Pirate FlagPirates and PrivateersPirate Flag
The History of Maritime Piracy

Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

Pirate Articles
Pirate Links
Book Reviews
Thistles & Pirates

Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Trimming Yankee Sails                    Privateering (review 1)                    Privateering (review 2)

Cover Art: Trimming Sails
Trimming Yankee Sails: Pirates and Privateers of New Brunswick
by Faye Kert
Goose Lane Editions, 2005, ISBN 0-86492-442-9, US $12.95 / Can $14.95

Volume six of the New Brunswick Military Heritage series examines the Canadian privateers of the War of 1812. This maritime port played an important role in nineteenth-century history, and the information here covers “[m]istaken identity, collaborating with the enemy, false colours, phony captures, smuggling, blockade running and profitable prize making”. This was the only war in which New Brunswick played an active role in privateering. Although the United States declared war in June 1812, Britain didn’t do so until mid-October. This presented problems for the seamen and fishermen on both sides of the border since New England traded a lot with Canada.

Chapter one deals with New Brunswick during 1812 prior to Britain’s declaration of war. Chapter two examines the privateering ventures during the next two years, with particular emphasis on the Dart (their best-known privateer), because that vessel’s log still exists, and Caleb Seeley, the town’s most successful privateer captain. Chapter three covers the Chesapeake Affair, during the American Civil War.

This is a much needed resource, for few books cover Canadian privateering, especially during the War of 1812. The glossary and index make the information easily understood and accessible. The pictures help to clarify points in the text or identify who’s who. The inclusion of the chapter on Confederate privateers/pirates is of particular interst since this topic is rarely covered. This book serves as a comprehensive introduction to a particular place’s maritime history where privateering played a vital role in maintaining commerce during war time.

Book Review Copyright © 2006 Cindy Vallar

Return to Top

Cover Art: Privateering
Privateering: Patriots & Profits in the War of 1812
By Faye M. Kert
Johns Hopkins University, 2015, ISBN 978-1-4214-1747-9, $55.00

Gold star
Gold starGold
              starGold starGold star
With its origins in the Middle Ages, governments considered privateering a legitimate weapon in their war arsenal and maritime law reinforced that belief. Once the United States declared war on 18 June 1812, men and ships set sail to hunt British merchant shipping. These American privateers captured almost 500 prizes during the first six months of the war, but British colonial privateers couldn’t retaliate until after Britain declared war four months later on 13 October. In Dr. Kert’s latest study of privateering during the War of 1812, she examines the role they played, a field of study rarely focused on in books about the conflict. One reason for this stems from the difficulty of tracking down the necessary data in the historical record because it’s not collected in just a few archives. Privateering is her attempt at pulling together details from the widely scattered historical resources into a single volume to shed light on these privateers, both the vessels and the men aboard them. 

In her introduction she provides an overview on the war, the necessary requirements for privateers to operate, and maritime trade, both in the United States and Canada. It provides not only the background for subsequent chapters but also insight into the source material she used for her data, together with the difficulties encountered in compiling the information. She makes clear how both sides underestimated how long the war would last and how Royal Navy tactics eventually forced American privateers to seek their prey farther and farther from their home ports.
The first chapter, “In Flagrante Bello,” covers items in a privateer’s arsenal, the war and how citizens viewed it, public and navy attitudes toward these privately armed vessels, their crews, the cost to the public and the merchant marine, the impact of the British blockade of American seaports, and the use of convoys to protect merchant shipping and the problems inherent in them. Kert also compares American and British colonial (Canadian) privateers.

Chapter 2, entitled “‘True, Publick and Notorious’,” explains the difference between letter-of-marque vessels and privateers. The legal aspects of privateering and prize law, its origins, neutrality and international law, and admiralty court processes are also discussed.

The cost of war and the effects of commercial warfare, as well as differences between licensed trade, smuggling, and the business of privateering are examined in Chapter 3, “No Prey, No Pay.” Aside from the men who sailed aboard privateers, Kert looks at how privateering provided employment in other trades. She compares ships sailing for both sides, Atlantic Canada and the United States.

The next chapter, “The Misfortunes of War,” explores the dangers of investing in privateers and the risks privateersmen took when working on these vessels. Some perils are specifically related to the war, while others are those all mariners faced. Specific captains – Joshua Barney, George Coggeshall, George Crowninshield, Thomas Boyle, and Samuel C. Reid – are also considered.

“The Prizewinners,” the final chapter, summarizes the careers of some of the most successful privateers. The Canadians include the Liverpool Packet out of Liverpool, Nova Scotia, and the Retaliation and Sir John Sherbrooke out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Americans are the Yankee (Bristol, Rhode Island), Comet and Surprise (Baltimore, Maryland), America (Salem, Massachusetts), Saucy Jack (Charleston, South Carolina), Fox (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), and General Armstrong (New York, New York). One additional privateer is also included, the True Blooded Yankee, which was American owned, but sailed out of France. Three captains are also highlighted: Joseph Barrs, Jr. (Canada), Thomas Boyle (USA), and Samuel C Reid, whose American vessel was attacked by the Royal Navy in a neutral port.

Aside from the Conclusion, which summarizes what her research shows, Kert includes the appendix “Prize Makers and Prizes.” Two additional appendices are available online: Atlantic Canadian Privateers and Letters of Marque and American Privateers and Letters of Marque. There is also an essay of sources, as well as chapter notes and an index. The narrative is enhanced with black-and-white maps, reproductions of related documents, pictures, and tables.

Privateering during the War of 1812 is Dr. Kert’s specialty and this volume is a welcome and much-needed addition to the body of knowledge published on this conflict. The depth of her research is evident in her well-written and fascinating account of the privateers and what they faced when they sailed from home. Her comparison between the two sides provides a dynamic and well-rounded picture of privately armed vessels and their contributions to the war. Privateering is an essential resource for any collection whose focus is on American, Canadian, and British history and maritime history. It is also an excellent book for any lay reader seeking a clear understanding of privateers and the role they played during the War of 1812.

Book Review Copyright ©2016 Cindy Vallar

Pirate writerPirate writerPirate writer

Cover art: Privateering
Privateering: Patriots & Profits in the War of 1812
By Faye M. Kert
Johns Hopkins University, 2015, ISBN 978-1-4214-1747-9, $55.00

Gold star
Gold starGold starGold starGold star

This is an excellent book on the business of privateering during the War of 1812. The text is very informative and well written. Supported by a number of footnotes which are easy to locate after the narrative, it is clear that this material has been thoroughly researched and includes facts that are not presented elsewhere.

The opening chapter provides an overview of privateering during the war. This covers the reasons it benefitted the American war effort; the American and Canadian owners and privateersmen involved; the extent to which it was prosecuted against the enemy; the impact these merchant-ships-turned-warships had on the British economy; and the efforts of the Royal Navy to combat this menace.

Unlike most authors on privateering who provide an obligatory history in a few introductory pages, Dr. Kert provides an entire chapter which traces the early development of privateering, the creations of and refinements in prize law, and the separate establishment of admiralty and prize courts in Great Britain and the United States.

Next we read how, in the years leading up to the war, American vessels were licensed by the British to carry supplies for their country and armies fighting the French in Spain. Others were engaged in the smuggling trade, supplying French, British, and even American citizens with duty-free and hard-to-obtain goods. All of these activities ended or declined with the declaration of war.

Conversely, building or fitting-out merchant ships as privateers and manning them for a voyage created new business and opportunities for everyone connected to the maritime industry. The hopes of obtaining prizes of valuable ships and cargoes motivated all. But only if a prize made it back to a friendly port was there a chance for that to occur. The convoy system made taking a prize difficult and an increasingly tighter blockade by the Royal Navy made sending out privateers and the safe return of prizes almost impossible. From a cabin boy to an entrepreneurial shipowner the business was “No prey, no pay!”

There is information on the misfortunes of war a privateer might encounter. The dangers of wind and sea, shipboard accidents, and confrontations with an enemy vessel were all risks the ships and crews faced. Interesting anecdotes of occurrences on vessels, such as a lightning strike on the Saucy Jack that killed two men and wounded four, or the way three men were injured during a training session aboard Perry serve to illustrate the various dangers presented.

In a chapter on “Prizewinners” each vessel discussed made at least forty captures with at least half of the captures making it into a port for adjudication. These include both American and Canadian privateers. With names of Liverpool Packet, Yankee, Comet, and Retaliation, their individual stories are presented to the reader in an enjoyable fashion.

As is fitting for a book on the business side of privateering, the author concludes with “The Final Tally.” A summary of the value of prizes taken, merchant vessels lost, and intangible values gained helps explain why the subject has had such a long-lasting interest.

Anyone interested in knowing why there was privateering would do well to read this book. I found it to be an excellent and appropriate addition to Johns Hopkins’ books on the War of 1812.

Book Review Copyright ©2016 Irwin Bryan

Skull and crossbones
            -- return to top of page

Pirate Articles
Pirate Links
Book Reviews
Thistles & Pirates

Contact Me
Click on the Cannon to Contact Me