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Bill Thayer

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The American Privateers
Donald Barr Chidsey

The Book and the Author

The American Privateers is one of the more informally written books on my site; in spots, the style is positively breezy. Nonetheless it covers its subject well, giving us a good feel for what privateering was all about, including the all-important legal framework; as well as what the experience was like, especially from the Revolution to the War of 1812. It also has a good Bibliography and a very useful Glossary, although I would have liked to see just a few more terms added.

Or, as the jacket blurb puts it, somewhat misleadingly (among other things, Jonathan Haraden should have been cited instead of Seth Harding who is mentioned only once, pretty much in passing) — and the writing not at all as success­ful as the author's:

front flap This is a hard-hitting but carefully documented history of America's unsung heroes, the "legalized pirates" like Thomas Boyle, Joshua Barney, Seth Harding and even for a part of his career, the notorious Captain Kidd. We learn of their fights, their triumphs, the terrible risks they ran — from earliest colonial times through the Civil War. Privateering had a gaudy, gory background and its survival in the early days of the republic shocked many persons but it excited and delighted others. The gamble, for gamble it surely was, had its high points too, its moments of glory. And these tales about such staunch vessels as the True Blooded Yankee, the General Pickering, the Defense, the Rattlesnake, and the Chasseur recapture those moments with gusto and flair.

Donald Barr Chidsey, an old-time sailor and globetrotter, has written many fine books of history and biography as well as historical novels.

back cover 
[image ALT: A photograph of a man of about 65 holding a small dachshund up near his head and looking at the Dog lovingly. He is Donald Barr Chidsey; the photograph is from the back cover of his book 'The American Privateers', the text of which is transcribed in full on this site.]

Donald Barr Chidsey now makes his home in Lyme, Connecticut though he has lived at various times in New York, Paris, New Orleans, Miami, Honolulu, and Papeete. In Tahiti before the war he owned and managed a copra plantation. Among his many books are three histories, seven biographies and twenty-odd historical novels.

As reported in his obituary in The New York Times, he eventually wrote 50 books on a variety of topics: the American Revolution, miscellaneous biographies, the sea and maritime history, and those novels; plus the occasional journal article. He died on March 17, 1981, at New London, CT.

 p. v [image ALT: a blank space]Contents

The Fight at Fayal


Not to Split Hairs


Peace Makes Pirates


You Can't Eat Diamonds


Chaos on the High Seas


It Could be Called a Gold Rush


The Mosquito Fleet


France Gets Into the Fight


You Can Go Home Now


Fight to the End


The Boy Wonder


He Talked Too Much


How to Wage a Non‑War


Get Out There Fast!


 p. vi  A Quiet, Unassuming Fiend


If a Man Coward . . .


The Beautiful Vessels


The Playful Ones


The Harder You Hit Them


Grab the Payroll!


Treason and Triumph


When the Dust Had Settled


In Bad Repute


Babies Were Held Up


End of an Era


 p. vii [image ALT: a blank space]Illustrations

Following page 86
[in the printed book; in this Web transcription, moved to the pages linked here:]

Joshua Barney

# 1

Battle between Chasseur and British sloop-of‑war


Another Whitcomb painting of this fight


Captain Jonathan Haraden


Battle between brig Chasseur and the schooner St. Lawrence


Tablet showing fight between General Pickering and British privateer Achilles


The brig Rambler


Privateer brig Grand Turk saluting Marseilles, 1815


Technical Details

Edition Used

The edition followed in this transcription was that of my own hard copy, a Dodd, Mead & Company hardback issued in 1962; the copyright of that same year was not renewed in 1989 or 1990 as required by the then law in order to be maintained; surprisingly, since according to the United States Copyright Office's catalogue the copyrights on 16 other books published by our (prolific) author between 1953 and 1964, all on military or naval topics, were renewed — but this one was not. This one is thus in the public domain: details here on the copyright law involved.

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line); p57  these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.


As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

My transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents above, the sections are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree. As elsewhere onsite, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The printed book was fairly well proofread, mistakes being pretty much confined to proper names. I marked those few typographical errors, when important (or unavoidable because inside a link), with a bullet like this;º and when trivial, with a dotted underscore like this: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the bullet or the underscored words to read the variant. Similarly, bullets before measurements provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles.

A number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any other mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

[image ALT: An oil painting of a tall two-masted sailing ship with a full complement of four sails on each mast and an assortment of smaller sails, jibs, etc. It flies the American flag and is firing a very smoky blast along the water line in the direction of a fort. It is a painting of the brig Grand Turk in front of Marseilles, and serves as the icon on this site for the book 'The American Privateers'.]

The icon I use to indicate this subsite is my colorization of the book's 8th illustration, the original of which I've placed here.

After I colorized it, it occurred to me that the painting might be online, and so it is, in several photographs, the colors of which range very widely. This is the one that seemed the most likely to me, although even here I've edited it to strip away most of an unpleasant ochre cast due either to poor scanning or several lifetimes of cigarette smoke:

[image ALT: An oil painting of a tall two-masted sailing ship with a full complement of four sails on each mast and an assortment of smaller sails, jibs, etc. It flies the American flag and is firing a very smoky blast along the water line in the direction of a fort. It is a painting of the brig Grand Turk in front of Marseilles, and serves as the icon on this site for the book 'The American Privateers'.]

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Site updated: 10 Sep 14