Privateers During the War of 1812

You may think a privateer and a pirate are one in the same. True, they both raided and plundered ships on the high seas. The big difference was that a privateer was private and operated under a letter of marque issued by a national government. Over the centuries there have been hundreds of privateers for different nations.

For the United States in the early 1800s, when relationships between Great Britain and the USA had deteriorated and war was declared June 1812 between the two, there now were privateers authorized by both nations.

America with a tiny navy had to depend on the American privateers to harass the British Navy and place attacks against the massive trade with other countries, in other words – hurt them in the ‘pocketbook’. Not only the cargo was taken, but most of the time the entire ship was also seized or destroyed.

During the War of 1812 the US government issued 500 letters of marque. By the end of 1812, in just six months, there had been 300 raids by privateers against British merchant ships who were along North American shores and the West Indies. By 1813 the American privateers operated successfully off the Irish and English coastlines.

By February 1815, with news of the Treaty of Ghent in December 1814 and Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans marking the end of the War of 1812, did things close down for the privateers.

An online site titled War of 1812: Privateers has listing of those captains of privateer vessels. The name of the ship, the type of vessel, and it port are listed for the American privateers. Click on a select ship’s name and more details are available. It will show how many British ships was taken, the amount of cargo and any other special details, such as if the taking of prisoners or if the American privateer ship was captured.

Review over the links to the left which have captured American prisoners of war during this time period. Most captured Americans were transported to English soil and placed in prisons there.

You can also search about the British privateers, the ship name and its captain. Several of these documents have scanned handwritten records (the Letters of Marque) with them from the UK National Archives. Even Canada, part of the UK empire, also had privateers during the War of 1812. To assist in of the searches – American, Canadian or British, there is a search box on the home page.

Another tab at the top has ‘Naval Actions’ showing the U. S. A. ships and the actions they did as official Navy vessels against the English and another resource.

An interest database of information on this lesser known aspect of the War of 1812.

Photo: British Letter of Marque dated Oct. 25, 1812 for Capt. George Bell, for his ship Bellona.

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