Sailing for Spanish America: The Atlantic geopolitics of foreign privateering from the United States in the early republic
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This dissertation investigates seafarers who left the United States and participated in the Latin American Wars of Independence as Spanish American privateers. Spanish American privateering conducted from the United States was illegal, since it often involved violations of U.S. neutrality, piracy, revenue, and slave trade laws. Nevertheless, it became especially popular in New Orleans and Baltimore and in territories just outside U.S. borders in East Florida and Texas. Based on federal court records from Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia as well as on diplomatic correspondence, government reports, newspapers, personal papers, and pamphlets, this dissertation reveals how Spanish American privateering worked, why seafarers engaged in it, and how the U.S. government responded. The work contributes to the histories of U.S. foreign relations, the Atlantic World, and the maritime culture of the early republic. It argues against a depiction of the early nineteenth century as a prelude to Manifest Destiny, and instead contextualizes U.S. foreign relations in an Atlantic geopolitics that includes the Napoleonic Wars, the Latin America Wars of Independence, and the United States' pursuit of neutrality between Britain and France and between Spain and its rebelling colonies. The dissertation also stresses that an Atlantic history of the early republic must attend to the complex ways in which nation-states mediated individual, local, and regional relationships to the world. Nationhood created new Atlantic connections as Spanish American privateers took advantage of weaknesses in U.S. law and openings in international relations. Furthermore, the work embodies a new approach to maritime history. It focuses on captains and merchants in addition to common sailors, and it discovers that Spanish American privateering was neither piracy nor national privateering, but a third, unstudied category that I call “foreign privateering.” Finally, this dissertation reveals the mixed motives of participants. Money, ideology, idealism, a desire to profit, a desire to achieve independence, and a desire simply to survive all led men to privateering.