Captain Luke Ryan: Privateer or Pirate, Hero or Rogue?

by Mark McMillin on January 25, 2012

This site is devoted to Captain Luke Ryan. You probably never heard of Captain Ryan and yet this young Irishman, a smuggler by trade, had a major impact on America’s War of Independence. You also probably didn’t know that during the war the great Benjamin Franklin, America’s ambassador to France, formed his own private navy for reasons that we will learn about later.

Well, I had never heard of Ryan or Franklin’s private navy either until I built a model of Ryan’s ship, the Black Prince, back in 1999 (the Prince was a cutter similar in size and rigging to the Lynx depicted on this website’s banner). The Prince was reportedly the fastest ship on the water and Franklin reluctantly issued a commission (or letter of marque) to Ryan to fight for the Americans as a privateer. Armed with Franklin’s commission, Ryan and his mostly Irish crew went after the British with a vengeance, eventually inflicting more damage on British shipping than Ryan’s more famous counterpart, John Paul Jones. I was so intrigued by that tidbit of information I tried to learn more about Ryan but found very little.

Eventually I learned enough to write a book about the amazing adventures of Ryan and his men (well, three books to be precise) – though I had to weave in a fair amount of fiction to ‘fill-in-the-gaps.’ For the historical purists among you, I have included a “Separating Fact from Fiction” chapter at the end of each book. The project, researching, writing, editing, polishing and editing again took nearly 12 years to complete.

Here then is a bold story about bold men. It is an epic, little known story of adventure, war, heroism, love, intrigue and betrayal. If this intrigues you, I hope you will read on…

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Luke Ryan on National Geographic

by Mark McMillin on January 25, 2012

June 27, 2011: National Geographic released its documentary on a story about Luke Ryan, or more specifically, about a dive off the coast of Wales on a wreck thought to be one of Ryan’s privateers. The wreck, however, was not one of Ryan’s ships. Ryan had three heavily-armed raiders: the Black Prince, the Black Princess and the Fearnot. To my knowledge no one knows the fate of the Black Princess or the Fearnot. After Franklin’s privateering commissions expired, and after Ryan was caught, these two ships fade from history. But we do know that the Prince floundered on the rocks within range of the shore batteries at Berck, France in 1780. The site should be easy to find as Ryan’s men, who had rowed safely to shore in the long boats, had time to row back to the Prince when she did not sink immediately and spent the next 24 hours removing as many of her guns and salvaging as much of the equipment and provisions as they could before she finally slipped beneath the waves in shallow water. She, therefore, must be close to shore. Perhaps the folks at National Geographic should search the waters around Berck…

For more details, visit National Geographic’s Ben Franklin’s Pirate Fleet

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