Abstract of "A Private War in the Caribbean: Nova Scotia Privateering 1793-1805"

Dan Conlin's M.A. Thesis at Saint Mary's University, Halifax: April 22, 1996
Thesis available on microfiche from the National Library of Canada. Copies are also available at Saint Mary's University, the Public Archives of Nova Scotia and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

This thesis explores privateering from the British Colonies in North American in the period between 1793 and 1805. It asks why individuals and communities turned to privateering and how they were affected by the enterprize. Privateers were privately owned warships licensed and regulated by the state to keep a portion of their raiding. In this period, a network of small coastal communities in Nova Scotia centred on Liverpool and Shelburne responded to disastrous changes in the military and trade environment with a small fleet of a dozen private warships which captured about sixty enemy vessels.

Existing literature on privateering, mostly popular and amateur work, has interpreted this activity as the product of either patriotism or greed. However a closer look indicates that economic necessity as the driving force. The wars with Revolutionary France led to the capture of many Nova Scotia merchant ships and mariners, followed by crushing insurance rates and American encroachment of the fisheries and lucrative West Indies trade. Privateering was a response to this economic warfare that replaced Nova Scotia losses with captured enemy ships and found work for idle shipyards and seamen. In a sense, it was an armed defence of the economic markets of the Caribbean against French and American incursion.

Their success founded several new fortunes and led the privateering port of Liverpool to gain greater economic and political autonomy from the provincial capital of Halifax. A price was paid in lives lost to battle, storms and naval press gangs along with social disruption such as rowdy drinking and a munitions explosion in Liverpool. Privateer seamen enjoyed unusual power in making sailing decisions and received higher wages than land, fishing or merchant service would have offered. This success lasted until 1805 when enemy shipping moved to neutral American ships and court decisions turned against privateers. However privateering had carried Nova Scotia mariners and their communities through the bleak economic period at the turn of the century until the embargo acts stimulated trade in 1807. It also created a core of privateering families eager and able to exploit future privateering endeavours in the War of 1812.

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Copyright Dan Conlin 1996 Revised April 28, 1996