A little while ago, I posted this blog about privateers operating off England’s east coast during the latter part of the eighteenth century. I thought readers might also be interested in some contemporary accounts of privateers’ activities, taken from the Norfolk newspapers. These accounts show the largely commercial side to privateering, not any military benefit. Perhaps the majority of ships captured by privateers were ransomed. Britain had already developed a fairly sophisticated maritime insurance industry, so most of the money would probably have been paid in that way. Nevertheless, it was a considerable irritant and the navy were under constant pressure to provide better protection.
Norfolk Chronicle, May 1780.
A letter from Newcastle, dated May 13, says, “On Thursday last Captain WESTON, master of the HINCHINBROOK, of Lynn, made oath before a magistrate of this town, that he was taken last Wednesday morning off Hartlepool, and ransomed for 500 Pounds by the JOSEPHINE, a French privateer frigate, commanded by JEAN LOUIS FAVRE of Havre-de-Grace, mounting 26 guns, 12 and 9 pounders, besides about six or eight smaller guns in the quarterdeck and forecastle, and about 250 men. That Captain WESTON saw the privateer take three other loaded brigs the same day, which he believed were all ransomed; and the Commander told him he had taken three more loaded vessels the day before.”
Norfolk Chronicle, July 1782
Extract of a letter from Capt. DYSON, Commander of his Majesty’s sloop Helena, dated Lowestoft Road, July 14, 1782. “Yesterday, being in Yarmouth Roads, I received information from the Mayor of Yarmouth, that there had been seen a lugger off Dunwich, at five o’clock the same morning; weighed and stood to the North Westward through the Cockie, wind being Southwardly, thinking she might be gone that way. At daylight, not seeing any thing off Cromer, proceeded [sic] with the tide to the Southward, and found the said lugger chaced [sic] into these Roads; at noon took possession of her; she is called L’Escroe privateer, about 30 tons burthen, from Dunkirk, left that place a week ago, has taken one vessel from London to Gainsborough, which is since said to be retaken. The master and three boys I have put ashore at Yarmouth, with twenty one prisoners, being the equipage of the said privateer.”
Norfolk Chronicle July 1782
On Wednesday were committed to Norwich Castle, by John REYNOLDS, Esq., Mayor of Yarmouth, and Commissioner of Oyer and Terminer for the jurisdiction of the High Court of the Admiralty of England, Thomas ABBOTT, Captain, and Robert FARRELL, Robert FETHERLY, alias THURKEL, Jonathan ROMLEY, and William GROVES, four of the crew of the French privateer L’Escroe, of Dunkirk, taken and brought into Yarmouth on Saturday last, by his Majesty’s sloop Helena, charged with treason and piracy committed by them upon the high seas, by adhering to the King’s enemies (they being natural subjects of his Majesty) and taking and making prize of divers of the ships, vessels, and merchantize [sic] of his Majesty’s subjects, particularly of the sloop, or vessel, called the Generous Friends, of Gainsborough, George HICKSON, Master, on the 13th inst. on the high seas off Aldborough.
Copy of a letter from Sir John Borlace WARREN, Bart., received by Mr WARMINGTON, of Yarmouth, on Saturday last.
Winchelsea, off Scarborough. 22d July, 1782.
Dear Sir, I am sure it will give you pleasure when I inform you, that the Winchelsea has captured two French privateers, one a brig, and the other a lugger, within these three days. The first of them had not taken any thing, but the latter has done much mischief on this coast, having sunk five sail of vessels and sent two into Dunkirk; and I see by his log, that he has had an action with some colliers, in which one of his men was wounded. And he further informs me, that he was at the back of your sands in the same vessel that the Monkey cutter fired at, and about which the Mayor of Yarmouth sent me an express. On being interrogated, he first said he was born in Dunkirk, and afterwards that he was an American, his name in the commission is Frenchified, but seems not unlike FAULL; three parts of his crew are English and Irish, four of them now in irons, great villains. I have sent them on shore at this place, with a proper character, and I trust they will be properly examined. You will much oblige me by presenting my best compliments to Lord ORFORD, and communicating to his Lordship, that the Dutch fleet are gone North about, and left these seas.
I remain, Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant, J. B. WARREN.
P.S. As all the crew of this vessel are English and Irish, if you know any body at Scarborough that is acquainted with BROWN, of Deal, or FAULL, I should think it would be worth your while to write to them on that head.
And thus was born the US Navy!
Well … yes. In the minds of many 18th and 19th century British admirals and politicians, all US naval warfare was privateering!
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