Long Island's Hidden Past: Whaleboat men during the American Revolution

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COLD SPRING HARBOR -

During the American Revolution, Long Island whaleboat men proved to be a secret weapon. 

Whaling was a very important part of Long Island's past. During the early 1700s, hardy Long Island men hunted whales right off the Island's South Shore - whale oil was considered liquid gold.

But when the American Revolution broke out and the Red Coats were controlling the Island's land and sea - the whalers were kept at bay.

Nomi Dayan, who wrote a book on Long Island's whaling days, says the whaleboats that had been beached became weapons of war.

"Surprisingly it was used for guerrilla warfare. They were double ended vessels like a canoe - they could go forward and backward very easily. They were very light but they were very strong," says Dayan.

And the vessels were quiet. Under the cover of darkness, the whaleboat men - turned patriot privateers - could sneak up on a towering British tall ship without being detected.

"They worked in groups, so it wasn't just one whaleboat at a time, you would have about 80 to 100 men sneaking in at night," says Dayan.

In the winter of 1778, a bloody battle between the whaleboat men and the British took place. They engaged in a vicious hand to hand battle in the middle of the Long Island Sound.

The Americans, who were strong, savvy sailors, prevailed. And although the privateers were paid to wreak havoc on the enemy, their bravery and willingness to take risks, helped George Washington and his troops win the war.

Caleb Brewster, of Setauket, was a famous whaleboat privateer and a member of George Washington's secret spies.

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