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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Snap Dragon

by Jaquelin Drane Nash, 2006; Revised by SLNC Government and Heritage Library, June 2023

The Snap Dragon was the most successful North Carolina privateer in combat with the British fleet in the War of 1812. The schooner was built on the West River in Maryland in 1808 and originally named the Zephyr. The Snap Dragon's length was 85.5 feet, its beam 12.5 feet, its draft 8.67 feet, and its weight 147.42 tons. It carried six guns and a crew of 80. Capt. Otway Burns, a skipper of legendary skill and intrepidity, commanded the Snap Dragon on three profitable cruises between 1812 and 1814: two in West Indian waters and one near Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. The schooner harried the invading fleet, preventing the arrival of British troops and supplies on American shores, while securing prizes of goods and capturing enemy vessels to enlarge and outfit the small U.S. fleet. During these three cruises, several British ships engaged in battle with the small American craft. Burns captured 42 English vessels and their cargo, valued at more than $4 million, and took more than 300 English officers and sailors prisoner.

Able and swift as it was, the Snap Dragon could not have made its remarkable voyages without the genius of Burns. On its fourth cruise, under another skipper (Burns remained ashore, afflicted with rheumatism), the schooner was captured by a British sloop of war off Nova Scotia.

Additional Resources:

Burns, Walter Francis. Captain Otway Burns: Patriot, Privateer and Legislator. New York. 1905.  (accessed September 26, 2012).

Goodwin, Jim. "Model of Burns' Snap Dragon." Swansboro, North Carolina - History (blog). 2008. (accessed September 26, 2012).

McKown, Harry. "Otway Burns and the Snap Dragon." This Month in North Carolina History (blog). July 2010. (accessed September 26, 2012).

Butler, Lindley S. "Otway Burns The Snap Dragon Sweeps the Western Atlantic." Pirates, Privateers, and Rebel Raiders of the Carolina Coast. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 2000. p. 73-94.

War of 1812 Bicentenntial 2012-2015. North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. 2011.   (accessed September 26, 2012).

Nicholson, Lee H. "Snap Dragon: An American Privateer". Nautical Research Journal 27: 206. December 1981.

Barbour, Ruth P. Cruise of the Snap Dragon. Winston-Salem, N.C.: John F. Blair. 1976.

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