During the late 18th Century, Liverpool was considered by many to be the Privateering capital of British North America. Liverpool's trade was badly affected during wartime, and the rise of Privateering and the fleet of ships provided some protection and, more famously, compensation.
Privateering was an important tool during times of war as they attacked the enemy in their pursestrings and served to distract the enemy. Enemies would deploy warships to accompany their merchant vessels, thereby reducing the number of fighting vessels dispatched to battle zones. Extremely cost effective, Privateering required no initial investment from the Crown, relying instead on entrepreneurs and investors to equip and man the ships.
Letter of Marque
One of the most common misconceptions is that Privateers and Pirates were one and the same. However, while Pirates raided any ship they pleased and kept the spoils for themselves alone, Privateers were sanctioned by the Crown via a Letter of Marque to confiscate enemy property with a view to disrupting trade. The wealth of the ship was distributed between the Crown and the crew as soon as the capture was judged to be legal in a court of law. Privateer captains were highly respected men in our community, seen as men of stature rather than lawless thugs that preyed on the high seas.
The Rover and the Lucy were two ships of great repute, but it was the Liverpool Packet that was the most famous. Starting out as the American slave ship, the Severn, the Packet was captured in 1811 and bought the same year by Enos Collins of Liverpool. Although re-christened the Packet, the ship was to keep its nickname The Black Joke.
When the War of 1812 broke out, the Packet was converted from a mail and passenger ship to a Privateering vessel. Captained by Joseph Barss, the ship's crew went on to capture 33 American vessels. The Packet fell into enemy hands, but not for long, and under Captain Caleb Seeley, she captured a further 14 prizes before the end of 1813. The Liverpool Packet was the most successful Privateer ship to sail out of a Canadian port.
The end of the War of 1812 marked the end of Privateering for Liverpool, although the stories and heritage are still celebrated today.