Date of Award

Fall 2021

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Eliga Gould

Second Advisor

Cynthia Van Zandt

Third Advisor

David Bachrach


“Self Defense and Sea Power: The Provincial Navies of the British Atlantic World, 1689-1763,” explores the ways in which Anglo-American colonial governments in North America and the West Indies managed naval defense during imperial and border conflicts between the late seventeenth and mid-eighteenth centuries. With limited military assistance from the imperial government in London, provincial leaders built their own semi-permanent and temporary navies to protect commerce from Franco-Spanish privateers, pirates, and Native American naval forces. Provincial governments also utilized these fleets to spearhead sieges of enemy ports, support infantry operations on land, and to transport troops and supplies to warzones. By the mid-1740s, administrative changes within the British Admiralty along with increased Parliamentary oversight of colonial military campaigns led metropolitan authorities to massively increase the Royal Navy’s presence throughout the Western Atlantic world. By the 1750s, the Crown’s ‘Royalization’ of coastal defense made the existence of numerous local American navies unnecessary. While increased imperial support for colonial military operations should have pleased Anglo-American officials, tensions between provincial authorities and Royal Navy officers over the impressment of American sailors and prize distribution soured this defensive partnership. When the Crown began to use the Royal Navy to enforce unpopular trade and tax policies in the 1760s, the legacy of a century of provincial naval defense played an important role in shaping the ways American dissidents resisted British authority at sea in the years leading up to the American Revolution.