Whaleboat Men of Long Island Sound

Shooting the Harpoon at a Whale by John Heaviside Clark.

During the American Revolution, the sailors of “armed boats” who raided the shores of Long Island didn’t play around:

“[T]wo boates crossed on the fourteenth instant,” wrote Caleb Brewster to New York governor George Clinton in the summer of 1781. “[They] went up about twelve at night to the houses of Capt. Ebenezer Miller and Andrew Miller, demanded entrance which was granted, as soon as the door was opened they demanded his arms which he gave up; his son hearing a noise below stairs got up out of bed shoved up the chamber windo. One of the party without ever speaking to him, shot him dead in the windo …”

You can read my whole article at the Journal of the American Revolution.

Something to consider is why the whaleboats — even the officially commissioned whaleboats — were so prone to abuse. The Connecticut records show little evidence of similar complaints about the privateers or either the state or Continental navies. Did the smaller complements (7-10 men) on the whaleboats or the lower costs of entry — a boat and a £2,000 bond (or not) — attract less honorable sailors nobody else would hire? Or were most sailors already inclined to dastardly deeds and only the officers of the larger vessels kept them disciplined?

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