Life Aboard A Letter of Marque

Ships Duke of Kent, Charles Mary Wentworth and Earl Spencer from a modern drawing by C.H.J. Snider

“Is a privateer a discreditable thing? I ask in pure ignorance.”
“Well, a privateer is there for a different motive altogether. A privateer does not fight for honour, but for gain. It is a mercenary. Profit is its raison d’être.”
 – Conversation between Stephen Maturin and James Dillon, Master and Commander

The Charles Mary Wentworth was a privateer/Letter of Marque based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. She was a very successful privateer in her short career (1798-1800). Designed and built in Liverpool, some have argued that she was the first warship ever built, crewed and commanded by Canadians. She captured 11 enemy vessels, some of them quite large, and also captured a Spanish island and fort off the coast of Venezuela. She more than paid for herself on her first voyage and earned spectacular profits on her second voyage with five large prizes. On subsequent cruizes, she was less successful and was eventually converted to an armed merchant ship. She capsized and sank in a storm in 1802, fortunately with no loss of life

Crew: 80
Tonnage: 130
Rig: full rigged ship
Prizes Taken: 11
Armament: 16 guns (4 & 6 pounders)
Captains: Joseph Freeman 1798, Thomas Parker 1799-1800
Homeport: Liverpool
Letter of Marque Issued: May 1798
Owners: J. Freeman, T. Bennett, S. Perkins, J. Barrs, S. Parker
Built: Liverpool, NS June 1798

Her logbook, found at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia (MG 20 Vol. 215 #10) documents a six month privateering voyage in the West Indies from November 1799 to June 1800. Below are excerpts allowing you to trace Wentworth’s long voyage.

A Journal, Kept By Benjamin Knaut during his Cruise on Board the Privateer Ship Charles Mary Wentworth, Thomas Parker Commander, Mounting 16 Carriage Guns fours & Sixes, Belonging to Liverpool NS.


Tus 26 Nov. 1799

This morning at 8 Am hauled off in the stream, fired a gun and let fall our three top sails, to call all hands on Board, the Sailing Master putting the ship in order for sea. At 4 PM handed the topsails, the Wind NW and fine clear weather the people getting their Clothes and small stores on board. Very cold.

Wed 27 Nov. – This morning, clear weather. Wind NW at 8 AM. Got the Ship underway and run down below the bar and let go an anchour in 4 fathom Water. In company with the Armed Duke of Kent, Capt. Joseph Freeman and armed schooner Lord Spencer, Capt. Joseph Barss when the Capt. & myself went on shore to collect all the people that were left behind, at 11 Am returned on board with some of the owners when we found the ship all ready for sea. at 12 Got under way and drifted down the Harbour – at 1 pm took our leave of the owners, fired a gun, and bore up for our intended Cruize.

A Storm

Fri 29 Nov – The first part Mod Breezes took in steering sails – At 11 PM stiff breezes took in the staysails, & single Reefed the topsails At 12 O’Clock close reefed the Topsails At 1 Am reefed the courses and landed the topsails At 2 handed the courses, and hove too under the mizzen staysail. At 8 Am sprung the Davits & filled the yawl, which obliged us to tumble? her and & take her in on Deck. At 12 PM lost sight of the Duke of Kent. At 2 PM lost sight of the Lord Spencer, the latter of the Night very heavy squalls with snow, & sleet, and a very tough sea going which made the ship leak about 700 strokes per hour. Kept both pumps going.

Thur 5 Dec – This 24 hours begins with hard gales, cloudy weather and a heavy sea. At 1 PM bore up and set the foresail & close reefed main topsail – At 3 Pm spoke the above Schnr from New London … At 4 set corse, reefed fore top sail, at 8 Am shook a reef out of the topsails, bent the mizzen topsails, At 9 AM Discovered sail in the NW standing to the Southward the ship still continuing to leak very badly and the crew some sick & others most wore out in pumping.

The Storm Abates

Sat 7 Dec – This 24 hours moderate and clear weather, got the yawl over the stern. At 4 PM got up the main & fore top G? masts. At 7 PM 2 reef the topsails, stowed the jib. At 8 PM got up two gunns out of the wardroom and fixed them, the gunner and mate fixing all the guns fore and aft, the master of arms cleaning the small arms. At 9 shook 1 reef out of each topsail set the jib, got up the mizzen top gallant mast Clear and pleasant weather the people getting better of their colds.

9 Dec. – Moderate breezes with pleasant weather. All hands drying their Clothes … got up the remainder of the guns and put them all in good order, the gunner making new sponges, the master at arms & marines employed at putting the muskets in good order for fighting The people complaining like Devils, the ship Leaking about 400 strokes an Hour

12 Dec. – [Crossing Tropic of Cancer]

This 24 hours attended with stiff Breezes and fine clear weather all sails set, the people employed doing ships duty, at 6 AM Old Neptune paid us a visit when he found 23 of his children who had not been to sear before, he made them all go thro the usual custom of shaving & ducking, gave them his advice, and then left us after the same time discovered a sail to the Eastward and bore up to speak with her, at 12 O’Clock on board, fine pleasant Weather Neptune dined with us today.

13 Dec. – First part middle clear and pleasant weather, fresh breezes – a 2 PM spoke the chase after giving her 5 shots, proved to be a schooner from Salem bound to Montnico 16 days out, John Gray Master. [Being a neutral vessel, she is released.] Made sail, at 4 PM Examined the great guns and small arms … latter part squally took in the light sails and single reefed the topsails, at 10 AM set top gallants sails, both pumps choked with gravel.

14 Dec. – …at 3 PM hoisted out the larboard pump and cleaned out the limber, put some cork in the bottom and made it work again. At 10 AM got the boarding nettings in their places, the marines cleaning thier muskets, the people employed … blacking the waist cloths and putting them on the side. painted the cutter, and got the cables ready for bending to the anchors – Pleasant weather.

15 Dec. All hands attending prayer. The Doctor seating us aft for the sermon.

16 Dec. – At 9 AM discovered a sail to leeward running West by West – gave chase, at 12 AM gave two her bow guns then she hove too.

17 Dec. – …At 1 PM we came a longside when she proved to be the schnr Betsy belonging to New Providence from Charlestown bound to Martinico but was taken by a French Corsaire of 16 guns & 40 men 10 days before … took the Prisoners out and put Mr. Tupper with 3 hands on board to take charge for St. Kitts … At 10 AM made the Island of Antiqua bore off Southwest, Dist 5 Leagues all well on board, the prize astern.

This report was sent to the British government in 1799 by the Governor of Nova Scotia, to demonstrate the effectiveness of Nova Scotian privateers. It is noteworthy for the ambitious scope of operations which include attacking and capturing Spanish island forts as well as chasing enemy shipping all over the Caribbean Sea.

Source: Public Archives of Nova Scotia CO 217 Vol. 70 Microfilm Reel 13866, page 193.


The enclosed Journal of Proceedings of a Privateer fitted out & armed at Liverpool in this Province proves the great enterprize and spirit of the people & that they are useful to His Majestys Service by destroying the Forts, Ordnance & munitions of his En emies as well as in capturing their property & destroying their commerce in which they have been particularly active and happily successful having taken and brought in prizes condemned to them in the Court of V. Admiralty of this province, upon the author ity of the instructions first mentioned to amount of forty thousand pounds Sterling.
I have the honour… SIGNED J. Wentworth

“The Private Ship of war Charles Mary Wentworth Sailed on A Cruize June 19 1799 Joseph Freeman Commander —

July 6th made the Island of PortiRico & on the 7th Day was brought too by the Castor Frigate which pressed one of our men.

July the 8th Captured a French Schooner called the Josephina Ladened with die wood and Tobacco.

July 15 – made the Spanish Main Near Laguira ?at this time Discovered two Sail of men of war in chase after us. Night coming on Lost Sight of them.
July 16th Discovered a sail to leeward, gave Chase after him, he being near the land ran into a Small Bay and Came to anchor. Sent the boats in pursuit after her. At coming alongside & finding no one there but two prisoners that was in irons which were soon relieved. The Capt & crew had got on shore with their trunks and A large Sum of Money. The Above vessel being a Spanish Packet From St. Domingo bound to Laguira there being one Priest a Passenger who had made his Escape on shore & his trunk was lef t on shore with every article in it and Every thing belonging to him.

On the 17th at 10 P.M. sent the boats in to Comana bay with 18 men under the Command of Lieutenant Joseph Barss to see if there was any vessels in the bay and for the purpose of Destroying a Fort that was there which mounted 18- 12- and nine Pounders whic h they Spiked up and hove them down A High bank into the Sea. at daylight the boats returned with the Powder from the magazine and Muskets taken from the Soldiers and Spunges & rammers —

July the 22 brought too and detained Fish boat, given information of 2 vessels that was to anchor under the lea of the Island of Conoma?? made sail & ??n in to the bay at 12 at Night Sent the boats to examin the bay they finding no vesels there thought pr oper to go an destroy the Fort of 5 – 12 pounders – which they did with the Loss of Lieutenant Nathaniel Freeman who behaved on all Expeditions Smart and Active For to Support the British Flag and his King and Country — at daylight the boats returned wi th the Powder from the Magazine and A number of Muskets and the Governor of the Island and four of the Gunners that belonged To the Fort
July the 24th Captured a Spanish Schooner Called the Nostra Senora del Carmen From Porto Cavelloa Bound to Curasoa Lading with Indigo and Cotton and A Number of 12 and 24 pound Shot. on the 25th Sent her away For Liverpool —

July the 30 Gave chase to A small French Privateer, She being near the land Got into a Harbour and came to anchor there not being water for the Ship to go in. Saw a Great Number of Spaniards Come to Assist them.

August the 9 Left the Spanish Main and stood for Curasoa for the Purpose of Examining the Island.

August the 10 made the Island Examined the Harbour Saw two Dutch Frigates there one having her Sails bent and ready for sea the other her Topmast Laucned and very few men on board Saw a number of small privateer? in the harbour, by the Best information t hat I Could boast there were 600 Cannon mounted on the Island

August the 10 Took our departure from Curasoa on the 13th made the Island of Hispaniola

August 22 Parted with the Duke of Kent/Consort Privateer
on the 23 Day took our departure from the Island of Tortorico? and made Sail to the Northward. 11 Sept Arrived in Liverpool Nova Scotia —

Courtesy of Dan Conlin.

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