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No. 77, Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society



    In early times the law of the sea was administered by the king in council or in the common law courts. Prize cases and the trial of pirates came before them. In the fourteenth century the admirals held local courts, but in the course of time they proved inefficient and expensive. Toward the end of the fourteenth century common law procedure had also shown itself inadequate for the administration of maritime law. The High Court of Admiralty was established at the beginning of the fifteenth century, but for the first hundred years or more was inactive as a prize tribunal. In later times, however, it became the supreme prize court; vice-admiralty courts were set up in the colonies and

INTRODUCTION                                    9

plantations. In the eighteenth century, colonial governors were given commissions of vice-admiral, in time of war, with authority to hold court and condemn prizes or to appoint vice-admiralty judges for the purpose.1

    During the seventeenth century and later, privateering continued prosperously and played an important part in naval warfare. Letters of reprisal were no longer issued to individuals for the redress of private grievances. The decline of French naval power after defeat at La Hogue in 1692 was slow and gradual and the respect of the English and Dutch for the great French admiral, Tourville, caused them to keep their fleets together instead of scattering in pursuit of hostile cruisers preying upon their commerce; and the French took advantage of their opportunity. As their naval ships were laid up in port, their crews, both officers and men, were allowed to take service in private ships. Even ships of the royal navy of France were in some cases loaned to private adventurers and cruised in squadrons. These were the days of privateering on a grand scale, the days of Jean Bart and other great French privateersmen.2

    As time went on and the American colonists grew in numbers, they took an increasing interest in privateering. The more enterprising and adventurous American merchants and seamen engaged in this pursuit whenever England was at war with other nations. American newspapers recount the fortunes of these sea-rovers.3

1. Law and Custom of the Sea, 1, Introduction, 12, 81, 124, 254, 359, 360, 408, 470; Jameson, Privateering and Piracy in the Colonial Period, xi-xiii, 187, 275, 285, 312, 318, 355, 517, 519, 524.
2. Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 193-196.
3. Privateering and Piracy, 276, 473, 503, 571. The very interesting journal of Captain Norton's sloop Revenge is in Ibid., 380; many other privateering narratives will be found, mostly in court proceedings, in this volume. Instructions for privateers at different periods are in Law and Custom of the Sea, I, 197, 218, 236, 252, 410, 502, II (Navy Records Society, L), 403-435; Privateering and Piracy, 347.


    In time of war the colonial governors, along with their judicial functions, were given authority to issue letters of marque or privateer commissions. During the war of 1739 with Spain, such a commission was granted to Captain Benjamin Norton, of Newport. This long document differs little from those of the fifteenth century, in contrast with the much briefer form used a generation later, during our Revolution. It is here quoted in full:

Richard Ward Esq Governour and Commander in Chief in and over his Majesty's Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England.

To all Persons, to whom these Presents shall come, Greeting.

    Whereas his most Sacred Majesty George the Second, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, etc., hath been pleased by his Declaration of the nineteenth Day of October, in the year of our Lord One Thousand seven hundred Thirty and nine, for the Reasons therein contained, to declare War against Spain, And has given Orders for the granting Commissions to any of his loving Subjects, or Others that shall be deemed fitly qualified in that Behalf, for the apprehending, seizing and taking the Ships, Vessels and Goods belonging to Spain, or the Vassals and Subjects of the King of Spain, or others inhabiting within any of his Countries, Territories, and Dominions, and such other Ships, Vessels and Goods, as are or shall be liable to Confiscation Pursuant to the respective Treaties between his Majesty and other Princes, States and Potentates, and to bring the same to Judgment in the High Court of Admiralty in England, or such other Court of Admiralty as shall be lawfully authorized for Proceedings and Adjudication, and Condemnation to be thereupon had according to the Course of Admiralty and Laws of Nations.

    And Whereas Benjamin Norton, Mariner, and John Freebody, Merchant, both of Newport in the Colony aforesd. have equipped, furnished, and victualled a Sloop called the Revenge of the Burthen of about One hundred and Fifteen Tons, whereof the said Benjamin Norton is Commander, who hath given Bond with sufficient Sureties.

    Know Ye therefore That I do by these Presents, grant Commission to, and do license and authorize the said Benjamin Norton


to set forth in Hostile Manner the said Sloop called the Revenge under his own Command, And therewith by Force of Arms (for the Space of Twelve Months from the Date hereof, If the war shall so long continue) to apprehend, seize and take the Ships, Vessels and Goods belonging to Spain, or the Vassals and Subjects of the King of Spain, or Others inhabiting within any of his Countries, Territories or Dominions, and such other Ships, Vessels and Goods, as are or shall be liable to Confiscation Pursuant to the respective Treaties between his Majesty and other Princes, States and Potentates, and to bring the Same to such Port as shall be most convenient, In order to have them legally adjudged in such Court of Admiralty as shall be lawfully authorized within his Majesty's Dominions, which being condemned, It shall and may be lawful for the said Benjamin Norton to sell and dispose of such Ships, Vessels and Goods so adjudged and condemned in such Sort and Manner as by the Course of Admiralty hath been accustomed (Except in such Cases where it is otherwise directed by his Instructions) Provided always That the said Benjamin Norton keep an exact Journal of his Proceedings, and therein particularly take Notice of all Prizes that shall be taken by Him, the Nature of such Prizes, the Times and Places of their being taken, and the Value of Them as near as He can judge; As also of the Station, Motion and Strength of the Enemy, as well as He or his Mariners can discover or find out by Examination of, or Conference with any Mariners or Passengers in any Ship or Vessel by Him taken, Or by any other Ways or Means whatsoever, touching or concerning the Enemy, or any of their Fleets, Ships, Vessels or Parties, and of what else Material in these Cases that may come to his or their Knowledge, of All which He shall from Time to Time as He shall have an Opor-tunity, transmit and give an Account unto me (or such Commander of any of his Majesty's Ships of War as He shall first meet with). And further Provided that Nothing be done by the said Benjamin Norton or any of his Officers, Mariners and Company contrary to the true meaning of the aforesaid Instructions, But that the said Instructions shall be by Them, as far as They or Any of Them are therein concerned, in all Particulars well and duly observed and performed, And I do beseech and request all Kings, Princes, Potentates, Estates and Republicks being his Majesty's Friends and Allies, and All Others to whom it shall appertain to give the said Benjamin Norton all Aid, Assistance and Succour in their Ports, with his said Sloop and Company and Prizes without doing, or suffering to be done to Him any Wrong, Trouble or Hindrance, His Majesty offering to do the like, when by Any of Them thereto


desired, Requesting likewise of All his Majesty's Officers whatsoever to give Him Succour and Assistance as Occasion shall require. Given under my Hand, and the Seal of said Colony, at Newport aforesaid the Second Day of June, Anno Dm. 1741, and in the Fourteenth Year of his said Majesty's Reign.

        Richard Ward.

    Sealed with the Seal of said Colony by Order of His Honour the Governour Jas. Martin, Secry.1

    The commissioning of privateers by colonial governors removed them to a certain extent from home control and sometimes caused misunderstanding. In 1746 the Lords of the Admiralty wrote:

Your Lordship will please to observe that these complaints [by the Dutch] are not made against any of His Majesty's ships of war, but against privateers in America and the West Indies, over whom we have no influence, they receiving their commission for acting hostilities from the Governors of His Majesty's colonies abroad. And therefore we would humbly propose that in these and the like cases His Majesty would be pleased to send his directions to his said Governors, who alone have power to curb the inso-lencies of privatiers by calling their sureties to account, by revoking the commissions of such as are refractory, and by the influence of their power with the judges of the Vice Admiralty courts to prevent their proceeding to rash and unjust condemnation. . . .2

    Massachusetts seamen took a leading part in the Louisburg Expedition of 1745 and American privateers were active during the Seven Years' War. An agreement drawn up between the captain and crew of the New York private armed brigantine Mars in 1762 reveals something of the sea customs of the time and life aboard a vessel of that sort. One half the proceeds of all prizes and prize goods belonged to the owners, the other half

1. Privateering and Piracy, 378; original, with accompanying documents, in Massachusetts Historical Society collections. A ms. letter telling how the letter of marque Bethel, of Boston, captured a Spanish ship of greatly superior force, in 1748, and a picture of the scene, are in the possession of the Society. The letter has been printed in U. S. Naval Institute Proc., no. 200 (Oct. 1919), 1695.
2. Law and Custom of the Sea, II, 327.


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." 1

    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

INTRODUCTION                                   15

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." 1

    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.

INTRODUCTION                                   17

pened upon the seas have been performed by American privateers against the privateers from New York." 1

    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." 2 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 Busi-ness 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

    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, II, 438.


private armed vessels had been legalized by the General Court of Massachusetts and before the business had got fairly started, James Warren wrote to John Adams:

As to ships and other vessels, I believe there are great numbers very suitable to arm already on hand. Almost every port of any consequence could furnish more or less, either great or small. Perhaps ships might be difficult to find that could mount twenty guns or upwards; but vessels to carry from six to sixteen guns I think we abound in, and I think they would soon furnish us with others. These vessels are of all burthens, drafts of water, and dimensions, and are many of them excellent sailors, and may be either purchased, or hired, on very reasonable terms.1

    The larger vessels made long voyages and cruised in foreign seas. The apprehensions of the British were aroused by privateering in their home waters. According to a report from Banff, Scotland, in the summer of 1777, "times are so troublesome and our seas so full of American privateers, that nothing can be trusted upon this defenceless coast; they have taken, within these few weeks, eight ships."2 "It is true," says a contemporary chronicler,

that the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland were insulted by the American privateers in a manner which our hardiest enemies had never ventured in our most arduous contentions with foreigners. Thus were the inmost and most domestic recesses of our trade rendered insecure, and a convoy for the protection of the linen ships from Dublin and Newry was now for the first time seen. The Thames also presented the unusual and melancholy spectacle of numbers of foreign ships, particularly French, taking in cargoes of English commodities for various ports of Europe, the property of our own merchants, who were thus seduced to seek that protection under the colours of other nations, which the British flag used to afford to all the world.3

    Long before privateering had become regulated by law in Massachusetts, hostilities were conducted on the water. The vessels and boats engaged in such enterprises

1. Warren-Adams Letters, I, 182.           
2. London Chronicle, September 2, 1777.
3. Annual Register, xxi (1778), 36.


were of course not regularly commissioned, but they were usually fitted out by or under the authority of selectmen, committees of safety, or other local officials of some sort. The first episode of the kind in Massachusetts waters, as related by some writers, though on what authority is not quite certain, was the exploit of Captain Nathan Smith of Tisbury, Martha's Vineyard, in April, 1775. Setting out in a whaleboat Smith captured the armed schooner Volante, tender to the British cruiser Scarborough, probably in Homes Hole.1

    Early in May, 1775, "we hear that an armed Vessel [H. M. sloop of war Falcon) a few Days ago, on some frivolous Pretence, took Possession of two other Vessels in the Vineyard Sound; on which the People fitted out two Vessels, went in Pursuit of them, retook and brought both into a Harbour, and sent the Prisoners to Taunton Gaol." 2 In Boston harbor, during the siege of the town, there were at times clashes between the people and the British soldiers over the possession of the cattle and sheep on the islands.

    The capture of the British armed schooner Margaretta off Machias in June is well known. The hero of this event, Jeremiah O'Brien, in the sloop Unity, was assisted by Benjamin Foster in a small schooner. A month later O'Brien in the same sloop, renamed the Machias Liberty, and Foster in another vessel took two British vessels.

    Another incident took place in October, in which the vessel engaged had presumably been sent out by local authorities at Beverly. The following is the story:

Last Tuesday one of our Privateers from Beverly,, having been on a Cruize in the Bay, was followed, on her Return into Port, by the Nautilus Man of War. The Privateer run aground in a Cove

1.  Banks, History of Martha's Vineyard, I, 404, 405.
2.  N. E. Chronicle, May 18, 1775.


a little without Beverly Harbour, where the People speedily assembled, stripped her and carried her Guns, etc., ashore. The Man of War was soon within Gunshot, when she also got aground; she however let go an Anchor and bringing her Broadside to bear, began to fire upon the Privateer. The People of Salem and Beverly soon returned the Compliment from a Number of Cannon on Shore, keeping up a warm and well directed Fire on the Man of War for two or three Hours, and it is supposed did her considerable Damage and probably killed and wounded some of her Men; but before they could board her, which they were preparing to do, the Tide arose about 8 o'Clock in the Evening, when she cut her Cable and got off. Some of her Shot struck one or two Buildings in Beverly, but no Lives were lost on our Side and the Privateer damaged very little, if any.1

In the spring of 1775 the first halting steps were taken towards the creation of some sort of sea force in Massachusetts. Whether those who gave their attention to the matter had in mind the commissioning of privateers or a colony fleet, or both, is not apparent. Perhaps they were not at first clear in their own minds as to details. The first action taken by the Provincial Congress was on June 7, when it was:

Ordered, That the Hon. Col. [James] Warren, Mr. Pitts, Mr. Gerry, the president [Joseph Warren], Col. Freeman, Mr. Pickering, Mr. Batchelder, Hon. Mr. Dexter, and Mr. Greenleaf be a committee to consider the expediency of establishing a number of small armed vessels, to cruise on our sea coasts, for the protection of our trade and the annoyance of our enemies; and that the members be enjoined, by order of Congress, to observe secrecy in this matter.2

It seems likely that this action of the Provincial Congress may have been stimulated by an undated letter addressed to General Joseph Warren and signed S. L. A copy of this epistle was addressed to the Committee of Safety at Cambridge. The place from whence it was sent is unknown. The letter follows:

1. N. E. Chronicle, October 12, 1775.
2. The Journals of each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775.

INTRODUCTION                                   21

To the Hon'ble Joseph Warren, President of the Massachusetts Bay Congress, in Wartertown —to be communicated to s'dCongress.

Hon'd Sir, — It appears to me and others that there is wanted in this Goverment sum Armed Vessells, to ward of the distressing Piraticull bloos, that without doubte will be struck by Adm'll Sam'll Graves's small Menawar and Tenders, by taking from us our inward bound Provisions, Molasses, and Solt Vessells, etc. etc; as they have don. Will allmost bring on a famin in our Armey, and on the Inhabitence; for this goverment allways was illable to support it selfe with Provisions, etc. etc; and now hes in it an Armey to feede which will soone be felt, and be distressing to itt's Inhabitence; and I feere will bring on discontent and Murmorings, which may be attended with bad consequences, to the disadvantig of our imbarkt in, ever to be Commended Common cause; so hope that by your Wise Counsells you will be inabled to gard against Every Evell that might otherwise befall us, if we ware not under the Gardeenship of Providence and your wise Counsells.

I here that there is a Ship allmost or quite ready to Lanch at Danvess, of about Three Hundred Tuns; that itt's Probable by information, will be a good saler and other convenyences; by strengthing her with sum hanging Knees, bulding a roundhous and a topgallant forecastell, etc, that would carey upwards of thurty guns and fight the Majer part of her men betwene decks, etc; and by inquiery's itt's quite Probable that there may be found prou'd good saling Vessells, now hawled up, that would in part answer our End for our defence and to bring Provisions from our southern Goverrnents for our support; and sum of them might be imply'd in bringing Powder and Guns from sum parts of the Spanish and French Kingdoms, and might smugell sum from other Powers, and solt Peeter, from Others, where we could not gitt it maid into Powder, and Make it here, which would be to our advantige to have it Manifactrid here. So wishing you the smyles of Heaven in all youre undertakings, in the defence of our Invaluble Libertys, etc. etc. and Remain. Hon'd Sir, Youre Most Humble, and Devoted Servent

S. L.1

    For nearly two weeks this matter was before the Provincial Congress. Changes were made in the committee, its report (in the form of a resolve) was considered

1. Massachusetts Archives, 193, 277, 289.


and debated from time to time, and on June 20 was finally disposed of in the following manner:

Resolved, That a Number of Armed Vessels not less than six, to mount from Eight to fourteen Carriage Guns and a proportionable Number of Swivels, etc., be with all possible dispatch provided, fixed and properly man'd to Cruise as the Committee of Safety or any other Person or Persons who shall be appointed by this Congress for that purpose shall from time to time order and direct, for the protection of our Trade and Sea Coasts against the depredations and Piracies of our Enemies and for their Annoyance and Capture or destruction.

Order'd to subside for the present.1

    There seems to have been at this time a decided reluctance, on the part of many, to adopt radical legislation of the sort proposed. All but the more advanced still regarded themselves as loyal British subjects. In the words of a writer dealing with this period: "To grant letters of marque and reprisal is the prerogative of the sovereign and for a colony to authorize such an act against its sovereign was certainly rebellious if not treasonable." 2

    No further action was taken by the Provincial Congress, which expired a month later upon the assembling of the Great and General Court on July 19. A petition dated the same day was submitted, but no report was made on it until August 18. Being one of the few contemporary documents preserved which indicate the trend of public opinion leading up to the legislation which followed, it is here given:

To the Honorable and Council and House of Representatives of the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay, in General Court Assembled, July 19, 1775.

Humbly sheweth your Petitioner, that he with the eastern Regiment in the County of Lincoln, on hearing that a Man of War

1. Mass. Archives, 138, 165.
2. Austin, Life of Elbridge Gerry, 93.

INTRODUCTION                                 23

with sundry other Vessels were come to the eastern Shore of said County, in order to supply the Regulars with Wood and Provisions, went down in order to prevent their Design, and had the good Fortune to take five Vessels in that Employ, which have since been disposed of by your Honors; one of which Vessels your honors have thot fit to put into my Care, a Schooner of about 70 Tons, well found and might easily be fitted and rendered very suitable to defend the Sea Coast. Your Petitioner would further inform your Honors, that said Regiment, before they destroyed Fort Pownal, took into their Possession a Quantity of Cannon, Ball and Langrage, the Property of this Colony, which is now on board said Schooner. Your Petitioner therefore prays your Honors, that as the eastern Shore of this Colony is most exposed to the Ravages of the Enemy, he may be allowed to fix said Schooner for a Privateer, make use of said Ball and Langrage taken from Fort Pownal, enlist Thirty Men to serve on board said Vessel, and Use and improve said Vesel for the Defence of the Sea Coasts in the eastern Part of this Colony, and your Petitioner as in Duty bound shall ever pray, etc.

Your Petitioner further humbly prays he may [be] allowed 100 lb. Powder to be used on board said Vessel for the Purposes

Edw'd Emerson.1

    On September 28 it was "Ordered, That Col. Orne, Mr. Story, Mr. Cooper, Col. Thompson, Mr. Sullivan, Col. Grout, and Mr. Jewett be a Committee to consider the Expediency of fitting out a Number of Armed Vessels." The next day a committee was appointed "to wait on his Excellency General Washington and consult him on the Expediency of fitting out Armed Vessels and to enquire if any Powder can be spared for that Purpose." 2 On October 6 the name of Capt. Cutter was substituted for that of Mr. Sullivan on the committee.

    Meanwhile, as a military measure to make more

1. Mass. Archives, 180, 103. Emerson was Lieut. Colonel in Colonel William Jones' (3d. Lincoln Co.) regiment of Massachusetts Militia. He is on a list of officers chosen by the House of Representatives, January 30, 1776, but rejected by the Council, February 8, 1776.
2. Journal of the Honorable House of Representatives.


effective the siege of Boston, Washington had adopted the policy of fitting out armed vessels, manned by the army, to cruise in Massachusetts Bay. The first of these vessels, the schooner Hannah, got to sea September 2. This little fleet took many prizes and brought in military stores and other property much needed by the British army in Boston and of great value to the poorly equipped American army.

    The following report of the committee appointed September 28 and October 6 was taken into consideration October 9 and accepted:

Whereas the unnatural Enemies oj these Colonies have infested the Sea-Coasts with armed Vessels, and are daily endeavouring to distress the Inhabitants, by plundering Live Stock, and making Captures of Provision and other Vessels, being the Property of said Inhabitants: And whereas the Grand Congress of America, have resolved "That each Colony at their own Expence, make such Provision by armed Vessels or otherwise, as their respective Assemblies, Conventions, or Committees of Safety shall judge expedient, and suitable to their Circumstances and Situations, for the Protection of their Harbours and Navigation on the Sea-Coasts, against all unlawful Invasions, Attacks and Depredations, from Cutters and Ships of War:" And whereas it is the Duty and Interest of each Colony to exert itself as well for the Purpose of keeping Supplies from the Enemy, as for those mentioned in the Resolve just recited.

Therefore Resolved, That a Committee be now appointed to prepare and bring in a Bill for the Confiscation of all armed and other Vessels, that shall be taken and brought into this Colony, together with their Cargoes, Appurtenances, &c, which shall have been found making unlawful Invasions, Attacks or Depredations on our Sea Coasts or Navigation, or improved in supplying the Enemy with Provisions, &c, or employed by them in any other Respect: whatever. — And that Provision be made in said Bill for encouraging such of the Inhabitants of this Colony, as shall for this Purpose be recommended by the Committees of Correspondence and Safety of the Town in which they shall dwell, to fit out armed Vessels under such Regulations as the General Court shall order; and that all Vessels and Cargoes that shall be taken by said Inhabitants or others, properly authorized to take the same, and that shall be...


    A perusal of bonds, petitions, and other documents will show that many of the cruises of Massachusetts privateers were short, a few weeks only, and when they returned to port they were usually recommissioned. Some of them often-changed owners and captains, perhaps particularly after unsuccessful cruises. It is noticeable that not only seafaring men but some merchants were rather apt to change their places of residence. While many of the vessels remained in home waters, others, a large number in the aggregate, were rovers in a real sense; they made long voyages and cruised in European or West Indian seas.

    It has been possible to collect 1554 items, or separate commissions, for this work; a few of them, probably of doubtful authenticity. In addition to regularly bonded and commissioned privateers and letters of marque, it seems appropriate, in order to make a comprehensive list, to include certain classes of public vessels, state and national; and likewise the irregular private armed vessels, which sailed without commissions, in the few cases where their names are known. The public vessels included are: Washington's fleet of eight, manned by the army, which cruised in Massachusetts Bay in 1775 and 1776; the sixteen cruisers of the State Navy, many of which were bonded, and certain other vessels belonging to the State; a few vessels belonging to the United States, which also gave bonds.2

1.  Mass. Archives, 169, 231.
2.  See above, pp. 43, 44.

INTRODUCTION                                   61

    Besides the main body of papers in the Massachusetts Archives, contained in 324 volumes, many other papers relating especially to the Revolution comprise a separate series, in 76 volumes, called the Revolutionary Rolls Collection. In referring to these papers in the present work, the numbers of the volumes in the main series are indicated by Arabic numerals in heavy type; the numbers of the volumes in the Revolutionary Rolls are indicated in Roman numerals; in both cases with the prefix M. A. (Massachusetts Archives). Most of the bonds are in volumes v, vi, and vii, a few in volume viii, and others in volume 139. Reports of the trials of prizes, nearly all in 1777 and 1779, are in volume 159. Most of the petitions will be found in volumes 164 to 172; some in later volumes. Miscellaneous papers of interest relating to privateers are scattered through many other volumes. The manuscript records of the Council and of the General Court are important. To the State Archivist, Mr. John H. Edmonds, and his assistants, especially Miss Farnham, acknowledgments are due for valuable help and advice.

    The privateer bonds among the Papers of the Continental Congress, in the Library of Congress and listed in Naval Records of the American Revolution, are designated by the letters C. C. in the present list. Inasmuch as this publication {Naval Records) is accessible in many libraries, the names on the bonds are here omitted, except those of the commanders. When necessary to indicate the home port, the owners also are given.

    The "Maritime Court Records," "Early Court Files," and other papers in the Suffolk County Court House, give reports of a considerable number of prize cases, mostly for the later years of the war, and a few were found in a photostatic reproduction of the "Minutes of


the Superior Court sitting as an Admiralty Court." Additional prize cases occur in "Notes of Evidence taken by Hon. Increase Sumner, Justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, 1782-1797," in the manuscript collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

    The Boston Marine Society was visited; also the Essex Institute and the Peabody Museum at Salem, and the manuscript collections of the Essex Institute were examined with some care. Mr. Benjamin J. Lindsey, of the Marblehead Historical Society, very kindly furnished a list of Marblehead vessels. The collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society have yielded data of great value. The compiler is greatly indebted to the custodians and other officials of all these societies and institutions; also to many other persons, especially Mr. O. L. Stone and Mr. H. C. Grafton.

    Of printed material the most important is found in contemporary newspapers. The papers of Boston and Salem and the London Chronicle have furnished much information and have supplied many names of privateers not found elsewhere. The Historical Collections of the Essex Institute are very useful, especially the "Records of the Vice-Admiralty Court at Halifax," edited by Mr. George Francis Dow, and "Auction Sales in Salem, of Shipping and Merchandise," published respectively in the Collections for 1909 and for April, 1913. In some cases it has been difficult to decide to which state certain vessels should be credited and doubtless a few names have been admitted to this Massachusetts list which do not belong there; but it has seemed better to err on the safe side. In excluding such names great assistance has been given by Sheffield's Rhode Island Privateers, Middlebrook's Maritime Connecticut during the American Revolution, and the Pennsylvania Archives.


    Banks' History of Martha s Vineyard and the Collections of the Maine Historical Society tell of some of the earliest warlike exploits of Massachusetts seamen during this war. Emmons' Statistical History of the United States Navy gives a list of privateers, "copied from official documents" for the most part, but with insufficient care and accuracy. Lists of Salem privateers will be found in Felt's Annals of Salem, Hunt's Lives of American Merchants, and Paine's Ships and Sailors of Old Salem. The authors doubtless had access to original documents, but they give no authorities, no dates, and in most cases extremely scanty data. More carefully prepared is a list of Beverly privateers compiled by Dr. O. T. Howe and published in Volume xxiv of the Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. There are other lists in town histories and elsewhere, including an unpublished one, compiled by William Leavitt, in the library of the Essex Institute. These various lists show evidence of having been more or less padded, are all open to suspicion, and should be used with caution.

    A source of doubt which increases the difficulty of composing such a list is the confusion of different rigs by writers both contemporary and recent, and even occasionally in original documents. What is evidently the same vessel may be variously described as a ship or brig, schooner or sloop. Moreover, vessels were not infrequently converted from one rig to another.