Flashback Photos

Flashback Photo: The 1782 Sack of Lunenberg by America’s Pirate Navy

The sack of Lunenburg

The sack of Lunenburg

The sack of Lunenburg in 1782 was a spectacular example of the importance of America’s pirate navy to the Revolutionary War.

During the war, privateers commanded 1,697 ships– 26 times as many as the continental navy’s 64 vessels. Privateering was lucrative, but it was also dangerous. Seventy-eight percent of privateer ships were captured or sunk by the Royal Navy.

American privateers fought throughout the Revolution. In Canada, they cruised along the coast like wolf packs, harassing ships and raiding Loyalist settlements at Liverpool, Annapolis Royal, Canso, Lunenburg and Cape Breton Island.

On July 1, 1782, Capt. Noah Stoddard of Fairhaven, Mass., and four other privateer vessels attacked the British settlement at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

In the early morning, the privateers (some accounts say there were only four) with 170 crew arrived from Boston. Stoddard and his crew of 60 landed two miles from the town and marched toward it. The local militia resisted their attack until the other ships had landed and their crews stormed the town.

Stoddard threatened to burn down the entire settlement unless the militia surrendered. It did.


Nonetheless, the privateers burned the blockhouse and the militia captain’s home before looting everything they could get their hands on. They confiscated muskets, spiked cannon and seized the scarlet uniforms of the British soldiers. After fortifying themselves with rum stolen from the warehouses, they dressed up in the British uniforms and looted the entire town.

Anything they didn’t want they destroyed. They broke up furniture, scattered books and paper in the streets and smashed china. Total damage was estimated at 12,000 pounds.

By the time British reinforcements arrived, the privateers were safely at sea.

After the sack of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia’s coastal towns began outfitting their own privateers to defend against the enemy attacks.

Privateers proved so invaluable to the war effort that the Constitution made provision for them in Article I, Section 8, allowing Congress to ‘grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concering captures on land and water.’

With thanks to Frigates and Foremasts by Julian Gwyn, Mercenaries: A Guide to Private Armies and Private Military Companies by Alan Axelrod and Pirates and Privateers: Swashbuckling Stories From the East Coast by Joyce Glasner. This story was updated from the 2014 version.



  1. Carole Beeler

    July 1, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    My gr-gr-gr grandfather was a privateer. Thomas Dennie 1756-1842 has been proven as a new patriot for the Daughters of the American Revolution. Capt. Captain Nathaniel Mills Chapter Hurst, Texas.

  2. Timothy De Cerbo

    July 1, 2014 at 10:08 pm

    If I read it right didn’t the privateers also capture British ships around the British Isles? Said to make the ship insurers of London scream.

  3. Dana McPhee

    July 1, 2014 at 10:17 pm

    Salem, and Beverly, MA, were major privateer hubs…

  4. Daniel C. Purdy

    July 2, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    The Privateers were important. Not a good example of how to do things.

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  7. Gordon Harris

    July 1, 2015 at 10:11 am

    Nova Scotia was a frequent target. We drove out the French in earlier campaigns, and then attacked the British during the Revolution. Mounted securely to a stone post at the corner of Middle and Independent Streets in Newburyport, there was for many years a large cast-iron bombshell, thrown from a mortar at the Second Siege of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia in 1758. The Siege of Louisbourg occurred during the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years’ War) and contributed to the end of French colonialism in North America. Read the story at https://ipswich.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/bombshell-from-louisbourg/

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