Nathaniel Fanning



Occupation 1

privateer in the Revolution

Occupation 2

naval officer/memoirist


Stonington, CT


NA/New England region


Maritime Republic (1751-1815)








... Like his seven brothers...Nathaniel went to sea at an early age... Most of his life is obscure except...1778-83. He spent those five years in sea fighting, principally in privateering under Franco-American auspices, incidentally serving three terms in British prisons. In 1778, his third privateering voyage, in the Angelica of Boston, resulted in capture and thirteen months� detention in Forton Prison near Portsmouth. Finally exchanged, he reached L�Orient, where he accepted a position as midshipman and private secretary to John Paul Jones on the Bonhomme Richard. This was a private arrangement rather than a regular naval appointment. Fanning�s only claim to fame came as a result of the fight with the Serapis on Sept. 22, 1779. He was captain of the maintop, from which one man crawled out on the yard-arm and dropped a well-aimed hand grenade through an open hatch on the enemy frigate. It exploded a large quantity of powder, killed some twenty men, and did much to bring about the American victory. Fanning admits that as he waded around in gore after the battle, he had intimations of immortal fame. His bravery made him a particular favorite with Jones, who recommended him to Congress for promotion. He served under Jones in the Ariel until December 1780, then, with most of the other officers, refused to continue under his command. He charges that Jones frequently kicked his officers and cites numerous instances of brutality, unfairness, and immorality. Fanning thereupon drifted into French service, During 1781, he cruised as a second in command of a Morlaix privateer, spending six weeks in a British prison. Fanning invested his profits in a cargo for the West Indies but a shipwreck left him penniless. He became a naturalized citizen and early in 1782 made two trips to London. ... He finally accepted a commission as lieutenant in the French navy, but gave it up at the close of the war, when he returned to America.
...His Narrative of the Adventures of an American Naval Officer, evidently written in 1801, was published anonymously in 1806...

Record ID: 72