Episode 357: Eric Jay Dolin, Privateering in the American Revolution

On April 19, 1775, the thirteen colonies found themselves at war with Great Britain. British military forces ranked among the most powerful in the world. By contrast, the colonies had forces of militiamen–civilian volunteers– because the Continental Congress had not yet established its Continental Army and Navy.

How did the Continental Congress approach creating military forces that could go toe-to-toe with the British military during the American War for Independence?

Eric Jay Dolin joins us to answer part of that question by looking at the creation of the United States’ privateer fleet. Dolin is the author of fifteen books about the maritime history of early America, including Rebels at Sea: Privateering in the American Revolution.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Ben Franklin’s World is a production of Colonial Williamsburg Innovation Studios.

Episode Summary

Eric Jay Dolin joins us to explore the early American world of privateers and privateering using details from his latest book, Rebels at Sea: Privateering in the American Revolution.

During our exploration, Eric reveals what privateering was and how it differed from piracy; Why the American revolutionaries turned so quickly to privateering as a military option during the American Revolution; And how privateers helped the United States win its independence.

What You’ll Discover

  • How privateering differed from piracy
  • European precedents for using privateers
  • The origins of privateers in North America
  • Use of privateers in the American Revolution
  • Why the revolutionaries turned to privateers in the American Revolution
  • The relationship between port cities and number of privateers
  • The average age, life expectancy, and gender of privateers
  • The wide diversity of those who worked as privateers
  • James Forten and his time as a privateer during the American Revolution
  • Massachusetts as first colony to use privateering in American Revolution
  • How privateers helped Revolutionary forces in the War for Independence
  • How privateers hindered Revolutionary war efforts
  • Opportunities and risks associated with being a privateer
  • How privateers decided which ships to capture and how they captured them
  • How the British Navy viewed American privateers
  • The major contributions made privateers to the American Revolution

Links to People, Places, and Publications

Sponsor Links

Support Ben Franklin's World

Join Us!! Become a Ben Franklin’s World Member. Subscribe and help us bring history right to your ears!‌

Complementary Episodes

Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question


In your opinion, what might have happened if the Continental Congress had banned the use of privateers during the American War for Independence? How might the quest for American independence have turned out differently without the use of privateers?

Questions, Comments, Suggestions

Do you have a question, comment, or suggestion?‌

Get in Touch! Send me an e-mail, tweet, or leave a comment.


Enjoy the Podcast?

Why Not Listen regularly through one of these apps?

| Listen on Google Podcasts | Listen to Stitcher


Ratings & Reviews

If you enjoy this podcast, please give it a rating and review.

Positive ratings and reviews help bring Ben Franklin's World to the attention of other history lovers who may not be aware of our show

Click here to rate & review on iTunes | Click here to rate & review on Stitcher

More from this show