Around 1750, New France had a little less than 55,000 inhabitants occupying the vast territory that stretched from Newfoundland to Louisiana. The French who lived there were experiencing mounting pressure from the American colonies whose English population had reached approximately 1,500,000 at the time! The English had already attempted to conquer French territory on several occasions.

War always has multiple impacts on people's lives. In this regard, the wars of old are no different from modern ones. During the conflicts in Canada between 1690 and 1814, privateering touched and transformed all areas of the settlers' daily lives.

Access to the river and sea was essential for supplies, trade and migration. During wartime, the privateers impeded or permitted the transportation of supplies, captured ships and took prisoners.
Around 1750, New France had a little less than 55,000 inhabitants occupying the vast territory that stretched from Newfoundland to Louisiana. The French who lived there were experiencing mounting pressure from the American colonies whose English population had reached approximately 1,500,000 at the time! The English had already attempted to conquer French territory on several occasions.

War always has multiple impacts on people's lives. In this regard, the wars of old are no different from modern ones. During the conflicts in Canada between 1690 and 1814, privateering touched and transformed all areas of the settlers' daily lives.

Access to the river and sea was essential for supplies, trade and migration. During wartime, the privateers impeded or permitted the transportation of supplies, captured ships and took prisoners.

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

Faience plate, Rouen, France

Example of dishware used by the population of New France.

Marc Gadreau, Réserve d'archéologie du Québec
Place-Royale Archaeological Collection
c. 1725-1750
© Réserve d'archéologie du Québec


Both the French colony and, after the conquest of 1759, the English colony were deeply dependent upon European supplies. They experienced numerous shortages and were often in want.

In times of war, privateering was one of the sources of these hardships. Privateers would block supply convoys and seize provisions, ammunition and other items sent by the motherland to assist the colony.

Conversely, profitable voyages or specific circumstances could have the opposite effect and help re-supply colonies, sometimes even at remote outposts. The situation of Port Royal and Plaisance is a case in point.

Saving Port Royal from Famine

In Acadia, the French settlement of Port Royal was taken back from the English during the War of the Spanish Succession. But as the war raged, supply shipments were hindered and provisions were scarce. For the few settlers in this area, it was a gift of providence when a privateer arrived in the middle of the winter of 1709-1710 with wheat and corn from four captured ships. It brought, at least for a while, an abundance of supplies to the little colony.

Read More
Both the French colony and, after the conquest of 1759, the English colony were deeply dependent upon European supplies. They experienced numerous shortages and were often in want.

In times of war, privateering was one of the sources of these hardships. Privateers would block supply convoys and seize provisions, ammunition and other items sent by the motherland to assist the colony.

Conversely, profitable voyages or specific circumstances could have the opposite effect and help re-supply colonies, sometimes even at remote outposts. The situation of Port Royal and Plaisance is a case in point.

Saving Port Royal from Famine

In Acadia, the French settlement of Port Royal was taken back from the English during the War of the Spanish Succession. But as the war raged, supply shipments were hindered and provisions were scarce. For the few settlers in this area, it was a gift of providence when a privateer arrived in the middle of the winter of 1709-1710 with wheat and corn from four captured ships. It brought, at least for a while, an abundance of supplies to the little colony.

Manna from the South

Philippe Pastour de Costebelle, the Governor of the small colony on the Newfoundland coast called Plaisance, did not conceal his joy as he described the following incident to the French Minister of Marine in 1712:

(.) Providence, which seems to share its treasures with only the wretched and the exiles in the most remote corners of the Earth, has brought us the spoils taken along the Acadian coast by a Puerto Rican privateer loaded with enough bacon and butter for us to hold out for the assistance your Lordship has promised we will receive next spring, and ease our hardship (.)

LAC, MG1, Series C11C, 9/11/1712

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

Course of the St. Lawrence River from the Sea to Quebec City, 1764

This map of the St. Lawrence shows the river's tributaries and its many islands.

Jacques-Nicolas Belin

B913, Saint-Laurent, fleuve, (1764), n 5
© Archives nationales du Québec


Privateering was a veritable "prisoner-making machine"! When a privateer captured an enemy ship, it would often take the crew hostage and under its wing. While those extra mouths to feed were very costly, they were also currency: prisoners were used as bargaining chips. Moreover, invaluable information about enemy movements could be obtained from these prisoners during interrogations.

These prisoners were generally treated with a great deal of respect and housed with settlers or the privateer owner. But of course, privateering being an act of war, prisoners were sometimes mistreated.

The Capture of Mgr de Saint-Vallier

In 1704, Mgr de Saint-Vallier was returning to Quebec from a four-year trip to Europe when he was captured by an English fleet, which included some privateers. He was held captive in England for five years. He was respected because of his rank and was treated well. However, he remained in captivity while the English negotiated a trade in which he would be returned for some compatriots held by the French.

The negotiations regarding the exchange of Mgr de Saint-Vallier for th Read More
Privateering was a veritable "prisoner-making machine"! When a privateer captured an enemy ship, it would often take the crew hostage and under its wing. While those extra mouths to feed were very costly, they were also currency: prisoners were used as bargaining chips. Moreover, invaluable information about enemy movements could be obtained from these prisoners during interrogations.

These prisoners were generally treated with a great deal of respect and housed with settlers or the privateer owner. But of course, privateering being an act of war, prisoners were sometimes mistreated.

The Capture of Mgr de Saint-Vallier

In 1704, Mgr de Saint-Vallier was returning to Quebec from a four-year trip to Europe when he was captured by an English fleet, which included some privateers. He was held captive in England for five years. He was respected because of his rank and was treated well. However, he remained in captivity while the English negotiated a trade in which he would be returned for some compatriots held by the French.

The negotiations regarding the exchange of Mgr de Saint-Vallier for the Bishop of Liège, a prisoner whose "value" was equivalent to that of the Bishop of Quebec, were extremely complicated. Saint-Vallier did not return to Quebec until 1713.

Theft on a Privateer's Prize in Quebec

As was common at the time, many prisoners in Quebec were housed at the privateer owner's house or at a dwelling that he considered appropriate. This situation sometimes led to amusing stories!

For example, in the fall of 1712 an important theft took place on a captured vessel anchored in Quebec Harbour: some ropes and other tackle were stolen from the Catherine. However, the only witnesses the authorities had to expose the thief or thieves were...some English seamen from the Catherine who were being held prisoner in a home at the Cul-de-Sac of Quebec!

Prisoner Exchanges

During times of conflict, the authorities negotiated to save subjects who were held prisoner by the enemy. One side would thus release some prisoners so that the enemy would do the same.

In November 1744, the Governor of Île Royale in Acadia wrote a letter to the Governor of Massachusetts to propose an exchange of prisoners:

I am returning in the same ships all the prisoners taken by a privateer from your region and from various ships except a part of the 67 I sent to Plaisance to be traded for fishermen and others there.

LAC, MG1 Fonds des Colonies. Series C11A. Correspondance générale. 15/09/1744

Felix O'Hara, a Political Prisoner

To compensate for the lack of regular troops to defend the country, local militias were established in various regions of Canada, as was the case at Percé in the Gaspé Peninsula.

In the summer of 1782, American privateers dealt a severe blow, attacking the post at Percé repeatedly. The Americans even came ashore and pushed the militia's only cannon off the cliff into the water below. As they left, they burnt every vessel they found and captured the leader of the Percé militia, the merchant Felix O'Hara. They dragged him to their ship, where they subjected him to a mock trial before an improvised court. Among other things, the merchant was accused of being rich! He was treated quite harshly, acquitted and sent back to shore in a canoe.

Highly politicized, the American privateersmen administered a "justice" based on the ideals of the American Revolution. In Canada, their sworn enemy was the British merchant, who in their view exploited the French Canadian settlers and the Native peoples. This is why O'Hara, a merchant as well as a militia commander, was treated in such a fashion.

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

American Prisoners on Board a British Prison Ship

This drawing depicts American prisoners aboard a British prison ship.

John Trumbull
Charles Allen Munn Collection
c. 1782-1832
© Fordham University Library, Bronx, New York


Map of northern America (...) Insert map of the City of Quebec, 1688

The lower left corner of this insert map clearly illustrates Cul-de-Sac Bay, Quebec City's main port during the French Regime.

Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franqueline
Service historique de la Marine, Vincennes, France, copy to the national archives of Quebec, Quebec. Copy from French archives, no 21. French Archives photo no 21, original at the Service de la Marine de France

© Service de la Marine de France


During the American War of Independence, the British merchants who settled along the Canadian coasts were particularly vulnerable to American privateers. These merchants represented everything the Americans were fighting against: the exploitation of settlers, the British Crown and an Empire using the resources of the colonies for its own profit.

That is why the privateers targeted British trade with their attacks and looting, but tried not to harm French Canadian settlers and Aboriginals, who helped them in return.

Charles Robin

The most prominent merchant family in the history of the Gaspé Peninsula, the Robins, was subjected to privateer attacks, as were many families.

A particularly aggressive incident occurred in the summer of 1778, when some American privateersmen disembarked at Charles Robin's home in Paspébiac. They proceeded to confine him to his home and loot all of his possessions, even the buckles from his shoes. The privateersmen then took all of the pelts and fish they could find and set off for the United States.

Henry Shoolbred and William Read More
During the American War of Independence, the British merchants who settled along the Canadian coasts were particularly vulnerable to American privateers. These merchants represented everything the Americans were fighting against: the exploitation of settlers, the British Crown and an Empire using the resources of the colonies for its own profit.

That is why the privateers targeted British trade with their attacks and looting, but tried not to harm French Canadian settlers and Aboriginals, who helped them in return.

Charles Robin

The most prominent merchant family in the history of the Gaspé Peninsula, the Robins, was subjected to privateer attacks, as were many families.

A particularly aggressive incident occurred in the summer of 1778, when some American privateersmen disembarked at Charles Robin's home in Paspébiac. They proceeded to confine him to his home and loot all of his possessions, even the buckles from his shoes. The privateersmen then took all of the pelts and fish they could find and set off for the United States.

Henry Shoolbred and William Smith

Merchants Henry Schoolbred and William Smith, owners of fishing posts along Chaleur Bay, were particularly hit hard by American plundering because the French Canadian settlers and Aboriginals sided with the American privateers.

In fact, the privateers were piloted by settlers, who pointed where merchandise was hidden and participated in the pillaging. The settlers and Aboriginals were even rewarded for their services in the form of goods obtained by looting British stores, wampum and even medals from the United States Congress.

This situation drove some merchants to leave the peninsula. In William Smith's case, the move led to his ruin: his company dissolved in 1784.

William Smith to Henry Shoolbred:

The whole inhabitants of this country are becoming Enemies to Englishmen and I am determined to leave the Bay as easily as I can.

Laval University Library, FC 411 H159 A4, Reel 105, Page 27, 08/07/1778.

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

Wampum

Wampum

Drawing : Pierre Bourgeault

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


The absence of a husband or father can sometimes create significant problems. If the absence is brief, there might be sufficient provisions to feed the family. However, certain measures had to be taken in the event of a prolonged absence or when a sailor died during the voyage.

The contracts signed between various parties before privateering expeditions thus included certain compensation clauses. For example, the "Agreement Between the Owners of the Brigantine Joybert", signed in Quebec in 1704, included the following clause:

The wages of those who succumb to illness or are killed in combat or in an accident of whatever nature at any time during the voyage of this ship, from beginning to end, shall be kept and delivered to their heirs, as though they had lived to the end of the said voyage.

Pierre-Georges Roy, Un corsaire canadien, Jean Léger de la Grange, Lévis, 1918, pages 15 and 16.

Madame de la Durantaye

Alone and pregnant with her sixth child in 1707, Madame de la Durantaye pet Read More
The absence of a husband or father can sometimes create significant problems. If the absence is brief, there might be sufficient provisions to feed the family. However, certain measures had to be taken in the event of a prolonged absence or when a sailor died during the voyage.

The contracts signed between various parties before privateering expeditions thus included certain compensation clauses. For example, the "Agreement Between the Owners of the Brigantine Joybert", signed in Quebec in 1704, included the following clause:

The wages of those who succumb to illness or are killed in combat or in an accident of whatever nature at any time during the voyage of this ship, from beginning to end, shall be kept and delivered to their heirs, as though they had lived to the end of the said voyage.

Pierre-Georges Roy, Un corsaire canadien, Jean Léger de la Grange, Lévis, 1918, pages 15 and 16.

Madame de la Durantaye

Alone and pregnant with her sixth child in 1707, Madame de la Durantaye petitioned the colony's intendant for compensation for her husband's death, which occurred while he was a freebooter.

The Intendant, Jacques Raudot, therefore issued an order that the seigniorial mill deliver three wheat bushels to the lady each month. Although this amounted to little compensation for a woman without income, it nevertheless indicates that a type of social safety net had been set up for privateer families.

An Abandoned Family

Jean La Fosse was a person of little moral fibre. He was a fisherman, privateer, even a pirate and guardian of a small armed fort near Plaisance on the Island of Newfoundland. He often incurred the wrath of the governor of the area by setting off on voyages without permission. Then at some point, he left without being commissioned and abandoned his fort... and his family!

In a letter to Minister Maurepas in 1711, the Governor of Plaisance, appointed himself as the La Fosse family's advocate and worried how it would fare in the privateersman's absence.

His wife has remained in his home with his family; as guilty as he will be if he returns home, I will punish him on site, following the example (...). His wife and children must also take responsibility for indulging such behaviour (...).

LAC, MG1, Series C11C, 24/10/1711.

Children of a Privateersman

In 1703, while privateer captain Jean Léger de la Grange was on an expedition, his wife, Louise Fauvel died and the merchant Guillame Gaillard became the guardian of their children. Gaillard found himself increasingly obliged to look after Mr. De la Grange's property, because his children were young and could not manage their father's estate.

From then on, the daughter of Jean Léger de la Grange, Geneviève de la Grange de Saint-Louis, aged 10 years old, very likely lived at the Gaillard home along the Côte de la Montagne. She later became the Mother Superior of the Ursulines of Québec.

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

Jean Talon visitng the colonists, ca. 1931

Jean Talon visitng the colonists, ca. 1931

Library and Archives Canada
Reproduced with permission of Public Works and Government Services Canada (2005).
c. 1931
C-011925
© 2005 Library and Archives Canada


A Fishing Station in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland

A French fishing settlement in Plaisance Bay during Jean de La Fosse's stay there.

Gerard van Edema
With permission from the Royal Ontario Museum
c. 1690
no 957.91
© Royal Ontario Museum


Archways of the Gaillard Home, Place-Royale, Quebec

In this house, Guillaume Gaillard took in the children of Jean Léger de La Grange.

David Saint-Pierre

© Naval Museum of Quebec


War, with its struggles and uncertainty, transforms people's lives. Privateering as a war activity also had an impact on the lives of civilian populations. As war made fishing more difficult, it often turned good sailors into privateers. Moreover, since privateers mainly targeted merchant and supply ships, their attacks considerably hindered the supplying of settlers with various types of commodities.

On the other hand, Canadian privateers and their allies could help bring goods taken from the enemy to the country. This prevented famine among the population on a few occasions.
War, with its struggles and uncertainty, transforms people's lives. Privateering as a war activity also had an impact on the lives of civilian populations. As war made fishing more difficult, it often turned good sailors into privateers. Moreover, since privateers mainly targeted merchant and supply ships, their attacks considerably hindered the supplying of settlers with various types of commodities.

On the other hand, Canadian privateers and their allies could help bring goods taken from the enemy to the country. This prevented famine among the population on a few occasions.

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

Élie Galermont is a new sailor on the privateer ship "The T". After a raid, he realizes that his captain is leading them into illegality and acts more like a pirate than a privateer in the service of the king. Élie doesn’t like this and decides to go looking for evidence to expose his captain’s activities upon his return. Through various games, help Élie Galermont search the ship to find evidence to denounce the captain.

Game 1
The cook drew pictures of 16 people. However, only 4 of the pictures are of people that the captain knows. To find the evidence that Galermont is looking for you must identify these 4 people using the clues from the notebook.

Follow this link to play the game.
Élie Galermont is a new sailor on the privateer ship "The T". After a raid, he realizes that his captain is leading them into illegality and acts more like a pirate than a privateer in the service of the king. Élie doesn’t like this and decides to go looking for evidence to expose his captain’s activities upon his return. Through various games, help Élie Galermont search the ship to find evidence to denounce the captain.

Game 1
The cook drew pictures of 16 people. However, only 4 of the pictures are of people that the captain knows. To find the evidence that Galermont is looking for you must identify these 4 people using the clues from the notebook.

Follow this link to play the game.

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

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Identify the role and importance of privateers on the population, the economy of the colony and the development of the territory;
  • Define what makes a privateer and the differences between him and pirates;
  • Linking the events of the past to the present (continuity);
  • Develop a process of research and information processing in geography and history, enabling it to develop his critical thinking and his historical thinking.

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