America’s Unwitting Pirate: The Adventures and Misfortunes of a Continental Navy Captain


  • Louis Arthur Norton University of Connecticut


This paper is a short is a biography of Gustavus Conyngham who was granted a captain’s commission in the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War. Conyngham engaged in what we would call today “asymmetrical warfare,” raids on shipping near the British coast. He captured more vessels than any American naval officer and had a major effect on British home-front morale where he was given the name the “Dunkirk pirate.” At one point he was captured and greatly suffered at the hands of the British. When the war concluded the financial origins of his two vessels, Surprize and Revenge was questioned, as was the longevity of his naval commission. Conyngham was denied federal compensation and received little public gratitude or recognition in maritime history. This essay is a close examination of his heroic maritime service and concludes that he may have been the Revolutionary War’s unintended American pirate.

Author Biography

Louis Arthur Norton, University of Connecticut

Professor Emeritus University of Connecticut Health Center Department of Craniofacial Sciences