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A history of privateering in the united states

Ships[ edit ] Entrepreneurs converted many different types of vessels into privateers, including obsolete warships and refitted merchant ships. The investors would arm the vessels and recruit large crews, much larger than a merchantman or a naval vessel would carry, in order to crew the prizes they captured.

Privateers generally cruised independently, but it was not unknown for them to form squadrons, or to co-operate with the regular navy. A number of privateers were part of the English fleet that opposed the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Privateers generally avoided encounters with warships, as such encounters would be at best unprofitable. Still, such encounters did occur. For instance, in 1815 Chasseur encountered HMS St Lawrenceherself a former American privateer, mistaking her for a merchantman until too late; in this instance, however, the privateer prevailed.

Following the French RevolutionFrench privateers became a menace to British and American shipping in the western Atlantic and the Caribbean, resulting in the Quasi-Wara brief conflict between France and the United States, fought largely at sea, and to the Royal Navy's procuring Bermuda sloops to combat the French privateers. Spanish treasure fleets linking the Caribbean to SevilleManila-Acapulco galleons started in 1568 white and rival Portuguese India Armadas of 1498—1640 blue The practice dated to at least the 13th century but the word itself was coined sometime in the mid-17th century.

During the 15th century, "piracy became an increasing problem and merchant communities such as Bristol began to resort to self-help, arming and equipping ships at their own expense to protect commerce. This constituted a "revolution in naval strategy" and helped fill the need for protection that the current administration was unable to provide as it "lacked an institutional structure and coordinated finance". During Queen Elizabeth's reign, she "encouraged the development of this supplementary navy".

Some of the most famous privateers that later fought in the Anglo-Spanish War 1585—1604 included the Sea Dogs. In the late 16th century, English ships cruised in the Caribbean and off the coast of Spain, trying to intercept treasure fleets from the Spanish Main.

At this early stage the idea of a regular navy the Royal Navyas distinct from the Merchant Navy was not present, so there is little to distinguish the activity of English privateers from regular naval warfare.

Attacking Spanish ships, even during peacetime, was part of a policy of military and economic competition with Spain — which had been monopolizing the maritime trade routes along with the Portuguese helping to provoke the first Anglo-Spanish War.

Piet Pieterszoon Hein was a brilliantly successful Dutch privateer who captured a Spanish treasure fleet. Magnus Heinason was another privateer who served the Dutch against the Spanish. While their and others' attacks brought home a great deal of money, they hardly dented the flow of gold and silver from Mexico to Spain. Elizabeth was succeeded by the first Stuart monarchs, James I and Charles Iwho did not permit privateering. There were a number of unilateral and bilateral declarations limiting privateering between 1785 and 1823.

However, the breakthrough came in 1856 when the Declaration of Parissigned by all major European powers, stated that "Privateering is and remains abolished". The US did not sign because a stronger amendment, protecting all private property from capture at sea, was not accepted.

In the 19th century many nations passed laws forbidding their nationals from accepting commissions as privateers for other nations. The last major power to flirt with privateering was Prussia in the 1870 Franco-Prussian Warwhen Prussia announced the creation of a 'volunteer navy' of ships privately owned and manned and eligible for a history of privateering in the united states money.

The only difference between this and privateering was that these volunteer ships were under the discipline of the regular navy. CSS Savannah, a Confederate privateer. In the first Anglo-Dutch WarEnglish privateers attacked the trade on which the United Provinces entirely depended, capturing over 1,000 Dutch merchant ships. During the subsequent war with SpainSpanish and Flemish privateers in the service of the Spanish Crown, including the notorious Dunkirkerscaptured 1,500 English merchant ships, helping to restore Dutch international trade.

During King George's Warapproximately 36,000 Americans served aboard privateers at one time or another. England lost roughly 4,000 merchant ships during the war. In the subsequent conflict, the War of Austrian Successionthe Royal Navy was able to concentrate more on defending British ships. Britain lost 3,238 merchantmen, a smaller fraction of her merchant marine than the enemy losses of 3,434. During the American Civil War privateering took on several forms, including blockade running while privateering in general occurred in the interests of both the North and the South.

Letters of marque would often be issued to private shipping companies and other private owners of ships, authorizing them to engage vessels deemed to be unfriendly to the issuing government.

  • His ship, the Rose, attacked a Spanish and a French privateer holding a captive English vessel;
  • The Bahamas , which had been depopulated of its indigenous inhabitants by the Spanish, had been settled by England, beginning with the Eleutheran Adventurers , dissident Puritans driven out of Bermuda during the English Civil War;
  • Head is interested in not only how the process of privateering for a foreign government worked, but maybe more importantly, what such behavior can teach us about the role of the early republic's citizens within the wider world;
  • Over the course of five concise, solidly written chapters, he explores the multifaceted universe of this diverse group of individuals.

Crews of ships were awarded the cargo and other prizes aboard any captured vessel as an incentive to search far and wide for ships attempting to supply the Confederacy, or aid the Union, as the case may be. Britain[ edit ] Woodes Rogers ' men search Spanish ladies for their jewels in Guayaquil1709 England and Scotland practised privateering both separately and together after they united to create the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707.

It was a way to gain for themselves some of the wealth the Spanish and Portuguese were taking from the New World before beginning their own trans-Atlantic settlement, and a way to assert naval power before a strong Royal Navy emerged. Sir Andrew BartonLord High Admiral of Scotlandfollowed the example of his father, who had been issued with letters of marque by James III of Scotland to prey upon English and Portuguese shipping in 1485; the letters in due course were reissued to the son.

Barton was killed following an encounter with the English in 1511. Sir Francis Drakewho had close contact with the sovereign, was responsible for some damage to Spanish shipping, as well as attacks on Spanish settlements in the Americas in the 16th century. He participated in the successful English defence against the Spanish Armada in 1588, though he was also partly responsible for the failure of the English Armada against Spain in 1589.

He arrived in Puerto Rico on June 15, 1598, but by November of that year Clifford and his men had fled the island due to fierce civilian resistance. He gained sufficient prestige from his naval exploits to be named the official Champion of Queen Elizabeth I. Clifford became extremely wealthy through his buccaneering, but lost most of his money gambling on horse races. An action between an English ship and vessels of the Barbary corsairs Captain Christopher Newport led more attacks on Spanish shipping and settlements than any other English privateer.

He lost an arm whilst capturing a Spanish ship during an expedition in 1590, but despite this he continued on privateering, successfully blockading Western Cuba the following year.

Sir Henry Morgan was a successful privateer. Operating out of Jamaicahe carried on a war against Spanish interests in the region, often using cunning tactics. His operation was prone to cruelty against those he captured, including torture to gain information about booty, and in one case using priests as human shields.

Despite reproaches for some of his excesses, he was generally protected by Sir Thomas Modyfordthe governor of Jamaica. He took an enormous amount of booty, as well as landing his privateers ashore and attacking land fortifications, including the sack of the city of Panama with only 1,400 crew [12].

Bermudians[ edit ] The English colony of Bermuda or the Somers Islessettled accidentally in 1609, was used as a base for English privateers from the time it officially became part of the territory of the Virginia Company in 1612, especially by ships belonging to the Earl of Warwickfor whom Bermuda's Warwick Parish is named the Warwick name had long been associated with commerce raiding, as exampled by the Newport Shipthought to have been taken from the Spanish by Warwick the Kingmaker in the 15th Century.

Many Bermudians were employed as crew aboard privateers throughout the century, although the colony was primarily devoted to farming cash crops until turning from its failed agricultural economy to the sea after the 1684 dissolution of the Somers Isles Company a spin-off of the Virginia Company which had overseen the colony since 1615. Bermudian merchant vessels turned to privateering at every opportunity in the 18th century, preying on the shipping of Spain, France, and other nations during a series of wars, including: Fifteen privateers operated from Bermuda during the war, but losses exceeded captures ; the 1775 to 1783 American War of Independence ; and the 1796 to 1808 Anglo-Spanish War.

They typically left Bermuda with very large crews. This advantage in manpower was vital in overpowering the crews of larger vessels, which themselves often lacked sufficient crewmembers to put up a strong defence. The extra crewmen were also useful as prize crews for returning captured a history of privateering in the united states. The Bahamaswhich had a history of privateering in the united states depopulated of its indigenous inhabitants by the Spanish, had been settled by England, beginning with the Eleutheran Adventurersdissident Puritans driven out of Bermuda during the English Civil War.

Spanish and French attacks destroyed New Providence in 1703, creating a stronghold for pirates, and it became a thorn in the side of British merchant trade through the area. In 1718, Britain appointed Woodes Rogers as Governor of the Bahamasand sent him at the head of a force to reclaim the settlement.

Before his arrival, however, the pirates had been forced to surrender by a force of Bermudian privateers who had been issued letters of marque by the Governor of Bermuda. Bermuda Gazette of 12 November 1796, calling for privateering against Spain and its allies during the 1796 to 1808 Anglo-Spanish Warand with advertisements for crew for two privateer vessels.

Bermuda was in de facto control of the Turks Islandswith their lucrative salt industry, from the late 17th century to the early 19th. The Bahamas made perpetual attempts to claim the Turks for itself.

On several occasions, this involved seizing the vessels of Bermudian salt traders. A virtual state of war was said to exist between Bermudian and Bahamian vessels for much of the 18th century. When the Bermudian sloop Seaflower was seized by the Bahamians in 1701, the response of the Governor of Bermuda, Captain Benjamin Bennett, was to issue letters of marque to Bermudian vessels.

In 1706, Spanish and French forces ousted the Bermudians, but were driven out themselves three years later by the Bermudian privateer Captain Lewis Middleton. His ship, the Rose, attacked a Spanish and a French privateer holding a captive English vessel. Defeating the two enemy vessels, the Rose then cleared out the thirty-man garrison left by the Spanish and French.

The importance of privateering to the Bermudian economy had been increased not only by the loss of most of Bermuda's continental trade, but also by the Palliser Actwhich forbade Bermudian vessels from fishing the Grand Banks.

Bermudian trade with the rebellious American colonies actually carried on throughout the war.

Additional Information

Some historians credit the large number of Bermuda sloops reckoned at over a thousand built in Bermuda as privateers and sold illegally to the Americans as enabling the rebellious colonies to win their independence. The realities of this interdependence did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm with which Bermudian privateers turned on their erstwhile countrymen.

An American naval captain, ordered to take his ship out of Boston Harbor to eliminate a a history of privateering in the united states of Bermudian privateering vessels that had been picking off vessels missed by the Royal Navy, returned frustrated, saying, "the Bermudians sailed their ships two feet for every one of ours".

Many Bermudians occupied prominent positions in American seaports, from where they continued their maritime trades Bermudian merchants controlled much of the trade through ports like Charleston, South Carolinaand Bermudian shipbuilders influenced the development of American vessels, like the Chesapeake Bay schooner[15] [20] [21] and in the Revolution they used their knowledge of Bermudians and of Bermuda, as well as their vessels, for the rebels' cause.

In the 1777 Battle of Wreck Hill, brothers Charles and Francis Morgan, members of a large Bermudian enclave that had dominated Charleston, South Carolina and its environs since settlement, [22] [23] captaining two sloops the Fair American and the Experiment, respectivelycarried out the only attack on Bermuda during the war.

The target was a fort that guarded a little used passage through the encompassing reefline. After the soldiers manning the fort were forced to abandon it, they spiked its guns and fled themselves before reinforcements could arrive. When the Americans captured the Bermudian privateer Regulator, they discovered that virtually all of her crew were black slaves. Authorities in Boston offered these men their freedom, but all 70 elected to be treated as prisoners of war.

Sent as such to New York on the sloop Duxbury, they seized the vessel and sailed it back to Bermuda. The decline of Bermudian privateering was due partly to the buildup of the naval base in Bermudawhich reduced the Admiralty's reliance on privateers in the western Atlantic, and partly to successful American legal suits and claims for damages pressed against British privateers, a large portion of which were aimed squarely at the Bermudians.

Providence Island colony[ edit ] Bermudians were also involved in privateering from the short-lived English colony on Isla de Providenciaoff the coast of Nicaragua.

  • His ship, the Rose, attacked a Spanish and a French privateer holding a captive English vessel;
  • The last major power to flirt with privateering was Prussia in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War , when Prussia announced the creation of a 'volunteer navy' of ships privately owned and manned and eligible for prize money;
  • Claiming the right to authorize commerce raiding was an important marker of legitimacy and self-determination for emerging nations in North and South America;
  • Barton was killed following an encounter with the English in 1511.

This colony was initially settled largely via Bermuda, with about eighty Bermudians moved to Providence in 1631. Although it was intended that the colony be used to grow cash crops, its location in the heart of the Spanish controlled territory ensured that it quickly became a base for privateering. Elfrith was appointed admiral of the colony's military forces in 1631, remaining the overall military commander for over seven years.

During this time, Elfrith served as a guide to other privateers and sea captains arriving in the Caribbean. Elfrith invited the well-known privateer Diego el Mulato to the island. Samuel Axe, one of the military leaders, also accepted letters of marque from the Dutch authorizing privateering. The Spanish did not hear of the Providence Island colony until 1635, when they captured some Englishmen in Portobeloon the Isthmus of Panama.

In 1635 a Spanish fleet raided Tortuga.

The company could in turn issue letters of marque to subcontracting privateers who used the island as a base, for a fee. This soon became an important source of profit.


On 11 July 1640 the Spanish Ambassador in London complained again, saying he understands that there is lately brought in at the Isle of Wight by one, Captain James Reskinner [ James Reiskimmer ], a ship very richly laden with silver, gold, diamonds, pearls, jewels, and many other precious commodities taken by him in virtue of a commission of the said Earl [of Warwick] from the subjects of his Catholic Majesty.

Butler returned to England in 1640, satisfied that the fortifications were adequate, deputizing the governorship to Captain Andrew Carter. Taking advantage of having infantry from Castile and Portugal wintering in his port, he dispatched six hundred armed Spaniards from the fleet and the presidio, and two hundred black and mulatto militiamen under the leadership of don Antonio Maldonado y Tejadahis Sergeant Major, in six small frigates and a galleon.