A cruise began when merchants invested risk capital. Usually a merchant vessel was converted, although infrequently a ship was specially built. A privateering licence (letter of marque) was acquired from the governor and the vessel was fitted out appropriately. Privateersmen received no salary, but rather signed aboard in the hope of sharing prize money. Although most came home, many were buried abroad or consigned to the ocean in canvas sacks with cannonballs at their feet. A captured vessel and its cargo were sent before the Court of Vice Admiralty in Halifax and, if judged to have been legally taken, were sold at public auction. During the WAR OF 1812 the Liverpool Packet sent some 50 vessels before the court. The judge and court officials received commissions, and further proceeds were shared among each vessel's owners, its captain and crew, and the "informer" (as the captor was termed).
Privateering from Canadian ports ceased in 1815 with the Treaty of GHENT, although it was not ended by international convention until the Declaration of Paris in 1856. Privateering was more than an economic activity, for it provided a means of defence and offence managed at the local level, much like the Canadian militia.
Author JOHN G. LEEFE
Links to Other Sites
Set sail for the annual Privateer Days festival in Liverpool, Nova Scotia.
Spoils of War: Privateering in Nova Scotia
This virtual exhibit features numerous digitized historic documents relating to privateering in Nova Scotia. From Nova Scotia Archives & Records Management.
A biography of Simeon Perkins, an 18th century Nova Scotia businessman, politician, and militia officer. Includes details of his involvement in local privateering activities.
A glossary of terms commonly associated with the history of privateering in Canadian territories. From the website "Pirates or Privateers? Boarding on the St Lawrence," the Virtual Museum of Canada.
Scroll down the page for a description of armed private ships called “privateers”. See the last section for a description of British naval preparations for the Battle of New Orleans.
Privateers Target Merchant Fleets
A brief overview of the role of British and American privateers in the War of 1812. From the Canadian Military History Gateway.
The Fortunes of War: Commercial Warfare and Maritime Risk in the War of 1812
A detailed article about the economic impacts of British and American naval forces' interference with commercial shipping during the War of 1812. From the journal The Northern Mariner.
A History of Newfoundland from the English, Colonial, and Foreign Records
See page 387 (and 393) for an overview of how the War of 1812 benefited the Newfoundland economy, page 389 for brief notes about privateering during the War of 1812, and page 390 for a reference to a unusual circumstance in the capture of American frigate Chesapeake by HMS Shannon. From Memorial University Digital Archives Initiative. Note: A very large PDF document - long download time.
"A Word Of 'Captain Caution'": Myths About Privateers In The War Of 1812
This article considers some of the misleading claims about the impact of privateering activity on the outcome of the War of 1812. Also stipulates the difference between privateers and pirates. From the War of 1812 Magazine.