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Atlantic Privateering

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Ruth McClelland-Nugent

on 30 May 2015

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Transcript of Atlantic Privateering

Atlantic Privateering
Atlantic Wars in the "long 18th century"*
Years British Name (Colonial/North American Name)
Major Combatants

1688-1697 Nine Years' War ("King William's War")
Dutch Republic + UK vs. France
1701-1714 War of the Spanish Succession ("Queen Anne's War")
Austria + UK+ Dutch vs France and Spain
1739-42 War of Jenkins' Ear
UK vs Spain
1755-1763 Seven Years' War (French and Indian War, The War of the Conquest)
UK, Hanover, Portugal, + Prussia v. Austria, France, Russia, Sweden, and Spain
1777-1783 American War of Independence (American Revolution)
UK vs. US, France, Netherlands + Spain
1793-1802 French Revolutionary Wars
UK, Austria, Spain, Russia + HRE v. France
1803-1815 Napoleonic Wars
UK, Prussia, Austria, Sweden, Spain, Portugal and Russia v. France
1812-1815 War of 1812
UK vs US

*Used to indicate c. 1689-1820
New England and Nova Scotia
French colony of Acadie (to 1713) and New England colonies often formally at war
In 1713, most of Acadie ceded to England, becomes Nova Scotia
1745 Acadian expulsion= many French settlers forcibly removed, some stay or return
1750s "Yankee Planters"-New Englanders move to Nova Scotia
1763 sees rest ceded to England
1783, creation of colony of New Brunswick
Post Revolution: movement of Loyalists across border
Merchants and fishermen to privateers
Most North Atlantic privateers were not full-time pirates, but fishermen and merchant sailors, or other working class men recruited for prize money.
Stan Rogers' 1976 sea shanty "Barrett's Privateers" captures the fictionalized career of a man recruited by a privateer in 1778. He has responded to a man "crying the town" for a vessel bearing letters of marque.
The fictional
Antelope
is a sloop with 21 ex-fishermen in the crew. The ship is armed with "cracked" four-pounder cannons. Ship also lists to port (left), and needs constant pumping to keep from sinking. Her sails are "in rags" and poorly maintained. It takes 93 days to sail to Montego Bay.
When they finally find a rich prize ("laid low with gold,") it takes four days to catch her. Their cannons do little damage, and in fact, their poorly-maintained ship is knocked out with one volley. (This sounds more like a battle between an American privateer and a well-armed British naval vessel.) The truck of the main sail "carries off both [the] legs" of the unfortunate narrator.
As the song concludes, he is sitting on a Halifax pier, a "broken man," only 23 years old, It has taken him 6 years to return home, and he says he is the only surviving member of the privateering crew recruited by "Captain Elcid Barrett".


Trading and smuggling goes back to 17th century New England-Acadie
Ports similarly engaged in transatlantic trade, shipbuilding, fishing
In both areas, sailing to Caribbean or Europe common
By early 19th century, similar mix of English-speaking settlers, Acadian French on both sides of border
English-speakers further tied by Great Awakening; Calvinist Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists on both sides of borders
In 1812, there is no nation of Canada. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are separate British colonies in north America.
Method
Barrel is swabbed out, putting out any sparks that might ignite gunpowder prematurely.
Gunpowder placed in barrel with a cloth wad. Wad and powder and rammed down.
Shot is placed in barrel and rammed down with another wad on top to hold in place.
Gun is "run out" on its carriage (the wheeled structure supporting the gun) until it is pressed hard against the bulwark. (This takes serious labor. A 36 pounder weights about 3.5 tons. Also take into account that the ship is likely pitching.)
Hole in the breech end (back) is primed with fine gunpowder and lit.
Powerful recoil is contained by heavy breech-end ropes.
Repeat!
Good 18th century British Navy crews, typically made of 6 men, could fire 2-3 times in 5 minutes. Reloading could take as little as 90 second. French and Spanish crews never matched this. Amateur privateers might take considerably longer!

Naval Artillery in the Age of Sail
In the long 18th century
Commonalities and trade relations
Fishing sloop

Map of border waters
Naval battles in the era of sail often consisted of long chases before an exchange of artillery. If the goal was simply to sink the other ship, then simple overwhelming force was enough.
Privateers, however, usually wanted to take the vessel as prize. This required doing enough damage to force a surrender or to allow getting close enough for a boarding party.
Damage to sails would slow another ship down without harming the hull. Precision fire, however, was not always possible.
Artillery could be fatal in a number of ways. Splintering wood wounded and killed many men, either directly or from infection.
Gunpowder was stowed separately from cannon and shot, and had to be hauled up to the gun deck (on naval vessels, a job for young ships' boys, or, if present, officers' wives). A single spark gone wrong meant disaster, potentially setting fire to ropes and wooden hull. Damp powder was also disastrous, leaving the ship without artillery.
This representation of a French naval ship in the 18th c. shows an 18 pounder; much larger than the Antelope's 4 pounder!
Full transcript