Many American privateers operated out of Maine ports during the War of 1812. These raiders were often called the militia of the sea as they were usually locally owned, locally outfitted, and locally crewed. Researching local contributions to the privateering effort of the war provides a fascinating glimpse of early 19th century Maine maritime history.

Privateersmen look to board a potential prize during the War of 1812 (from Edgar Stanton Maclay, “A History of American Privateers” 1899)

Privateering had long been lucrative for investors, who could receive fine returns on their initial investment. Good for ship captains, they could earn fame as well as fortune. And it was attractive for sailors, who shared in prize money from sales of captured ships and cargoes.

Very early in the war, a 60-ton schooner named Polly operated out of Maine ports until it was burned Aug. 1, 1812. It had one cannon, four swivel guns and a 40-man crew. Apparently, Polly took no prizes before it was destroyed. The Maine-built privateer Decatur, under Capt. Thomas N. Lane, was a 248-ton schooner. With four cannon and 31 crew, it took one prize before being captured by HMS Hampden Sept. 3, 1814. A schooner named Whistle had five guns and an 18-man crew. It sailed out of Maine, but no other information has come to light regarding its fate.

In the Midcoast, vessels tended to operate chiefly out of Bath, Wiscasset, Bristol or Waldoboro. The 25-ton schooner Tryal or Trial, under co-owner Capt. Charles Thomas Jr. sailed in July 1812. It had two guns and a 30-man crew but took no prizes. Bath also had two privateers named Hazard. One was a 42-ton schooner with three guns and 25 men. Capt. Joshua Coombs, then John Matthews, took it out on two cruises in June and then September 1813, but both voyages returned empty.

The other Hazard had one gun and 30 men. The 13-ton schooner sailed in August 1813 under Capt. Ebenezer Dorn and 1st Lt. I. G. Crawford. They took no prizes. In September 1814, Bath tried again with 6-ton boat Return under Capt. Oliver Colburn. It had no guns and four men; it, too, took no prizes.

More successful was 66-ton schooner Saucy Jack under Capt. J. P. Chazel. It had six guns, 125 men and captured six ships, six brigs, nine schooners, and two sloops. Three vessels were burnt, Saucy Jack even cut out a 16-gun brig from Demarara, made a tender of a Kingston packet but was eventually driven onto shore in a gale at St. Mary’s in September 1813.

Owned by Moses Carleton, privateer Intention was a 22-ton schooner with one cannon, three swivel guns and a 30-man crew. Under Capt. D. McKenney and 1st Lt. James Askins, it sailed from Wiscasset July 15, 1812. Four days later, Intention was captured by 38-gun HMS Spartan off Annapolis and sent to Halifax. The 83-ton brig Thomas, under Capt. John Wilton, sailed from Wiscasset in May 1813 with five cannon and a 50-man crew. Owned by T. Samuel Hubbard, it returned with no prizes. Mary was a 6-ton schooner of one gun and nine crew. It sailed from Wiscasset in September 1813 under owner and captain Noah Edgecomb, but also took no prizes. Schooner Aurora sailed with four guns and 20 men but took no prizes. It was captured Dec. 3, 1814, by HMS Cockchafer. Four days later, Wiscasset sent out 83-ton brig Paul Jones under Capt. John T. Hilton. It, too, was owned by T. Samuel Hubbard. Paul Jones had five guns and a 50-man crew, but it, too, returned empty-handed.

In April 1813, Bristol sent out 100-ton sloop Increase under Capt. Samuel Tucker and 1st Lt. Thomas Dockendorff. It carried six cannon, one swivel gun and 80 crew. Increase took one prize but was captured that same year and became the Nova Scotian privateer Crown. In January 1815, schooner Bristol sailed under co-owner and captain, William Andrews. No other information has come to light. The town of Nobleboro sent out 48-ton schooner Caesar under Capt. Jeduthan Upton. It had one gun and 40 men, but no other information has come to light about it.

Waldoboro tried valiantly at privateering but was not very successful. In April 1813, the 15-ton schooner Nancy was sent out under owner and captain, Thomas Burton. It had one swivel gun and a 20-man crew but took no prizes. That same month, 111-ton schooner Priscilla sailed under Capt. Thomas Burton with no guns and 60 men. It too captured nothing. Again, in April 10-ton boat Sally, under Capt. John Hall, sailed. It had no guns, 18 men and they, too, returned with no prizes. In June, Waldoboro sent out 70-ton schooner Good Intent under co-owner and captain, Timothy Wellman with 1st Lt. Constant Rankins. It had two guns and a 75-man crew but also returned empty-handed.

The town then sent out 4-ton boat Ganges in August 1813, under owner and captain, Joshua Bartlett and 10 men. They too did not capture anything. On September 5-ton boat Retrieve sailed under owner Capt. Richard King Porter. It had no guns and a four-man crew, but again, no prizes were taken.

In January 1814, Waldoboro sent out 3-ton boat Neptune under Capt. W. Hathorne. It had six men but no guns. No prizes were taken. That same month, 3-ton boat Traveller under Capt. R. Davis sailed with no guns and eight men. It, too, returned empty. In February, Waldoboro sent out 3-ton boat Madison Secondus under owner Capt. Elijah Cook. It had one swivel gun and eight men. When it, too, returned empty, Waldoboro suspended any more privateering efforts.

A sailor would earn a certificate of shares while privateering. This one is for shares from the privateer Warrior (from Edgar Stanton Maclay, “A History of American Privateers” 1899)

 

No date was found for the boat Nonsuch of Northport under Capt. William Elwell, but it did record taking a prize. Northport’s two-ton schooner Revenge under owner Capt. Robert Battie sailed in June 1813. It had no guns and only an eight-man crew but was able to capture three prizes. In January 1815, Thomaston sent out 58-ton schooner Fame under Capt. Alexander Milliken and 1st Lt. James Cook. It had two guns and captured one prize.

Penobscot and Frenchman’s Bay had two privateers named Friendship, which might have been the same vessel. The Penobscot Friendship had no guns and a 20-man crew and was under owner Capt. William Clewly with 1st Lt. William Staples. It sailed in fall 1813 but took no prizes. The Ellsworth Friendship carried one cannon and nine crew under owner Capt. Matthew Means. On two cruises in 1814, it did not capture anything.

Another Frenchman’s Bay privateer sent out was 2-ton boat Lark under Capt. Jonathan Haskell and 1st Lt. Samuel Noyes. It had no guns and seven crew when it sailed July 1813. It caught no prizes and was later converted to a smuggler.

Comet was owned by Capt. Allen Rogers who, with 1st Lt. Edward Snow, sailed out of Penobscot in search of prizes in August 1813. The 3-ton schooner had a crew of eight but left no record of captures.

Privateer Victory under Capt. Robert R. Carey and 1st Lt. John Woodison operated from Penobscot; another source says Bangor. Its owner was Samuel Stone. Victory was a 52-ton schooner with two guns and a 40-man crew when it sailed Sept. 8, 1813. They captured one prize. Another Penobscot privateer was 12-ton rowboat Yankee, owned by Capt. Asa Bean with 1st Lt. Daniel Snow. It had no guns and 25 men when it sailed Sept. 6, 1812. No record of any prizes.

In October 1812, Mt. Desert sent out 26-ton sloop Lilly under Capt. John Chatty and 1st Lt. Silvester Crocker. It had one gun, a 20-man crew but took no prizes. Lilly was captured March 1813. Arundel sent out 15-ton boat Lively under Capt. William Avreil, no other information. The 44-ton schooner Thinks I to Myself had been captured from the British by the famous privateer Dash in October 1814. In November that year, it sailed from Penobscot under Capt. Smith N. Cobb Jr. and 1st Lt. Richard Berry.

Sails took a beating during privateer combat, here the schooner Saratoga and the brig Rachel face off with each other (from Edgar Stanton Maclay, “A History of American Privateers” 1899)

 

Weazel was a 3-ton whaleboat with no guns and eight men. It operated from Castine under Capt. Daniel Snow and 1st Lt. Ephraim Stubbs. Weazel sailed Oct. 24, 1812, but captured no prizes and was destroyed in June 1813.

Brig Star (or Starts) sailed from Machias in 1812 or 1813 and carried six cannon and a 35-man crew. It was captured Feb. 9, 1813. Swiftsure was a 4-ton shaving mill; sources list that it came from Salem, but apparently operated out of Machias. A shaving mill was a small, rowed boat that could approach larger vessels becalmed or stranded. During British occupation of Castine, shaving mills continually harassed residents of Penobscot Bay. The Salem Swiftsure captain for its two voyages was Charles Berry. It had a crew of 16 men and carried one gun. Swiftsure was sold April 1814 after having taken four prizes. Some of its owners also invested in Holkar, another privateer listed as operating out of Machias but homeport of Salem. Holkar was a 6-ton boat with 15 men and one swivel gun. Capt. Samuel Lampson was co-owner for its three voyages. It was captured in 1814 after having taken three prizes.

Eastport sent out two-ton boat Lizard under Capt. Andrew Tucker and 1st Lt. Joseph Steel. It had a four-man crew, three swivel guns and captured one prize. There was even more privateering action out of southern Maine. Stay tuned!

Charles Lagerbom teaches AP U.S. History at Belfast Area High School and lives in Northport. He is author of “Whaling in Maine” and “Maine to Cape Horn,” available through Historypress.com.

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