Privateers of the Americas
Spanish American Privateering from the United States in the Early Republic

David Head

The lucrative, extralegal business of privateering as a window into the Atlantic World


"Head provides fascinating accounts of privateering in thoughtful and engaging prose. Appropriate for both university and public libraries."
—M.A. Burkholder, Choice

"All in all, Privateers of the Americas is a solid contribution to the literature regarding Spanish American privateering. Head has presented a fine distillation of the privateering enterprise. His research is admirable, his writing style is eminently readable, and his analysis of the workings of the business of Spanish American 'privateering' is unassailable."
—Fred Leiner, The Northern Mariner

"Head effectively explores the world of privateers in the early American Republic and illustrates how the complicated geopolitical context in the Americas, at least between 1808 and 1820, promoted privateering. . . It is an enjoyable read on a topic that is understudied in privateering history and the history of the early American Republic."
—Patrick Klinger, H-War, H-Net Reviews

"In Privateers of the Americas, David Head persuasively argues that privateering also provides a useful lens for examining American diplomatic history in the early nineteenth century. His book also clearly demonstrates the complicated interrelationships – the ‘geopolitics’ – that bound together the United States, Spain, Portugal, France, Great Britain, and the emerging revolutionary republics of Latin America in a complicated Atlantic world."
—Carl E. Swanson, International Journal of Maritime History

"By focusing on the Atlantic world instead of continental borderlands, this book contributes a new perspective to the literature on U.S. relations with Spanish America during the age of revolution. . . . The book's key contributions lie in its careful elucidation of the mechanics of privateering and how the enterprise was shaped by interrelated incentives in international relations, local markets, and federal law."
—Dael A. Norwood, Journal of American History

"Head's close examination of four privateer bases, both on American soil and in disputed territories, illuminates a chapter of privateering little studied before."
—Kathryn Mudgett, Early American Literature

"David Head provides an in-depth look at Spanish American privateering, highlighting the crucial role of four main ports, and the multi-talented- and multi-motivated- men who served on board privateers. As such, Privateers of the Americas is a well-crafted study of American-based privateer operations on behalf of Spanish America during the early 1800's.”
—Kylie A. Hulbert, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

“David Head’s account of privateering highlights how it tied into the larger movement of Manifest Destiny and to Spanish-American diplomatic relations during the early republic. His engaging and readable description illustrates the exciting nature of privateers’ world and how suddenly their world disappeared.”
—Gene Allen Smith, Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“David Head skillfully weaves together the adventures and misadventures of these seamen, merchants, investors, and statesmen to uncover the complex geopolitical backdrop against which U.S. privateering for the Spanish Americas occurred.”
—Mariana L.R. Dantas, The Journal of Southern History

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Privateers of the Americas examines raids on Spanish shipping conducted from the United States during the early 1800s. These activities were sanctioned by, and conducted on behalf of, republics in Spanish America aspiring to independence from Spain. Among the available histories of privateering, there is no comparable work. Because privateering further complicated international dealings during the already tumultuous Age of Revolution, the book also offers a new perspective on the diplomatic and Atlantic history of the early American republic.

Seafarers living in the United States secured commissions from Spanish American nations, attacked Spanish vessels, and returned to sell their captured cargoes (which sometimes included slaves) from bases in Baltimore, New Orleans, and Galveston and on Amelia Island. Privateers sold millions of dollars of goods to untold numbers of ordinary Americans. Their collective enterprise involved more than a hundred vessels and thousands of people—not only ships’ crews but investors, merchants, suppliers, and others. They angered foreign diplomats, worried American officials, and muddied U.S. foreign relations.

David Head looks at how Spanish American privateering worked and who engaged in it; how the U.S. government responded; how privateers and their supporters evaded or exploited laws and international relations; what motivated men to choose this line of work; and ultimately, what it meant to them to sail for the new republics of Spanish America. His findings broaden our understanding of the experience of being an American in a wider world.

Early American Places

Page count: 224
8 b&w photos, 3 tables, 2 maps
Trim size: 6 x 9


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David Head is a lecturer at the University of Central Florida.