During the American Revolution, the British had little to fear from the young Continental navy, but they were plagued by swarms of American privateers which, manned by hardy New England sailors, preyed on merchant ships and warships alike. During the long, bitter, eight-year course of the war, almost 2000 of these courageous ships were fitted out, causing tens of millions of dollars worth of damage to British commerce and cutting off supplies needed by British armies to maintain the fighting against George Washington's troops.
Foremost among these raiders was the Rattlesnake, built as a privateer at Plymouth, Massachussetts in 1779. Designed by John Peck, she was considered to be exceptionally fast. She sailed with 85 men and carried between fourteen and twenty 6-pounders. Despite her moderate size of 89 feet on deck, she was unusually seaworthy and a formidable fighter. She captured over a million dollars worth of British goods on her first cruise, establishing a reputation as a dangerous adversary.
The Rattlesnake was finally captured off the American coast in 1781 by the 44-gun British ship Assurance. She was taken to England where she was redesigned, renamed as the Cormorant, and then fought on the other side.