What Was Privateering?

Privateer: An armed vessel owned and crewed by private individuals and holding a government commission authorizing its use in war, esp. in the capture of merchant shipping.
-Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

In Simeon Perkins’ time, the lives of settlers were shaped by wars waged beyond their borders, including the American Revolution and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. The colony was often threatened by enemy forces, and, at times, the settlers took their destiny into their own hands. Civilians like Simeon Perkins built privateers—large wooden-hulled, wind-powered vessels—and, with government sanctioning, went to sea to seek out enemy supply vessels.

Once captured, the ships were brought home to Liverpool’s port, where the prizes were sold to benefit the owners, captains and crew.

Even in its day, privateering was a controversial part of colonial life. Critics viewed it to be little better than legalized piracy. Others defended it for generating important income and protecting the colony during this violent era.

To learn more about privateering, visit the Nova Scotia Archive’s excellent and informative virtual exhibit entitled “Spoils of War: Privateering in Nova Scotia.”