The Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812

The War at Sea

Privateers Target Merchant Fleets

Sea warfare inevitably meant privateers as well. Their services were used by both sides. Thus the Americans hurriedly armed more than 500 ships, which took approximately 1,330 British merchant vessels. This was less impressive than it might appear, because the British merchant fleet comprised some 25,000 ships.

As for the British, Royal Navy ships patrolling the American coasts seized hundreds of enemy merchant vessels. And they were not alone in doing so! As soon as war erupted, Nova Scotia shipowners became particularly interested in obtaining "letters of marque," an official commission entitling a privateer ship to pursue enemy ships in wartime. Without such a document, privateers were considered pirates and outlaws. Once the letters had been obtained, several small, very fast ships hurriedly armed themselves and were remarkably successful. Approximately 50 privateer ships, which had left mainly from Liverpool and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, captured at least 207 American ships, which compares favourably to the number of privateer ships taken by the Americans. The most redoubtable of the Canadian privateers was the Liverpool Packet, which alone took approximately 50 ships - exploits worthy of the best adventure films.