Anatomy of a Privateer

Wealthy individuals or consortiums of like-minded investors would apply to their government for a letter of marque while at the same time having a vessel or vessels in mind that they would send to sea as privateers. In most cases, the ships were converted merchant men.

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Privateering During the War of 1812

Madison signed the law on August 4th, 1812, allowing consortiums to be issued letters of marque which would enable the ships they owned to seize British ships and sell the vessel and the cargo. When Congress issued a letter of marque, it did not require any sort of reporting of what they captured or sank or if the consortium’s ship was captured by the British.

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Madison and Mahan

Madison had lived through two of the seven – The Seven Years War and the American Revolution – studied by Mahan. He already knew several of the precepts Mahan developed in his writings seven decades later The Thirteen Colonies and the new United States is a maritime nation. It was true before we won our independence, and it is true today.

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Frocking

In the Continental Navy and the early years of the U.S. Navy, midshipmen wore a blue coat that came down to their hips over a white vest. Lieutenants and above wore frock coats that came down the back of their thighs. When a midshipman made lieutenant, he changed coats. Hence, one could say he was “frocked.”

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The Navy’s Unpreparedness for War in 1812

When James Madison asked for a declaration of war in June 1812, the U.S. Navy only had 14 ships capable of operating outside coastal waters. Once again, the U.S. Navy would face the well-trained and equipped battle-tested Royal Navy.

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Failure To Lead

For the attack on Fort George, Saltonstall was on the small frigate Monmouth, 24 guns. The force caught the British by surprise, and there were only three small sloops of war in the bay which should have been quickly captured by the Continentals. They weren’t.

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Loyalist NEO

Throughout the American Revolution, Great Britain told Loyalists that they would be re-settled in a British colony should England lose and you wanted to leave.

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The Chesapeake-Leopard Incident

In June 1807, the Royal Navy was blockading two, 80-gun French ships of the line which had called in Hampton, VA and were waiting for an opportunity to escape into the Atlantic. The British squadron commander, Sir George Berkeley, learned that Royal Navy deserters were on board U.S.S. Chesapeake, 38 guns and he dispatched H.MS. Leopard, 50 guns, with a search warrant and orders to seize any deserters, by force if necessary.

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When Greed Interferes With One’s Duty

War at sea during the American Revolution, as it is today, is a dangerous business. One tactic governments increased the crew member pay was by allowing prize money to be distributed amongst the crew.

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