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to the crew. The division of the crew's portion is minutely provided for, the captain receiving six shares, the able seaman one share, and the others in proportion according to rank and rating. Those performing meritorious service were rewarded by extra shares and those disabled by wounds received money compensation, which, in case of death, went to their heirs. Punishment seems to have taken the form of fines or loss of shares and was inflicted for theft, desertion, cowardice, disobedience of orders, drunkenness, and profanity; and particularly "whoever of the Company shall breed a Mutiny or Disturbance, or strike his Fellow, or shall Game with Cards or Dice for Money, or any Thing of Value, or shall sell any strong Liquors on board," or whoever shall "Assault, Strike or Insult any Male Prisoner, or behave rudely or indecently to any Female Prisoner shall be punished as the Captain and Officers shall direct." "


Having served their apprenticeship in the trade of privateering in the various wars of the colonial period, American shipowners and mariners at the outbreak of the Revolution naturally turned to this method of harassing their enemy and profiting by the operation. The number of American privateers in commission during the war was large, certainly exceeding two thousand different vessels, and very many were commissioned more than once; some, several times. Massachusetts contributed a larger number than any other state.

The word "privateer" has commonly been used with entire disregard of its true meaning. At the period with which we are now concerned, persons with an understanding of maritime affairs constantly spoke of cruisers

1. Privateering and Piracy, 581-585. See Hough, Reports of Cases in the Vice Admiralty of the Province of New York. In Emmons, Statistical History of the U.S. Navy, 124-126, is a list, doubtless incomplete, of colonial privateers.

of the Continental Navy and the state navies as privateers and the term was often wrongly employed even in official correspondence. A privateer, strictly speaking, was a private armed vessel carrying no cargo and devoted exclusively to warlike use. Letters of marque, so called from the letters or privateer commissions they bore, were private armed cargo carriers authorized to take prizes. They were generally and less improperly called privateers, and in this study no attempt has been made to separate them; in fact, to do so would be impossible, since in most cases the information necessary for that purpose is lacking.

The sea power of America would probably have been more effective if part of the effort, money, and men expended in privateering had been devoted to organizing and maintaining a larger regular naval force. The Continental Navy was too weak to fight the British Navy with any hope of a fair share of success and therefore was for the most part limited in its operations to commerce-destroying. The state navies and the privateers were also, of course, devoted almost wholly to that form of warfare.

Privateering was in greater favor with seamen than the regular naval service on account of the comparative freedom from the restraints of discipline and because the profits were larger. Closer attention was paid to the matter of profits. The entire net proceeds from the sale of prizes and captured goods went to the owners and captors, which resulted in the crews getting a larger proportion of prize money than regular naval seamen, who were obliged to share with the government; the privateersmen, moreover, had higher pay. To frustrate the allurements of privateering it was several times necessary to lay an embargo on the sailing of these

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vessels until recruits in sufficient number had been obtained to man the Continental Navy and to fill the quota for the army. William Vernon, of the Eastern [Continental] Navy Board at Boston, wrote to John Adams, December 17, 1778, that the Continental ships in port "may sail in Three Weeks, if it was possible to get Men, wch we shall never be able to accomplish, unless some method is taken to prevent desertion and a stopage of Private Ships Sailing, until our ships are Mann'd. The infamous practice of seducing our Men to leave the ships and taking them off at an out-Port, with many other base methods, will make it impossible ever to get our ships ready to Sail in force, or perhaps otherwise than single Ships." "


American privateersmen in general conducted themselves in an orderly manner. They gave the usual bonds for their behavior and if excesses were committed they must have been rare. The commonly expressed opinion that privateering was little better than piracy did not apply to these men. Nevertheless, their thoughts were bent on gain and at times patriotism doubtless languished accordingly. William Whipple, writing to Josiah Bartlett from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, July 12, 1778, says:

I agree with you that the privateers have much distressed the trade of our Enemies, but had there been no privateers, is it not probable there would have been a much larger number of Public Ships than has been fitted out, which might have distressed the Enemy nearly as much and furnished these States with necessaries on much better terms than they have been supplied by Privateers? ... No kind of Business can so effectually introduce Luxury, Extravagance and every kind of Dissipation, that tend to the destruction of the morals of people. Those who are actually engaged in it soon lose every Idea of right and wrong, and for want of an opportunity of gratifying their insatiable avarice with the property 1. Publications R. I. Historical Society, vIII, 256.

of the Enemies of their Country, will without the least compunction seize that of her Friends. . . . There is at this time five Privateers fitting out here, which I suppose will take 400 men. These must be by far the greater part Countrymen, for the Seamen are chiefly gone, and most of them in Hallifax Gaol. Besides all this, you may depend no public ship will ever be manned while there is a privateer fitting out. The reason is plain: Those people who have the most influence with Seamen think it their interest to discourage the Public service, because by that they promote their own interest, viz., Privateering.1

When Whipple speaks of seizing the property of friends, he alludes to the conduct of certain American privateers in seizing neutral vessels, generally in European waters. This reprehensible practice was afterwards corrected by stringent regulations. Privateering and speculating in the stock market had much in common and were open to the same objections. After the war, that is on December 9, 1783, John Pickering wrote to his brother, Colonel Timothy Pickering, that "there were many persons in Salem dejected on the return of peace, but a greater spirit of industry arises among the inhabitants than I expected to see, after the Idleness and dissipation introduced by the business and success of privateering.” 2

John Adams had a better opinion of this institution. In 1780 he wrote that "the feats of our American frigates and privateers have not been sufficiently published in Europe. It would answer valuable purposes, both by encouraging their honest and brave hearts and by exciting emulations elsewhere, to give them a little more than they have had of the fame they have deserved. Some of the most skillful, determined, persevering and successful engagements that have ever hap

1. Historical Magazine, March, 1862. See Paullin, The Navy of the American Revolution, 145-148.

2. Pickering Papers, xvIII, 181.

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pened upon the seas have been performed by American privateers against the privateers from New York." I

Contemporary letters give occasional glimpses of this phase of seafaring life. A British officer, a prisoner in Boston, has this to say of conditions at that place in May, 1777, as he observed them: "Boston harbour swarms with privateers and their prizes; this is a great place of rendezvous with them. The privateersmen come on shore here full of money and enjoy themselves much after the same manner the English seamen at Portsmouth and Plymouth did in the late war; and by the best information I can get there are no less than fifteen foreign vessels lately arrived in the harbour with cargoes of various articles. James Warren wrote from the same place, August 15, 1776, to Samuel Adams: "The Spirit of Privateering prevails here greatly. The Success of those that have before Engaged in that Business has been sufficient to make a whole Country privateering mad. Many kinds of West india Goods, that we used to be told we should suffer for want of, are now plentier and cheaper than I have known them for many Years." 3

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All classes of vessels were engaged in privateering: ships, brigs, schooners, sloops, and boats. The largest carried twenty to twenty-four guns and a hundred and fifty or even two hundred men; the smallest a few swivels, or only small arms, and ten men or less. Whaleboats, sometimes with crews of twenty-four, were employed in Nantucket and Vineyard Sounds, but more commonly in waters south of New England. On November 14, 1775, very soon after the fitting out of 1. Wharton, The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, III, 650.

2. London Chronicle, July 3, 1777.

3. Warren-Adams Letters, 11, 438.

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