Fast Ships

Speed was one of the basic principles of privateering. Outfitters therefore preferred light, fast moving ships, and their preference influenced the way ships were built.

Shooner plans

Circa 1775, the Americans developed the first ship whose performance made it particularly well suited to privateeringCirca 1775, the Americans developed the first ship whose performance made it particularly well suited to privateering. The speed of the Americans' vessels was such that English merchants from the Gaspé soon took notice. Of course, these merchants were the targets of American privateers. In a letter to Governor Frederick Haldimand, William Smith and John Shoolbred described the ships of the American privateers who attacked them in these words:

The two privateers are small schooners of 35 to 50 tons, one mounting two guns and 16 swivels, and the other no guns and ten or twelve swivels. These vessels are extremely fit for the purpose, sail amazingly and run in a calm 4 & 5 knots with 12 to 16 bars each. The swivels were fired in the coaming of a hatchway running almost the length of vessel. The people by this means fought in the hold and were well covered having 40 or 42 men each.

Laval University library, FC 411 H159 A4, roll 105, page 27, 08/07/1778

A Model with Impressive Results


During the American Revolution, the success of American privateers with their vessels streamlined for privateering was both remarkable and significant. They were thus called upon to take part in the next conflict, the War of 1812.

In 1812, the American privateer vessel was in a class of its own. The British were quick to notice the excellent performance of this type of vessel. They also understood that it was to their advantage to build similar ships. With their light weight and their steeply inclined masts, the new English ships were prepared to face the American vessels.

In the past, privateering efforts had always focused on merchant ships. In the British-American war of 1812, many battles at sea took place on vessels built specifically for privateering.

The Main Privateer Vessels


Up until the end of the 18th century, the main ships used for privateering were the schooner and the brigantine, vessels generally used for carrying merchandise.

Light frigates were sometimes outfitted for privateering. Such was the case, for instance, when the king allowed a captain who was not a member of the Royal Navy to use one of the king's ships for privateering.

Larger ships of the line were generally excluded, except in cases where a Royal Navy ship was given a double tasking, such as to deliver supplies and combat enemies of the State.