Government authorities were responsible for the administration of privateering. In times of war, they determined their priorities and how to best employ privateers to serve the state.

The letter of marque was issued by a duly authorized government official in the name of a monarch or a state. It was the official document that saved a privateer from being considered a pirate. Without this official sanction and authorization, the privateer would be operating illegally. Consequently, it was considered to be the most precious document on board a privateer's ship. If the ship were taken by an enemy privateer, it would be the winning captain's first priority, since it would prove the legitimacy of his prize.
Government authorities were responsible for the administration of privateering. In times of war, they determined their priorities and how to best employ privateers to serve the state.

The letter of marque was issued by a duly authorized government official in the name of a monarch or a state. It was the official document that saved a privateer from being considered a pirate. Without this official sanction and authorization, the privateer would be operating illegally. Consequently, it was considered to be the most precious document on board a privateer's ship. If the ship were taken by an enemy privateer, it would be the winning captain's first priority, since it would prove the legitimacy of his prize.

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

Feild comission granted by Louis Buade, Count of Frontenac, to John Outlaw

Feild comission granted by Louis Buade, Count of Frontenac, to John Outlaw, 1688.

Archives nationales du Québec
1688
TL5 D269 E
© Archives nationales du Québec, Québec


rivateering was regulated, institutionalized and governed by various rules. From the moment the ship set sail until it returned to homeport, every activity aboard a privateer was structured and regulated. Because of these rules, privateering was considered a recognized, official activity, thus affording its participants some measure of protection for their property and profits.
Shipboard inkstand

For the most part, it was this adherence to rules that distinguished privateering from piracy. Failure to comply with regulations could completely ruin a privateering business and, consequently, result in serious financial losses for the ship's owner.

The government was responsible for ensuring compliance with the regulations on privateering.

The Phases of a Privateering Expedition

Each phase of a privateering expedition was documented, described in contracts, and approved by the relevant authority. For the whole time privateers sailed the Saint Lawrence, Quebec City was the capital of both the French and English colonies.
Study

However, Quebec City was not t Read More
rivateering was regulated, institutionalized and governed by various rules. From the moment the ship set sail until it returned to homeport, every activity aboard a privateer was structured and regulated. Because of these rules, privateering was considered a recognized, official activity, thus affording its participants some measure of protection for their property and profits.
Shipboard inkstand

For the most part, it was this adherence to rules that distinguished privateering from piracy. Failure to comply with regulations could completely ruin a privateering business and, consequently, result in serious financial losses for the ship's owner.

The government was responsible for ensuring compliance with the regulations on privateering.

The Phases of a Privateering Expedition

Each phase of a privateering expedition was documented, described in contracts, and approved by the relevant authority. For the whole time privateers sailed the Saint Lawrence, Quebec City was the capital of both the French and English colonies.
Study

However, Quebec City was not the only site to have a burgeoning colonial bureaucracy charged with applying privateering regulations. Louisbourg in Cape Breton and Plaisance in Newfoundland also boasted an "admiralty" during the French Regime that authorized and monitored every phase of the privateer's expedition, from start to finish.

The Charter Party

Before a ship could set sail, an agreement between all those involved in the privateer's expedition had to be negotiated and signed. Specific documents recorded the names of all those who would be taking part in the expedition. The captain and ship owners' names would appear, along with the amounts invested in the expedition. Most importantly, these documents would clearly spell out each individual's share of the profits. This contract, which formed the basis for any expedition, was known as the charter party.

Other conditions could also be specified; for example, how to compensate a crewmember who distinguished himself or was injured. This was the case in the charter party written for an expedition led by Jean Léger de la Grange in 1704:

Said Sieur de la Grange shall further have the power to grant as he sees fit such recompense to those of his officers and men whose actions are meritorious or to those who are wounded or handicapped.

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

The Letter of Marque

The authorities also had the power to issue what to the privateer was the most important document: the letter of marque.

The letter of marque was issued in the name of the privateer and his ship for a determinate period, during which the privateer could legally attack the enemies of the state. The letter, and the accompanying crew list, needed to be registered with the appropriate government office before departure and upon arrival. This registration allowed naval authorities to control the ships that entered their ports.
The Return to Port
return to port

Once the privateer had successfully and profitably completed the phases of his expedition, he was required to return to port with his spoils to have them declared legal. At that point, Admiralty officials would review all the phases of the privateer's expedition to ensure that all the rules and formalities governing them had been followed. To do this, they would interview the privateer's crew and the captured ship's crew to corroborate the information provided by the privateer's captain.

If all the rules had been followed, the authorities would pronounce the privateer's booty as "good." Only then could the spoils be sold and the profits distributed as specified in the charter party.

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

Shipboard Inkstand, 16th century

Shipboard Inkstand, 16th century

Musée Stewart au Fort de l’Ile Sainte-Hélène
16th Century
no 1982.48
© Musée Stewart au Fort de l’Ile Sainte-Hélène


Letter of Marque issued to the Liverpool, and seal

Letter of Marque issued to the Liverpool, and seal

Image used with the permission of Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management, Halifax, NS
In MG 100, vol. 701, no 21, Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management, Halifax, NS.
1813
© Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management


Kings and governors assigned other missions to privateers in addition to their primary role of providing coastal defence. They were called upon to serve the King and his representatives by re-supplying the colonies with food and materiel, or by imposing a colonial presence in the most far-flung and difficult-to-defend outposts.

Supply for the Colony

Local officials were responsible for ensuring that colonies had everything they required. They needed to ensure the safe and swift passage for the merchandise they needed from Europe.

Privateers were therefore also entrusted with this mission of protecting merchant shipping by chasing off enemies or escorting convoys from Europe.

In a letter to the French Admiralty, Frontenac, in 1694, expresses his concern that measures be taken to ensure the supply of the colony:

(.) A 30-ton frigate that [could be sent] early next year (.) to cruise the entrance of our Gulf and stop all these privateers from lying in wait for our French ships.

LAC, MG1 Fonds des Colonies. Series C11A. General Corresponden Read More
Kings and governors assigned other missions to privateers in addition to their primary role of providing coastal defence. They were called upon to serve the King and his representatives by re-supplying the colonies with food and materiel, or by imposing a colonial presence in the most far-flung and difficult-to-defend outposts.

Supply for the Colony

Local officials were responsible for ensuring that colonies had everything they required. They needed to ensure the safe and swift passage for the merchandise they needed from Europe.

Privateers were therefore also entrusted with this mission of protecting merchant shipping by chasing off enemies or escorting convoys from Europe.

In a letter to the French Admiralty, Frontenac, in 1694, expresses his concern that measures be taken to ensure the supply of the colony:

(.) A 30-ton frigate that [could be sent] early next year (.) to cruise the entrance of our Gulf and stop all these privateers from lying in wait for our French ships.

LAC, MG1 Fonds des Colonies. Series C11A. General Correspondence, 25/10/1694

Governors also hired privateers to supply distant colonies, such as Acadia or Newfoundland.

Territorial Control

The territory governed by Quebec officials was immense and sparsely populated. At some point in history, all governments have had to face this problem. Several frontier areas were hotly contested and successively passed from French to English control.

Given this context, privateers were very useful in ensuring a presence on land. In this regard, the exploits of Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville in Newfoundland and in Louisiana are legendary.

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

Glass Bottles, late 17th century

Glass Bottles, late 17th century

Photo: Marc Gadreau
late 17th Century
© Place-Royale archaeological collection


Seal of Frontenac

Seal of Frontenac

Library and Archives Canada
c. 1620-1698
C-028448
© Library and Archives Canada/Bibliothèque et Archives Canada


Government officials were also responsible for ensuring that the Saint Lawrence, its Gulf, and the settlements along its banks were protected from enemy ships.

Governors ensured that defence ships were posted at the main strategic points to keep the waters and coastal areas free of privateers.

Haldimand vs Hervey

During the War of American Independence, the Governor of the Province of Quebec, Frederick Haldimand, found himself in dire straits. During the autumn of 1779, only two lightly armed Navy schooners were available to defend the entire Saint Lawrence River and the Gulf from American privateers! Moreover, the Captain of HMS Viper, Augustus Hervey, the Royal Navy Commander for the Saint Lawrence, preferred to stay docked in Quebec City rather than patrol the Gulf, as Haldimand had requested. Both men did not like each other, as evident in the following excerpt from a letter from Hervey to Haldimand:

I am best judge of the necessary steps to be taken for that purpose. I beg leave to inform Your Excellency that dictating is in my opinion as improper & uncivi Read More
Government officials were also responsible for ensuring that the Saint Lawrence, its Gulf, and the settlements along its banks were protected from enemy ships.

Governors ensured that defence ships were posted at the main strategic points to keep the waters and coastal areas free of privateers.

Haldimand vs Hervey

During the War of American Independence, the Governor of the Province of Quebec, Frederick Haldimand, found himself in dire straits. During the autumn of 1779, only two lightly armed Navy schooners were available to defend the entire Saint Lawrence River and the Gulf from American privateers! Moreover, the Captain of HMS Viper, Augustus Hervey, the Royal Navy Commander for the Saint Lawrence, preferred to stay docked in Quebec City rather than patrol the Gulf, as Haldimand had requested. Both men did not like each other, as evident in the following excerpt from a letter from Hervey to Haldimand:

I am best judge of the necessary steps to be taken for that purpose. I beg leave to inform Your Excellency that dictating is in my opinion as improper & uncivil a method of writing to me as it is an uncommon one.

Bibliothèque de l'Université Laval, Haldimand 68, 12/09/1779

Laval University Library, Haldimand 68, 12/09/1779

When Hervey finally decided to set sail for the Gulf in November 1779, he encountered a fierce storm off Tourelle in the Gaspé region and HMS Viper sank!

Only one Navy ship remained to defend the colony...

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

<i>The taking of the Bienfaisant and the burning of the Prudent in Louisbourg Harbour</i>

The taking of the Bienfaisant and destruction of the Prudent, the last two French ships protecting the port of Louisbourg, allowed 25 English warchips to enter, which evenutally led to the fall of Louisbourg. This certainly illustrates the importance of coastal defence.

Richard Paton
Richard Paton Collection
c. 1770
C-143388
© Library and Archives Canada/Bibliothèque et Archives Canada


Defending the vast territory under both French and English rule was a priority for kings and governors. Privateers were sometimes used for missions essential to the defence of the territory.

Rulers sent out privateers to patrol the coast of the St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. They were to control the entrance to the Gulf on the rulers' behalf since controlling such an access route to their territory gave rulers a considerable advantage over their enemies.
Defending the vast territory under both French and English rule was a priority for kings and governors. Privateers were sometimes used for missions essential to the defence of the territory.

Rulers sent out privateers to patrol the coast of the St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. They were to control the entrance to the Gulf on the rulers' behalf since controlling such an access route to their territory gave rulers a considerable advantage over their enemies.

© 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 to crime 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 on his return. Through various games, with Élie Galermont search the ship to find evidence to expose the captain.

Game 3
What is happening in this picture? Click on sections of the painting to find out more. When you are sure that you understand everything, click on the parchment at the bottom of the page.

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 to crime 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 on his return. Through various games, with Élie Galermont search the ship to find evidence to expose the captain.

Game 3
What is happening in this picture? Click on sections of the painting to find out more. When you are sure that you understand everything, click on the parchment at the bottom of the page.

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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