At the end of a raid, Admiralty officers made sure the privateer captain was questioned, along with some of the crew members, as well as prisoners if any had been taken.

When interrogating the privateer crew, Admiralty officers wanted to find out whether the privateering contract had been honoured and how the prize had been captured. They checked to see whether all the crew members had told the same story about what had happened, or whether anyone had given a different version of events or left something out, deliberately or by mistake.

Spying

The interrogation of prisoners could be seen as a form of espionage. When a privateer returned to his homeport with prisoners, the authorities would normally conduct an interrogation in order to learn more about their activities, their mission, and perhaps the enemy's movements.

Sometimes the interrogation would take place before a bailiff, so that he could write down all the information provided by a messenger or a real spy.

For example, during the American War of Independence, the British had spies on the American side reporting the movements of the American privateers.

That was how, in 1780, the British learned that the famous American privateer John Paul Jones, founder of the United States Navy, was sailing on the St Lawrence. A spy named Peters reported:

Washington will be on Lake Champlain the 6 of July
Paul Jones is in the River St. Lawrence on board of a 36 gun Frigate of 9-12 18 pounders ten more privateers one of 22 nine pounders

Laval University Library, Haldimand 92, 30/06/1780

The Declaration of Lawful Prize

The privateer captain, his crew and any prisoners they had taken were all obliged to submit to an interrogation when they returned to their homeport, so that their prize could be declared legitimate, or a "lawful prize." This step was necessary to make the sale of the prize lawful.

During the interrogation, questions were asked in order to determine how the raid had been conducted. First, an officer would ask the captain and each member of the crew to state his name, age and occupation. Each of them would then describe in detail what had happened during the raid and capture. Once everyone had been questioned, if their reports were consistent and it was found that the rules of raiding had been followed, the officer in charge of the interrogation could authorize the sale of the booty.

For example, this King's counsel gave such an authorization in 1713:
Declaring a prize

The King's counsel of the Provosty and Admiralty of Quebec, who has seen the statement made by Jacques François Morin, also known as Bonsecours, to the Clerk of said Admiralty, concerning the capture of two sloops belonging to enemies of the Nation, on 16 June, seventeen hundred and thirteen, [.] the interrogation of said Morin and Denault, [.] warrants that said sloops be declared lawful prize, and that the sale of the two aforementioned vessels may therefore proceed forthwith.

ANQ-Q, TL5 D 482 D, 30/06/1713
Musée maritime du Québec and Naval Museum of Québec

© 2006, Musée maritime du Québec and Naval Museum of Québec

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