the various types of sails used which was determined by the type of craft they were to be used on. Konstam provides text from Falconer’s Marine Dictionary (1780) that explains that a “Privateer” is a “vessel of war, armed and equipped by particular merchants, and furnished with a military commission by the admiralty, or the officers who superintend the marine development of a country, to cruise against the enemy, and to take, sink, or burn their shipping, or otherwise annoy them as opportunity offers. These vessels are generally governed on the same plan with his majesty’s ships, although they are guilty of many scandalous depredations, which are rarely practiced by the latter”. Konstam explains that the privateers operated under congressional permission in the form of “Letters of Marque” which was a license to fit out an armed vessel and use it in the capture of enemy merchant shipping and to commit acts which would otherwise have constituted piracy and details the instructions provided within the letters as to the specific actions that were allowed and what could happen if the letters were not followed as specified. The success of the privateers was called “Prizes” and there is a section provided that details how the prizes “dead shares” were to be distributed among the crew depending on their status onboard the ship such as the captain down to the ship’s boy. Also provided is information on the various ship’s successes and failures, captures and recaptures, life and conditions onboard the ships and other information such as gun sizes and types, provisions taken onboard, how the crews “watches” were stood and other such specific information. The text in the book is nicely written and well detailed. As I read through the text, I didn’t notice any spelling or grammatical errors. Grammar and spelling might not be an important factor to everyone however it is something that I take notice of and pass on my findings. I feel that if the text is well written it shows that the author has taken the time to be professional with their writing. Anyone wanting to add an excellent reference and history book on various ships used by American Privateers to their personal library will be pleased with this very informative and interesting book.

A total of 25 black and white photographs and 16 color photographs are included in this volume. Author Angus Konstam stuck to the title of the book and chose subject specific photographs and did not include photographs that strayed from the main subject of the book. The majority of the photographs are obviously of period engravings and paintings which provide the reader with details of the various ships used by the privateers as well as their enemies and other details such as period maps, weapons, uniforms and clothing. They also provide a good reference for coloring which can be used as a painting guide for modelers if so chosen. Some of the period images are obviously not always in scale and 100% accurate as to specific actions but I personally feel that they still do their job of providing information as there was obviously no photography equipment of any type back in that time period. So obviously, artists were free to use artistic interpretation when they created their paintings and illustrations. The majority, if not all, of the photographs will prove to be a wealth of information to the nautical enthusiast and the scale figure and ship modeler due to the details they contain.

There are 7 color illustrations by illustrator Paul Wright. The illustrations are very well done, nicely detailed and are of:

Plate A (see attached scan)

The Brig-Sloop Tyrannicide, 1776 and the Bermuda Sloop Hope, 1780

- Starboard side illustration of the 14-gun Tyrannicide of the Massachusetts Colonial Navy.
- Starboard side profile of the small ten-gun sloop Hope of Providence Rhode Island.

Plate B

The Privateer Rhodes Pursuing a British Merchantman, August 1780

- A one-page action illustration showing the 20-gun American ship Rhodes intercepting the British merchant ship Lyon off the shore of Charleston, South Carolina on September 13, 1780.

Plate C

The Corvette King George, 1775 and the Brig Fair American, 1781

- Starboard side illustration of the 10-12-gun King George commanded by Rhode Island Loyalist Captain Stanton Hazard that operated under a British letter of marque.
- Starboard side profile of the 14-16 gun brigantine Fair American, a purpose-built privateer built in Philadelphia.

Plate D

The Privateer Rattlesnake, 1781

- A two-page cut-away illustration of the American privateer Rattlesnake. Provided with the illustration is a key that explains 33 separate items of interest shown in the illustration. Also provided is a chart providing details of the ship’s builder, owner, commander, date of completion, displacement, dimensions, beam, sailing rig, armament, compliment and the final fate of the ship.

Plate E

The Brig Washington, 1776 and the Corvette Mohawk, 1780

- Starboard side illustration of the 10-12-gun brigantine Washington built in Beverly, Massachusetts
- Starboard side profile of the 16-20 gun Mohawk built in Beverly, Massachusetts and was later captured and became the HM sloop Mohawk.

Plate F (see attached scan)

The Privateer Saucy Jack in Action, May 1782

- A one-page action illustration set in May 29, 1782 showing the 14-gun privateer ship Saucy Jack in broadside combat with the 16-gun British ship HMS Observer in Canadian waters.

Plate G

The Schooner Berbice, c. 1780 and the Corvette General Pickering, 1780

- Starboard side illustration of the 8-gun schooner Berbice that had been captured by Loyalists in the summer of 1780 and brought into British service.
- Starboard side profile of the 16-gun corvette General Pickering built in Salem, Massachusetts and used in the dual role of privateer and merchant vessel.

The captions are well written and explain the accompanying photographs and illustrations in great detail eliminating any doubt as to what is shown. The captions go into very specific detail such as the shipyards where the various ships were built, commission dates, captain’s names, area of operations, failures and successes, dates, locations and other such pertinent information. I was very impressed by Angus Konstam’s captions as they are very helpful to the reader due to their detailed content as opposed to other captions that I have seen that are very brief and lacking in detail.

There is one note included in this volume and it is:

- Photos

There is 1 informational chart included in this volume and it is of:

- A typical Article of Agreement showing how “dead shares” (prize money) and how it would be distributed to members of the ship’s crew depending on their position on the ship and their age. Examples range from the Captain, 8 shares, down to the Ship’s Boy under the age of sixteen, 1/2 share.

As with the other Osprey Publishing titles I was impressed with this book. This is a very nice reference book that contains a well written informative text, subject specific photographs and illustrations, well detailed captions and more, all detailing the history of various Revolutionary War naval ships used by the privateers. As with the other Osprey Publishing titles, I would have no hesitation to recommend this book to others as it will be a welcome addition to one’s personal reference library.

In addition to being available in print from, Osprey Publishing also offers American Privateers of the Revolutionary War as:

eBook (ePub) – ISBN: 978-1-4728-3633-5


eBook (PDF) – ISBN: 978-1-4728-3632-8

Osprey Publishing's American Privateers of the Revolutionary War is also available electronically as a Kindle version through Amazon.

This book was provided to me by Osprey Publishing. Please be sure to mention that you saw the book reviewed here when you make your purchase.


US $19.00 / UK £11.99 / CAN $25.99
Highs: Well written text and captions. Subject specific photographs and illustrations.
Lows: Nothing to mention.
Verdict: An excellent volume by Osprey Publishing. Definitely beneficial to the Revolutionary War and Age of Sail naval ships enthusiast and historian.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: NVG 279
  PUBLISHED: Mar 23, 2020
  NATIONALITY: United States

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
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About Randy L Harvey (HARV)

I have been in the modeling hobby off and on since my youth. I build mostly 1/35 scale. However I work in other scales for aircraft, ships and the occasional civilian car kit. I also kit bash and scratch-build when the mood strikes. I mainly model WWI and WWII figures, armor, vehic...

Copyright ©2021 text by Randy L Harvey [ HARV ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Model Shipwrights. All rights reserved.


Thank you for posting this for me Fred. I appreciate it. Randy
MAR 23, 2020 - 01:00 PM

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