At it’s most basic level, privateering could be considered legalized piracy. Privateers were given a commission by the state government or Continental Congress to search for and attack merchant ships. This action benefited both the authorizing government, as it weakened the enemy’s supply chain, and the privateer, who received a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the cargo.
The commission was key to the process. Without a commission, the ship’s crew were legally pirates – and some crews, who for various reasons did not have appropriate papers, were treated as such. So, how do you find them?
Many of the commissions given by the State of Connecticut were recorded in The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut.
The years covering the Revolutionary War have been digitized and are accessible at HathiTrust.