THE PRIVATEERS—PART TAKEN BY MERCHANT SAILORS IN BUILDING UP THE PRIVATEERING SYSTEM—LAWLESS STATE OF THE HIGH SEAS—METHOD OF DISTRIBUTING PRIVATEERING PROFITS—PICTURESQUE FEATURES OF THE CALLING—THE GENTLEMEN SAILORS—EFFECT ON THE REVOLUTIONARY ARMY—PERILS OF PRIVATEERING—THE OLD JERSEY PRISON SHIP—EXTENT OF PRIVATEERING—EFFECT ON AMERICAN MARINE ARCHITECTURE—SOME FAMOUS PRIVATEERS—THE “CHASSEUR,” THE “PRINCE DE NEUFCHATEL,” THE “MAMMOTH”—THE SYSTEM OF CONVOYS AND THE “RUNNING SHIPS”—A TYPICAL PRIVATEERS’ BATTLE—THE “GENERAL ARMSTRONG” AT FAYAL—SUMMARY OF THE WORK OF THE PRIVATEERS
In the early days of a new community the citizen, be he never so peaceful, is compelled, perforce, to take on the ways and the trappings of the fighting man. The pioneer is half hunter, half scout. The farmer on the outposts of civilization must be more than half a soldier; the cowboy or ranchman on our southwest frontier goes about a walking arsenal, ready at all times to take the laws into his own hands, and scorning to call on sheriffs or other peace officers for protection against personal injury. And while the original purpose of this militant, even defiant, attitude is self-protection, those who are long compelled to maintain it conceive a contempt for the law, which they find inadequate to guard them, and not infrequently degenerate into bandits.
It is hardly too much to say that the nineteenth century was already well into its second quarter before there was a semblance of recognized law upon the high seas. Pirates and buccaneers, privateers, and the naval vessels of the times that were little more than pirates, made the lot of the merchant sailor of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a precarious one. Wars were constant, declared on the flimsiest pretexts and with scant notice; so that the sailor putting out from port in a time of universal peace could feel no certainty that the first foreign vessel he met might not capture him as spoil of some war of which he had no knowledge. Accordingly, sailors learned to defend themselves, and the ship’s armory was as necessary and vastly better stocked than the ship’s medicine case. To point a carronade became as needful an accomplishment as to box the compass; and he was no A.B. who did not know how to swing a cutlass.