Notes on privateering in the Seven Year War

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Privteering in the Seven Years War


This article by Ralph Mollet was first published in the 1957 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

A Privateer was an armed vessel belonging to a private owner, commissioned by a belligerent State, to carry on operations of war. The commission is known a Letter of Marque, and these were only abolished in 1870.

Seven Years War

Jersey found hereself in the midst of the Seven Years War which broke out in 1756 between England and France. Alarms were continual and the Island Militia was always on guard. An Act of the States in February 1756 reports that 1,500 muskets with bayonets were sent from His Majesty for the use of the Island Militia, and lodged in the Castle.

These arms were distributed through the Constables of the parishes for delivery to the five Regiments. The Constables had to supply cartridges, balls and flints and were responsible for the care of these arms.

Although no combat took place on Jersey soil during this conflict, it was not so at sea. Jersey equipped a number of privateers, and many men and boys seeking adventure and gain left their usual occupations to hunt for enemy vessels.

The Island Militia became depleted of men to the detriment of the security of their Island. The authorities in vain tried to stop this exodus. In December 1757 Clement Messervy, captain of the privateer Dragon of Guernsey, was condemned by the Royal Court of Jersey to pay a fine of 200 livres for having engaged Jerseymen without the consent of the Chief Magistrate.

The large number of privateers armed to harass the enemy and spoil his commerce were not always victorious and charged with prizes, on several occasions the loss of life was considerable. The Duke of Cumberland, Captain Philip Seward, fought an engagement at the end of December 1757 and lost 12 men, including Jean Arthur and George Maret.

In 1759 five transports arrived full of prisoners of war, much to the annoyance to the Islanders. On 28 January the Royal Court ordered the Captains of these Transports to leave the Island.

A C Saunders, in his article on the Corsaires of Jersey mentions La Defiance arriving in the roads outside St Helier on 30 June 1757 with two large prizes, in Command of Captain Le Cronier. During this year Le Cronier captured no fewer than nine vessels of the value of 486,440 livres.

Saunders also mentions the following ships:

  • Le Burnett with 27 men
  • Boscawen, Capt Pierre Labey
  • La Delavarde, Capt George Messervy
  • La Revenge, Capt Charles Alexandre
  • L'Elizabeth, Capt Jean Arthur
  • L'Actif, Capt Jacques Balleine

Capt Fiott was another very successful privateer, capturing many prizes.

Many documents concerning privateers are preserved in the library of La Société Jersiaise, including the vessels Phoenix, Duke of Cumberland, Minerve, Roy de Prusse, Tartar, Defiance, Earl of Granville, Pierre, Burnett and Balthide, all belonging to Daniel Messervy.

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