Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

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

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

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

Article excerpt

Privateers of the Americas: Spanish American Privateering from the United States in the Early Republic. By David Head. Early American Places. (Athens, Ga., and London: University of Georgia Press, 2015. Pp. xviii, 201. Paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8203-4864-3; cloth, $64.95, ISBN 978-0-8203 4400-3.)

Privateers of the Americas: Spanish American Privateering from the United States in the Early Republic reveals the fascinating commercial, ideological, political, and personal links between various North American, Caribbean, South American, and European historical actors along the waters and ports of the nineteenth-century Atlantic world. Working with nearly 350 federal court cases--as well as shipping news, diplomatic correspondence, and other sources--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. Head is mostly concerned with explaining how privateering worked, how the United States government responded to it, and what broader historical context facilitated or discouraged privateering.

His answers to these questions emerge from the stories of men like James Chaytor, a Baltimore-based brig captain who renounced his American citizenship and was naturalized in Buenos Aires in order to legally accept a commission to attack Spanish vessels and capture Spanish goods. In the process of serving the greater goal of Spanish American independence, Chaytor also hoped to recover the investment he had made in the commodities he had taken to but failed to sell in Buenos Aires. Head introduces us as well to brothers Pierre and Jean Laffite, French nationals who ran an impressive smuggling scheme in Louisiana, in and around New Orleans. Mediating transactions between privateers eager to sell captured prizes and merchant-buyers eager to profit from the local trade in smuggled goods and slaves, the Laffites built an influential clientele who protected them from legal prosecution and ensured the longevity of their activities. We also learn about Thomas Taylor, a Delaware native turned citizen of Buenos Aires, who recruited privateers in Baltimore to cross the Atlantic and attack Spanish vessels on behalf of his adopted government. …

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