Book Review: American Privateers in the War of 1812: The Vessels and Their Prizes as Recorded in Niles' Weekly Register


by Timothy S. Good

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012. Pp. viii, 210. Appends., notes, biblio, index. $75.00 paper. ISBN: 0786466952

The gallant service of the U.S. Navy in the War of 1812 is well know, but American Privateers in the War of 1812 deals with the other fleet the nation sent to sea.

The fame garnered during the War of 1812 by the USS Constitution and the other vessels of the young U.S. Navy obscures what was arguably the more important aspect of the war at sea, commerce raiding by privateers, a subject generally dismissed in histories of the conflict by a few lines.  Nevertheless, during the 32 months of the war, of more than 1,600 British ships captured by American warships and raiders (including some after the Treaty of Ghent), over 1,300 were taken by privateers, with the Navy taking some hundreds more, and a few being taken by the Revenue Cutter Service, U.S. Army vessels, state militia, and some odd
operators.  This marked what was something of the “golden age” of privateering. 

American Privateers in the War of 1812 opens with an introduction by Good, a National Parks employee and independent scholar, which explains the concept of privateering and gives a short history of privateers in the service of the United States.  He then has a chapter that catalogs the operations of privateers against British shipping during the war, followed by one that does so for the Navy and other agents.  There follows a list complied from the pages of the Baltimore newspaper Niels’ Weekly Register, of each ship taken, whether by privateers, the Navy, or other agents.  For each capture, all available details are given, which means that at times entries can be quite sparse, while at others quite detailed.  Several appendices provide summary information on the privateers, such as their home ports.
Nevertheless, American Privateers in the War of 1812 is a valuable resource for anyone interested in maritime side of the war or in economic warfare.
Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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