Hear ye, hear ye, show your colours! Enemies I will capture; friends I will let pass.What figure best represents the activities of the privateers?

That would be the privateer captain-but don't confuse him with the stereotypical pirate with a parrot on his shoulder. Instead, picture a seaman dressed in woollen trousers and a linen shirt. The captain was the most important person during a privateering expedition, and he stood to gain a financial reward if a raid was successful. On the other hand, he was also held responsible if it was a failure. He would garner a large share of any potential prize, but risked his life to do so.

So, as you can see, the life of a privateer captain involved adventure, risk and the possibility of great riches. But even though some privateer captains are considered heroes, few people know that they were privateers! History books recount Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville's military exploits on Hudson Bay and in Newfoundland, but they do not mention that he accomplished some of them while serving as a privateer.
Hear ye, hear ye, show your colours! Enemies I will capture; friends I will let pass.What figure best represents the activities of the privateers?

That would be the privateer captain-but don't confuse him with the stereotypical pirate with a parrot on his shoulder. Instead, picture a seaman dressed in woollen trousers and a linen shirt. The captain was the most important person during a privateering expedition, and he stood to gain a financial reward if a raid was successful. On the other hand, he was also held responsible if it was a failure. He would garner a large share of any potential prize, but risked his life to do so.

So, as you can see, the life of a privateer captain involved adventure, risk and the possibility of great riches. But even though some privateer captains are considered heroes, few people know that they were privateers! History books recount Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville's military exploits on Hudson Bay and in Newfoundland, but they do not mention that he accomplished some of them while serving as a privateer.

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

Speaking Tube, 18th Century

The captain often used the speaking tube to talk to enemy of friendly ships in the vicinity.

Musée Stewart au Fort de l’Ile Sainte-Hélène
18th Century
no 1981.69.5
© Musée Stewart au Fort de l’Ile Sainte-Hélène


Privateer, pirate, freebooter: these terms are often used synonymously. However, they refer to different people and activities.

A pirate is an outlaw. He is a seafarer who recognizes no authority other than his own. He will attack any ship, regardless of its nationality. Because he works independently, the pirate does not share his profits with anyone except his crew. He plies his "trade" in wartime and peacetime.

A privateer must be authorized by his sovereign or his country to conduct raids. He holds a letter of marque or a commission that proves he is acting on behalf of his sovereign. The privateer shares the profits from his raids with his outfitters and the Crown. His activities are considered legitimate only in time of war. If he captures a ship in peacetime, watch out—he is likely to be charged with piracy!

Freebooters were pirates who attacked Spanish ships and possessions in the West Indies in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Larger-Than-Life Figures

How many movies, books, songs and legends celebrate the memory of privateers or pirates? Too many to count! Throughou Read More
Privateer, pirate, freebooter: these terms are often used synonymously. However, they refer to different people and activities.

A pirate is an outlaw. He is a seafarer who recognizes no authority other than his own. He will attack any ship, regardless of its nationality. Because he works independently, the pirate does not share his profits with anyone except his crew. He plies his "trade" in wartime and peacetime.

A privateer must be authorized by his sovereign or his country to conduct raids. He holds a letter of marque or a commission that proves he is acting on behalf of his sovereign. The privateer shares the profits from his raids with his outfitters and the Crown. His activities are considered legitimate only in time of war. If he captures a ship in peacetime, watch out—he is likely to be charged with piracy!

Freebooters were pirates who attacked Spanish ships and possessions in the West Indies in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Larger-Than-Life Figures

How many movies, books, songs and legends celebrate the memory of privateers or pirates? Too many to count! Throughout history, the image of the pirate frightened people and made their imaginations run wild.

When we think of pirates and privateers, we think of ships lost at sea, fabulous treasures and captains who are real outlaws, plying their trade in the sunny Caribbean. Of course, everyone pictures the captain with a hook for a hand, a peg leg, a long beard, an eye patch, and a squawking parrot on his shoulder.

But the classic image of the pirate that we are all familiar with was created by Hollywood movies. Although it was inspired by real pirates from history, the image is closer to fiction than to fact.

Privateers on the St Lawrence

Pirates risked the death penalty if they were taken prisoner. Privateers, on the other hand, could receive rewards. Encouraged by their government, privateers contributed to the war effort against enemy nations.
Cross of Saint-Louis

In the history of New France, two heroes were awarded the Cross of St Louis by the King of France. Pierre Lemoyne d'Iberville, whom history remembers as an explorer and the founder of Louisiana, was a famous privateer on the St Lawrence and even in the West Indies. He had the reputation of being especially bloodthirsty.

Michel de Salaberry, who was known for his battle exploits at sea, was also a privateer, defending Louisbourg and Quebec City against the British. As a reward for his service, he was appointed captain of a store ship in the French navy, which was a significant honour.

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

Sea Chest

The opening mechanism of this chest allows for a system of hidden locks. The ship's captain can therefore use it to put away important papers and valuable with peace of mind.

Stewart Museum, at the Fort Île Sainte-Hélène
17th Century
no 1970.53
© Stewart Museum, at the Fort Île Sainte-Hélène


Cross of Saint Louis

The Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis was founded in 1693. The king would award the Cross of Saint-Louis to reward outstanding service to France. The recipient then became a "knight of Saint Louis". Severak privateers were awarded this honour.

Musée du Royal 22e régiment
c. 1700
© Musée du Royal 22e régiment


In any kind of warfare, strategy is often more important than sheer force. This was especially true for the privateers, whose ships were small and lightly armed. By employing strategy, they succeeded in overrunning much larger ships.

One strategy was to send privateers to sail in advance of an invading fleet. When William Phips tried to capture Quebec City in 1690, his fleet included an advance party of privateers. It was these privateers who pillaged the post of Percé. (Create a link to the text about the pillaging of Percé.)

In wartime, supplies and provisions were transported by naval convoys. Ships would sail together so that they could better defend themselves. But privateers would infiltrate these convoys. By disguising their vessels as supply ships, privateers could take their adversaries by surprise.

Showing Their True Colours

One of the favourite strategies of a privateer captain was to approach an enemy ship without "showing his colours," that is, with no flags on the masts that could identify the privateer ship. The captain of the enemy ship would believe the privateer was an a Read More
In any kind of warfare, strategy is often more important than sheer force. This was especially true for the privateers, whose ships were small and lightly armed. By employing strategy, they succeeded in overrunning much larger ships.

One strategy was to send privateers to sail in advance of an invading fleet. When William Phips tried to capture Quebec City in 1690, his fleet included an advance party of privateers. It was these privateers who pillaged the post of Percé. (Create a link to the text about the pillaging of Percé.)

In wartime, supplies and provisions were transported by naval convoys. Ships would sail together so that they could better defend themselves. But privateers would infiltrate these convoys. By disguising their vessels as supply ships, privateers could take their adversaries by surprise.

Showing Their True Colours

One of the favourite strategies of a privateer captain was to approach an enemy ship without "showing his colours," that is, with no flags on the masts that could identify the privateer ship. The captain of the enemy ship would believe the privateer was an ally and let it approach. Then, at the last moment, the privateer would show its colours and attack!

Sometimes privateer captains would carry flags in their enemies' colours on board and hoist them when they sighted their prey. This ruse enabled the privateer ship to approach the enemy without arousing suspicion.

These strategies were very effective against scattered convoys, in which allied ships often had difficulty recognizing each other. The privateers would slip in among the dispersed ships, hiding their colours. Then, at the last minute, they would launch an attack against an isolated and poorly defended ship.

This tactic was used by the English privateers who devastated Percé in 1690:

To make a long story short, at the beginning of the month of August, two English frigates appeared, flying the flag of France, in the roadstead off Bonaventure Island, and by means of this strategy easily seized five fishing vessels, whose captains and crews, who were then entirely occupied with fishing, were all obliged to come ashore at Quebec, because they were in no condition to defend themselves, or to resist so many nations in league against them.

Chrestien Leclercq, Nouvelles relations de la Gaspésie (News from the Gaspé), 1691

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

Map indicating the position of Phips' ships in October 1690

This map shows the position of Phips' fleet attacking Quebec in 1690. The fleet includes Royal Navy ships, merchant ships and a few privateers.

Naval Museum of Quebec
1694
Engraving
© Naval Museum of Quebec


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 Read More
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

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

John Paul Jones, 1781

John Paul Jones, 1781

Special Collections & Archives Division, Nimitz Library, U.S. Naval Academy
1781
© Special Collections & Archives Division, Nimitz Library, U.S. Naval Academy


Declaring a prize "Good", 1713

Declaring a prize "Good", 1713

Archives nationales du Québec, Québec
1713
TL5 D482 B
© Archives nationales du Québec, Québec


The North American colonies had always attracted individuals in search of adventure and good business opportunities. Under both the French and British regimes, trade and business competition played a major role in relations between countries, as well as causing a number of conflicts. Money is often at the root of war.

So it is understandable that, in the midst of fierce commercial rivalries, it was not unusual for privateers—especially those who were adventurers above all—to change sides and betray their country!

John Outlaw

Some of these traitors, such as the privateers and explorers Pierre Esprit Radisson and Médard Chouart des Groseilliers, are famous to this day. Their defection from France to England, in the midst of the struggle to control Hudson Bay, was dramatic, and history has not always been kind to them.

But few remember that others, like John Outlaw, crossed over in the other direction, abandoning England to serve the King of France. John Outlaw was a naval officer employed by the Hudson's Bay Company when the fort he was occupying was cap Read More
The North American colonies had always attracted individuals in search of adventure and good business opportunities. Under both the French and British regimes, trade and business competition played a major role in relations between countries, as well as causing a number of conflicts. Money is often at the root of war.

So it is understandable that, in the midst of fierce commercial rivalries, it was not unusual for privateers—especially those who were adventurers above all—to change sides and betray their country!

John Outlaw

Some of these traitors, such as the privateers and explorers Pierre Esprit Radisson and Médard Chouart des Groseilliers, are famous to this day. Their defection from France to England, in the midst of the struggle to control Hudson Bay, was dramatic, and history has not always been kind to them.

But few remember that others, like John Outlaw, crossed over in the other direction, abandoning England to serve the King of France. John Outlaw was a naval officer employed by the Hudson's Bay Company when the fort he was occupying was captured by Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville in 1686. It was the third time he had been taken prisoner by the French in the space of a few years. This time, Outlaw requested, and was granted, the right to become a French subject.

From then on, he served France loyally as a privateer. The Governor of New France, Frontenac, even financed a ship under his command, christening it the Frontenac!

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

<i>A view of the taking of Québec, (September 13th, 1759), 1797</i>

Engraving dated 1797 illustrating the taking of Quebec.

Library and Archives Canada
1797
C-139911
© Library and Archives Canada/Bibliothèque et Archives Canada


For a privateering captain, a successful trip meant profit, but it could also bring fame and prestige. Many privateers were rewarded for their battle exploits. Some were made knights; others were given land or titles of nobility. For others, their success enabled them to obtain a position in the navy and thus acquire enviable social status.

Such rewards increased the prestige of those who received them, while encouraging other sailors to become privateers.
For a privateering captain, a successful trip meant profit, but it could also bring fame and prestige. Many privateers were rewarded for their battle exploits. Some were made knights; others were given land or titles of nobility. For others, their success enabled them to obtain a position in the navy and thus acquire enviable social status.

Such rewards increased the prestige of those who received them, while encouraging other sailors to become privateers.

© 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 5

The pivateer and its prize are returned to the port. The soliciter questions the captain to find out if everything was done according to the rules and to declare the goods lawfully taken.

But each of the three people before the soliciter insists that he is the real captain of the privateer. However, only one is telling the truth.

Help the solicitor unmask the imposters by asking questions and analyzing the answers offered by the privateersmen. Who is telling the truth?

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 5

The pivateer and its prize are returned to the port. The soliciter questions the captain to find out if everything was done according to the rules and to declare the goods lawfully taken.

But each of the three people before the soliciter insists that he is the real captain of the privateer. However, only one is telling the truth.

Help the solicitor unmask the imposters by asking questions and analyzing the answers offered by the privateersmen. Who is telling the truth?

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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