In the summer of 1775, George Washington and the fledgling Continental Army was unable to effectively lay siege to British-occupied Boston because the Royal Navy had a firm command of the sea-lanes and the harbor. All George Washington could do was observe the flow of enemy supplies into Boston harbor and wondered if intercepting a British weapons ship might help replenish his meager armory and uplift his army’s spirit. Shortages of cannon and gunpowder were already threatening the small army they had amassed on the Boston Neck. The patriot cause needed a means of both disrupting the British supplies and redirecting some of that materiel to the army. By offering a percentage of the spoils as inducement to the crews, Washington was able to arm several small schooners. This was hardly a navy but they were able to prowl Massachusetts Bay and capture a British transport carrying tons of munitions. Word spread that the seamen had made their fortunes.
Washington’s schooners didn’t last long and by 1777, they were replaced by marauding horde of civilian privateers, essentially legalized pirates who were permitted under international law to plunder the enemy’s commercial ships. Washington did not have a high opinion of this colonial navy, “I do believe there is not on earth a more disorderly set,” but they were having an impact.
More than 2,000 privateers sailed from colonial ports. They seized 600 ships in American waters and hundreds more in the North Atlantic, as well as in the West Indies. Privateering caused the price of imports and maritime insurance in Britain to soar. Newspaper editorials denounced the American “pyrates,” and merchants wondered, “Where is the boasted navy of our country?” Even though the Royal Navy was vastly superior in both seamanship and firepower, these ambitious mariners ultimately wore down their enemy. The military superiority of Great Brittan was rapidly being destroyed as the navy strained to defend a global empire against guerrilla warfare at sea. This war at sea and its economic toll weakened British resolve. According to Benjamin Franklin, “We expect to make their merchants sick of a contest in which so much is risked and nothing gained.”
While, the Royal Navy captured or destroyed hundreds of American privateers in bloody mismatches of firepower and seamanship, the lure of a big payday was deemed worth the risk. “One success”, shrugged the financier Robert Morris, “will pay for two, three, or four losses.” The crews themselves were no less bullish. One New Hampshire seaman, just 14 years old, collected a ton of sugar, 40 gallons of rum, and $100 in gold from the proceeds of one captured ship. Although eventually captured and imprisoned, he astonished his family by hopping another privateer just two days after he was released. Unlike most soldiers, he ended the war a wealthy man.
None of this detracts from the courage and sacrifice of the Continental Navy. But even the navy’s most ardent commander, John Paul Jones, conceded that naval service couldn’t compete with privateering’s loose discipline, better pay, shorter cruises, and explicit permission to avoid tangling with enemy warships. Privateering tapped the same vein of self-interest and comradeship that had led the Colonies to seek independence in the first place. It bolstered the battered wartime economy by supporting shipbuilders as well as legal officials who settled captured prizes. It sparked wild financial speculation and created vast fortunes.
Next time you watch your favorite Pirate saga, consider that these were America’s terrorist army of the sea in the 18th Century. While they helped support the army by intercepting gunpowder and military supplies, when they did so, they took a huge share for themselves.
In that vein, we have TRIPLE Ale dedicated to the Pirates of the Revolution. They army would be really pleased with the small beer that comes from the left-overs from this beer. Its rich, dark, spicy, and worth every peril you must undertake to get your share. BEWARE of PIRATES!
- Batch Size (G): 6.0
- Total Grain (lb): 19.672
- Total Hops (oz): 4.92
- Original Gravity (OG): 1.093 (°P): 22.2
- Final Gravity (FG): 1.009 (°P): 2.3
- Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 11.01 %
- Colour (SRM): 10.9 (EBC): 21.5
- Bitterness (IBU): 73.2 (Tinseth)
- Brewhouse Efficiency (%): 70
- Boil Time (Minutes): 60
- 14 lb American – Pale 2-Row (70%)
- 2 lb American – Caramel / Crystal 40L (10%)
- 2 lb Corn Syrup (10%)
- 2 lb Honey (10%)
- 2 oz Centennial Pellet (10% Alpha) @ 60 Minutes (Boil) (0.3 oz/Gal)
- 2 oz Centennial Pellet (10% Alpha) @ 30 Minutes (Boil) (0.3 oz/Gal)
- 1 oz Amarillo Pellet (8.6% Alpha) @ 0 Minutes (Boil) (0.2 oz/Gal)
- 1 oz Star Anise @ 30 Minutes (Boil)
Fermented at 68°F with Belgian Lager Yeast WLP815