At the outbreak of war between Britain and the American colonies in 1775, Connecticut established its own state navy “for the Defence of the sea-coasts.” This fleet was separate from the Continental navy, which was authorized and overseen by the Continental Congress.
Connecticut also issued its own letters of marque, which permitted privately-owned vessels called privateers to attack British merchant ships and then sell their cargoes and even the ships themselves for profit. Yet because of this incentive, the privateers competed with the navies for sailors.
At the age of 23, Samuel Smedley of Fairfield was commissioned as a lieutenant of marines onboard the Connecticut navy flagship Defence. Less than a year later he was her captain, scouring the seas for British prey.
Smedley took a total of 15 prizes, battled His Majesty’s ships in Boston Harbor and British privateers off the coast of South Carolina, survived smallpox, a devastating shipwreck, was captured twice and escaped from an English prison, only to lose everything he owned.
In a state beset on three sides by enemy forces, Smedley ran the British blockade of New London and battled loyalists off the beaches of his hometown.
And while he twice commanded crews of “gentleman volunteers” — privateers — Smedley learned his profession onboard the state ship Defence. Yet was there really a difference between the state navy and the privateers who fought for money?
With Smedley at the helm, what began “for the Defence of the sea-coasts” of Connecticut soon transformed into something else.
Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer
The History Press, 2011, 128 pages
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“Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, but often it’s more exciting, too.” — Connecticut Magazine
“It takes a deep dive into the life and adventures of this colorful figure who was a key local player in the late 1700s.” — Fairfield Sun
“Captivating and refreshing to read.” — Bill Lee, Municipal Historian Emeritus, Fairfield, Connecticut