David Maffitt



Occupation 1

privateer in the War of 1812

Occupation 2

the schooler Atlas




NA/Mid-Atlantic region


Maritime Republic (1751-1815)








... When the war against England was declared, June 18, 1812, he was one of the first privateersmen to go out in search of enemy vessels. In command of the schooner Atlas, of 12 guns and 140 men, he sailed from Philadelphia early in July. Very soon he captured his first prize, the brig Tulip. Early in August he fell in with two British ships, the Pursuit, of 16 guns and thirty-five men, and the Planter, 12 guns and fifteen men. The Atlas engaged both of them at the same time and a hard-fought battle followed. When the action had lasted about an hour the smaller vessel stuck her colors; not long afterward the larger ship also surrendered, and Maffitt took possession of both. About a month later the Atlas and her prizes were chased by a ship, supposed to be British, which, however, proved to be the United States frigate Essex. Maffitt eventually got his prizes safely into port. From the fall of 1812 until the following summer his movements are unrecorded and how much time he spent at sea is unknown, but he seems to have made no more captures. In the spring or summer of 1813 he sailed in the Atlas on a cruise which turned out disastrously, for he was captured, July 12, but a British squadron at Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina.

Later in the year 1813, having been released from captivity, Maffitt was given command of the 16-gun brig Rattlesnake, a fine, fast-sailing vessel with a good crew. He devoted attention thereafter to European waters. For several months he cruised about the British Isles and off the coast of Norway, part of the time in company with the privateer Scourge, of New York. They inflicted great injury to British commerce, and sent their prizes into Norwegian ports. The Rattlesnake on this cruise took eleven vessels. Early the next spring Maffitt decided to try his fortune in the Bay of Biscay and in March 1814 was at La Rochelle. Capt. George Coggeshall a noted New York privateersman who saw much of Maffitt at this time, called him "an excellent seaman, and a brave, honorable man." The Rattlesnake fought an engagement with the British armed transport Mary, with many English officers, soldiers, and French prisoners on board, and captured her. The Mary lost three killed, including the captain, and three wounded; one American was wounded. The captive English officers highly praised Maffitt for the treatment they received at his hands. The Mary was unfortunately recaptured before she could be brought into port. Soon afterwards the Rattlesnake was blockaded in La Rochelle by a British squadron. Maffitt tried to escape, but was driven back, and finally, June 3, 1814, the Rattlesnake was captured by the frigate Hyperion. This ended the career of Maffitt in the War of 1812. While in command of the Rattlesnake he had made prizes of three ships, twelve brigs, and three sloops, most of which reached port in safety.

...During the remainder of his life...he occupied the post of master warden of the port of Philadelphia.