American Privateers in
The War Of 1812 

Bob Rowen, ©2001-8

A paper originally delivered to The New York Military Affairs Symposium
on October 19, 2001 at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York,
revised for web publication, © 2006-8

[Please note: The unusual formatting of the paper below is an experiment
in making long documents readable on a computer screen. 
Delighted to get your questions, contributions, comments or concerns about the layout, form or content of this work. 


About 20 years ago, a cousin of mine who had been collecting family histories and doing genealogy, turned over to me hundreds of pages, copies of her work, family trees and genealogy forms and interviews, that she felt I might be able to computerize.

It was five or six years before I worked up the courage to even begin looking through this formidable pile. Browsing through it all, spotting familiar names and some unfamiliar ones, I was surprised to find one piece of paper. This had events on it I had never heard of, history I was completely unfamiliar with and characters whose only connection was an ancestral last name.

Because part of my family is Irish, I telephoned the elderly aunt who had written this page in 1943, an interview she had had with a great-uncle, to ask if this might be Blarney. No. This was the Scottish side of the family. Not into spinning tales. Nor was my aunt. Definitely lace-curtain on the Irish side and she assured me,
#1: the uncle was never a story-teller and
#2 she had written down exactly what he had said:


Two brothers, conscripted off Isle of Skye, Scotland, on English man of War to America.

Both brothers helped build privatier (sic) Gen. Armstrong War 1812.

They stayed with the ship until wrecked.



What could this mean? Privatier? Pirates? Like Jean Lafitte or Burt Lancaster in The Crimson Pirate? My ancestors?

On the other hand, to me, like so many Americans, The War of 1812 was one of those minor conflicts, ambiguous in outcome. Not WWII or The Civil War. Perhaps best described as a war between wars: between The American Revolution and The Mexican-American War or certainly The Civil War.

Only when I became involved with NYMAS and weekly heard a parade of lauded historians, authors of dozens of books, authoritative experts and the probing of primary sources and the re-spinning of the past, did I begin to take this seriously.


I'll confess to having started my research, not on computer, but from some of the dustiest books in the New York Public Library's Research Branch. But there it was: General Armstrong parenthesis (ship) published as early as 1833.


And within the text, I found almost a lifetime of research, at least for an inventive history buff:

Here are two references I found within those dusty volumes. The first records ex-President Teddy Roosevelt talking to the book's author from the railing of a ship anchoring in the harbor of a port on an island in the mid-Atlantic:



"In there," said the ex-President, pointing eagerly as our anchors rumbled down, "was waged one of the most desperate sea-fights ever fought, and one of the least known; in there lies the wreck of the General Armstrong, the privateer that stood off twenty times her strength in British men and guns, and thereby saved Louisiana from invasion."

My second initial find was a letter by a British eyewitness on shore during the sea-fight in 1814:

"After burning the privateer, (Captain) Lloyd made a demand of the governor to deliver up the Americans as his prisoners, which the governor refused. He threatened to send five hundred men on shore and take them by force. The Americans immediately retired, with their arms, to an old Gothic convent; knocked away the adjoining drawbridge, and determined to defend themselves to the last. (Lloyd), however, thought better than to send his men. He then demanded two men, who, he said, deserted from his vessel when in America."



Ultimately, I consulted a hundred books plus original documents in the Admiralty and Foreign Office files at the Public Record Office in the UK, the National Archives and the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, and did online interviews with descendents of both the American captain and the British captain. (Incidentally, over all, the event with the General Armstrong seems to be mentioned in perhaps a quarter of the War of 1812 literature.)


The facts seem to be these:


The ship The General Armstrong

named after the Secretary of War, was built in 1812 in a very busy shipyard on New York's East River by the brothers Adam and Noah Brown. The shipyard was at the end of Houston Street and the money was put up by Renssalear Havens and other New York investors who would, after clearance by a prize court, share the proceeds from their captures with the captain, crew, American Marines and other stockholders.


Samuel Chester ReidReid.jpg (219404 bytes)

was the second captain of the Armstrong, born in Norwich, Connecticut, in 1783, son of a British Naval officer. The senior Reid was taken prisoner in a night boat expedition at New London, Connecticut, and afterward resigned his commission to become an American citizen. At the age of eleven the son went to sea, was captured by a French privateer and confined for six months at Basseterre, Guadeloupe.





The actual event:

September 26, 1814. Sundown. In the North Atlantic, in the Azores. about 1/3 of the way between Portugal and the United States in the neutral Portuguese port of Fayal (Faial). The American privateer, the GENERAL ARMSTRONG, is taking on water and supplies. Three British men-of-war unexpectedly appear, sailing into the mouth of the harbor. The British commander, Robert Lloyd, irrationally seems to delay his mission which was to join the flotilla assembling in the Caribbean for the Battle of New Orleans;

Crews from His Majesty's Ships Plantagenet, Rota and Carnation make two attempts to board the American ship.

In the first attempt, the British squadron sent boats in to reconnoiter but they were driven off by American gunfire. Then, at 8PM, four boats (were launched) from PLANTAGENET and three from ROTA, containing 180 seamen and marines, (and) about midnight began a major attack, attempting to board the schooner over the bow and the starboard quarter. The Americans opened fire with long 9-pounders and a swivel gun and the boats replied with their carronades. The British failed to cut through the netting on the quarter as pistols and muskets were fired at them at point blank range and long pikes were thrust in their faces and they retired to their boats. The attack over the bow nearly succeeded but Capt. Reid led the aft guard forward and turned the tide.

The next day British Captain Lloyd ordered HMS CARNATION to close with the schooner but was kept out of range by the American's single long 42-pounder gun.

At this point, however, Captain Reid realized that the long term position was hopeless so he scuttled his ship; he apparently took the 42-pound swivel gun, pointed it down the hatchway, and blew a hole in the bottom of the Armstrong. Two Americans had been killed in the battle and all the rest of the men escaped safely to the Island's shore.

But the British squadron was seriously depleted in manpower by (depending on the source) from 75 to 300 sailors and marines and -- was therefore said to be late in arriving at New Orleans and this might have had an effect on subsequent history.



A Famous event:

When the Armstrong's crew returned to the United States, they were feted with banquets and speeches, up the East Coast from Charleston to Boston.

And the story of the American privateer General Armstrong in the Azores became a widely known subject of illustration, poetry and song in the USA of the 1800s and thereafter.

GA.jpg (633106 bytes)
[Currier print]

A hand-colored Nathaniel Currier print (before he joined with Ives, circa 1830s, from his shop in downtown NYC on Nassau Street. Color done by immigrant girls, often German with some art education, each one applying a different color in an assembly-line fashion. )

[Sheet music from 1843, "The Yankee Boy"]

The fourth from the last stanza reads,

In all of those troubles I had to be there

Imprest and in prison in Battles to share

In the Brig General Armstrong I was in Fayal

Where by scores British seamen had to fall.



A Senate Report published in 1880 concluded:

It is therefore evident that the heroic actions of Captain Reid and his brave officers and crew saved New Orleans from conquest by England; for had the British forces arrived even one week before General Jackson, they would have captured the city, which was then utterly defenseless….

And in 1886, the Cincinnati Inquirer, published a spinoff:

It is therefore incontrovertible that the heroic action of the Armstrong saved New Orleans from conquest by England; for had the British forces arrived even one week before General Jackson, they would have captured the city, which was at that time was utterly defenseless. (Cincinnati Inquirer, Jan, 1886)


Who else says so?

German painter Emanuel Leutze (who also painted "Washington Crossing the Delaware")
did this rendition of the battle.




Historian John Van Duyn Southworth in The Age Of Sails: war at sea, says

General Andrew Jackson later told Capt. Reid that "If there had been no Battle of Fayal, there would have been no Battle of New Orleans." Reid had delayed the British expedition against New Orleans for ten days allowing Jackson to arrive there earlier. Thus, Louisiana and the Northwest Territory might now be British if Reid had not engaged them in what has been called one of the world's most decisive naval battles.


When a young Teddy Roosevelt wrote his dissertation at Harvard on the Naval War of 1812, he said:

The British squadron was bound for New Orleans, and, on account of the delay and loss that it suffered, it was late in arriving, so that this action may be said to have helped in saving the Crescent City. Few regular commanders could have done as well as Captain Reid.


But was this merely an incident, now forgotten?

Just so it is clear that this continues down into recent times, if you look up


in Compton's Encyclopedia Online v3.0 © 1998 The Learning Company, Inc.

Reid, Samuel Chester (1783-1861), U.S. Navy officer, born in Norwich, Conn.; commanded privateer General Armstrong in War of 1812;   in repulsing a British attack at Fayal, 1814, he detained British ships on their way to New Orleans, La., thereby enabling Gen. Andrew Jackson to make adequate preparations to save the city


And this, from the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 1967 93(11): 157-160:

Abstract of an article

Describes the defense the U.S. privateer General Armstrong

made against a superior British squadron in Fayal Roads,

Azores, in September and October 1814. The Americans

finally had to scuttle their battered ship, but the action

delayed the British squadron 10 days in arriving at Jamaica,

where they were to join the British expedition to attack New

Orleans. Thus the British arrived late at New Orleans, giving

General Andrew Jackson time to set up an adequate

defense of the city. Undocumented, 2 illus.

(bold face by this author)



And ultimately, this idea
was carved in stone:

"If there had been no Battle of Fayal, there would have been no Battle of New Orleans."

[Photos of Reid monument, Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn]


The speculation:

So I laid out the three lines from my aunt and all this accumulated information I had found and it started to make sense. "If there had been no Battle of Fayal, there would have been no Battle of New Orleans."


Well, with that kind of logic and a hefty admixture of speculation and imagination, I began to imagine a sweeping drama. A friend suggested my ancestor could be played by Mel Gibson with Charlie Sheehan as his brother. As for British commander Lloyd, what a great, villainous role for Charles Laughton if he were still alive, or today perhaps an even better role for Anthony Hopkins at his Hannibal Lector best.

This drama would perhaps begin at a moment in time when a dirty look by an impressed Scotsman named Mackie, my ancestor, evolves into a string of circumstances ending with the collapse of British hopes for empire in the Western Hemisphere and with the rise of the American nation.


Without the details and spun from my aunt's brief notes, I began to imagine, obviously more as fiction than as history, a scenario where

Click on the map for a much larger image

[Speculative MAP]

  1. The brothers, while fishing off the coast of Scotland, are taken and impressed into the British Navy

  2. They end up on Captain Lloyd's ship, (possibly the Guerriere which was defeated by the USS Constitution very early in the War)

  3. They are either among the prisoners in Boston or they jump ship, possibly off the coast of Virginia or in Long Island Sound

  4. Make there way to NYC, get jobs as ship fitters building the General Armstrong with Noah and Adam Brown at the end of Houston Street on the East River

  5. Sail with the General Armstrong on its many voyages

  6. When British Captain Lloyd sails into the harbor in the Azores and sees the General Armstrong, he spies the Mackies aboard.  In a brief moment, as the Plantagenet glides past the Armstrong, Lloyd loses his mind, swears to avenge their desertion and to retake his former crewmembers no matter what…

I imagined entitling all this "Twist of Fate"


The questions:

Was it true? So while my curiosity about my ancestors, typical of genealogical pursuits, was egotistical, self-centered and vanity-driven, the subsequent questions this led to are perhaps of historical interest:

  1. Why did British Captain Robert Lloyd attack the Armstrong when he had other orders and despite being in a neutral port?

  2. Did the attack really delay the assembly of the British expedition against New Orleans?

  3. Did the delay, as so many historians have asserted, really cause the British to lose the Battle of New Orleans?

  4. If the British HAD WON at New Orleans, would they have ignored the Peace Treaty of 1814 and ruled the middle of America?


And if my ancestors, the General Armstrong, Reid, or Lloyd didn't delay the British from starting the Battle of New Orleans, WHAT DID?

I will not be able to answer all these questions. Besides, 'what-if' is not history. But examining them, I've found, reveals a rich history of the Making of America and some examples of what research into primary sources can reveal. I'd like to share some of this examination with you.



First, let me give you some background on the history and causes of the War of 1812 and give some detail on Privateers and on Impressment:


A Short History of the War of 1812


The United States declared war on England in June of 1812. President James Madison and the US Congress, especially southern and western representatives, felt it had been treated with contempt by England and the cry was "Free Trade and Sailors' Rights"

  • It was Free Trade versus Great Britain's Orders In Council which required US ships to stop at a British port and get a license to trade on the French-dominated Continent - a measure the British had taken as part of the long and ongoing Napoleonic Wars.

  • It was Sailors Rights against Britain's impressment of American seaman into the Royal Navy.

Though not a stated war aim, the conquest of Canada was a big factor. Westerners and Southerners backed it. There were 5 attempts to do it. And none of them worked out. Even tho Thomas Jefferson had said that the annexation of Canada to the US "was merely a matter of marching."  There were plenty of disappointments.


It's not easy to characterize the War of 1812. Let's say that if the transatlantic cable had been operational 44 years earlier, this war might not have begun at all, and it certainly wouldn't have ended as it did.

It was a war of disconnects, and of surprises. For example:

  • A key cause, the squelching of free trade by the British - The Orders In Council, were suspended in London just 3 days before the US Congress declared war. We just didn't know it.

  • This is a war in which the Royal Navy outnumbers the US almost 100 to 1. And yet London shipowners are begging for protection from American ships-in the Irish Sea and waters around the UK!  And that, of course, is where American privateers will come in.

  • This is a war in which an army gets to take and burn the other side's capital city, Washington, DC. But it doesn't make much difference.

  • Militarily, four of Britain's best, most experienced generals, are killed on the field of battle on American soil.

  • The most glorious land battle, at least to the Americans, was fought over two weeks after a treaty of peace was signed: that is, the Battle of New Orleans.

  • And after the Battle of New Orleans, the British go on to take a key U.S. installation, the installation in Mobile Harbor which, if taken on their first attempt two months earlier, probably would have led to a British victory at New Orleans.

  • Before the year 1812, the United States could have as easily have gone to war with France. Pickering claims that in 1795 alone the French captured 316 American ships.  (cited in The Quasi-War: The Politics and Diplomacy of the Undeclared War with France 1797-1801)


I'll shortly get to the very important issue of impressment, but after extensive examination, I'd say that perhaps behind every war is national attitude and nothing could be more true of the War of 1812:

British attitudes toward America

"First, it should be said that the entirety of the War of 1812 was very small change in British minds; in London the real problem was Napoleon, not a gaggle of far-off and half-baked ex-colonials with an attitude."  (MARHST-L)


After the war of 1812, an American was upbraiding an Englishman for his ignorance of events: The American asked "Did you know that the British burned Washington?" "No." said the Englishman, "But I know we burned Joan of Arc."


Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, British commander-in-chief during the attacks on Washington and Baltimore and naval commander of the expedition to New Orleans, wrote of the Americans, "They are a whining, canting race much like the spaniel -- and require the same treatment--(they) must be drubbed into good manners."  (Christopher T. George) Quoted in Walter Lord, The Dawn's Early Light. New York: W. W. Norton, 1972, 35.

Possibly his hatred of Americans had a personal origin: his elder brother, on October 17, 1781, had been standing next to Cornwallis at Yorktown, when his head was shot off by an American cannonball. (Christopher T. George)  We'll hear more about Admiral Cochrane as he leads the naval expedition to New Orleans, which Lloyd is to join.


Perhaps the most stunning event was the burning of Washington; but this event has perhaps more  to do with the needs of American patriotic feeling than strategic necessity.  Now, the British usually pass it off as payback for American burning of York in Ontario. (York, it should be noted, is now Toronto.)  However, the US soldiers had run amok at York and that burning was against orders. But Washington was burned according to orders and the London Statesman said, "The (KAH-sacks) Cossacks spared Paris but we spared not the capitol of America." and were joined by some Members of Parliament. (Hickey). But when the news of the burning of Washington reached London, there were celebrations and bonfires in the streets.


Now, in military history in general, if you capture your enemy's capital city, you win the war; does that mean the capture of Washington D. C. meant the British won the War?

Except for a few big, government buildings, Washington was a small town, parts still swamp. Simply, it wasn't Moscow, Paris or London. The Government had only been there for 14 years and congressmen called it "wilderness city," or "Capital of Miserable Huts". There had even been talk of moving the Capitol.

But the burning became important in the American mind. Perhaps even more important was:



For America and American pride, perhaps the biggest single cause of the War of 1812 was impressment. The Royal Navy, just between the years of 1803 and 1810, had taken at least forty-five hundred American sailors from US ships; students of the Jeffersonian administration will know of the USS Chesapeake incident in 1807 where the Royal Navy forcibly took four sailors off a US Navy vessel and ended up hanging at least one of them.

Now, in all this, my ancestors would not have been among the more than 6,000 Americans wrongly impressed into Royal Navy floating hells. As British subjects, they would have been rightly and legally  impressed into Royal Navy floating hells.

During the peacetime that preceded the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy had about 10,000 men; by the War of 1812, the number had risen to 140,000. The overwhelming majority of these men came from The Press. To maintain the navy's strength, the press gangs were constantly at work. Not only did they have to replace men who were killed or died in service, but they also had to replace the countless vacancies created by desertion. Lord Nelson estimated that between 1793 and 1801 perhaps as many as 40,000 men deserted the navy.

The British also boarded hundreds of American ships on the high seas, hauling off droves of their own sailors who had deserted to the growing American merchant fleet, which offered better pay and conditions.  During a six-year period through 1810, the more than 4,500 sailors the British snatched off American vessels, included 1,361 native-born Americans, who were later freed with few apologies.


Madison's report to Congress, recommending war, said,

Under the pretext of impressing British seamen, our fellow-citizens are seized in British ports, on the high seas, and in every other quarter to which the British power extends, are taken on board British men-of-war and compelled to serve there as British subjects. In this mode our citizens are wantonly snatched from their country and their families, deprived of their liberty, and doomed to an ignominious and slavish bondage, compelled to fight the battles of a foreign country, and often to perish in them.

Any English-speaking sailor was in danger of being impressed. Especially with a Scottish, Irish or English brogue. But it was all problematic because 25 years before, all Americans were English citizens. Until 1850, England did not recognize the right of a man to renounce his nationality.

A case is reported where a Royal Navy captain listened to the protests of a newly impressed sailor who claimed he was an American. The Captain looked down his nose, "Why, you're nothing but a Scotsman!" (Durand)

During the War, 23 American prisoners of war claimed by Britain as its subjects, some of whom had been naturalized in America, were sent to England for trial as traitors, leading to threats of retaliation. The issue was resolved by stipulation in the agreement of 16 July 1814 on the exchange of prisoners.


The US Government instituted Seamen's Protection Certificates beginning in 1806 but the English said you could buy papers in any American port for a dollar.

And with the war against Napoleon, the Royal Navy was hungry for seamen.

Let me quote here the tail-end of the story of the General Armstrong in the Battle in the Azores; this is from a recounting done by the American consul-general on the island:

"Since this affair, the commander, Lloyd, threatened to send on shore an armed force, and arrest the privateer's crew, saying there were many Englishmen among them. …... At length, Captain Lloyd, fearful of losing more men, if he put his threats in execution, adopted this stratagem:

He addressed an official letter to the Governor, stating that in the American crew were two men who deserted from his squadron in America, and as they were guilty of high treason, he required them to be found and given up." (Cogg / JOHN B. DABNEY)

This was at a time when commanders of British warships patrolled the Atlantic, short of seamen in their own ships, pressed American merchant seamen into service. When boarding a U.S. ship for inspection, British officers frequently demanded a muster of the ship’s crew in order to search for deserters.

This could have happened to my ancestors….

My ancestors and their crewmates might have been under just such a threat. I've speculated that they may have changed their names for this reason and therefore I could never pinpoint them in documents. But at least -- it's the instigation for this pursuit in history

In Scotland, during the Napoleonic Wars, impressment was taken with anguish but inevitably for granted. The Royal Navy press gangs ashore might do their "recruiting" in daylight or at midnight at the local pub. But my ancestors as fishermen would have definitely been 1-A in the regulations called "Who the Gang might Press". In Scotland in this era, some towns tried to mitigate the randomness of the pressgang by having town elders confer and then offer up young men without family obligations so the town wouldn't have to support the families of pressed men. Here, of course, are the beginnings of The Draft Board.

According to Jerome Garitee's great book on privateering from Baltimore, The Republic's Private Navy, American citizenship was required to join the crew of an American privateer. All carried Seamen's Protection Certificates - if one were found falsely issued, it would confirm the British presumption and imperil the POW status of the entire crew.

My surmise is that my ancestors were "hot potatoes" as un-naturalized Scotsmen on the General Armstrong.  If captured they may have been identified by a British officer who would then use his discovery as a pretext for grabbing many more sailors. For the Scotsmen, the penalty was not just re-impressment but hanging for desertion and high-treason. If they had papers, legitimate or otherwise, they may have flung them overboard. Or they may have taken assumed names from the beginning.


Let me quote here A British/Canadian Perspective (Galafilm)

Sea power was Britain's pride and glory, and it was imperative to its defense. In the early 1800s, Britain was engaged in a life-and-death struggle with the Napoleonic Empire, and the Royal Navy was the only thing that prevented Napoleon from crossing the Channel and conquering Britain.

Despite the navy's acute need for sailing crews, thousands of British seamen chose to jump ship in favour of a more comfortable and profitable position with the American merchant marine.

Wartime necessity justified the recapture of "deserters" from any ship. Even deserters who had adopted the American nationality were not immune from seizure as the Royal Navy adhered to a principle of inalienable British citizenship. Besides, American citizenship certificates were frequently assumed to be forged.

An American Perspective

The British Royal Navy was a notorious floating hell. The pay was low, when it was paid at all, shipboard conditions were miserable, and there was the ever-present risk of death or injury in battle. Small wonder then, that so many British sailors chose to abandon the Royal Navy for the rapidly expanding American merchant marine, which offered better pay and better conditions. ….and once the War of 1812 began, if a deserter could get on the crew of a fast American privateer and share in it's prizes, why that would be going from Hell to Heaven.

When British commanders began to board American ships in search of Royal Navy deserters, the Americans were highly offended. First of all, searching an American ship was an insult to national sovereignty. Secondly, legitimate Americans were sometimes "impressed" into British service on the pretext that they were British deserters. As there were no obvious differences in physical appearance, language or clothing, the British Navy was able to abduct as many as 6,000 Americans in the early 1800s.



Again, the cry in the US was "Sailors' Rights and Free Trade" with the human emphasis on Sailors' Rights - that is, freedom from the threat of impressment.

Now, as to the Heaven an impressed sailor could escape to …………



Privateers -who were they in military history?

At the beginning of the War of 1812, the American Navy consisted of about 16 major vessels, having in all 442 guns.

By contrast, the Royal Navy, tho focused mostly on Napoleon, consisted of over 1,500 vessels of war. It was a Navy with 30 continuous years of conflict behind it.

But during the fall and winter of 1812-13, American privateers, swarming the Atlantic, captured 500 British vessels.


Many people use the words pirate and privateer interchangeably but they are not the same thing.






Was the government's seaborne force

Had government authorization - a business venture


Destroyed, and sometimes captured the enemy

Captured declared-enemy's ships

Captured targets of opportunity

Took & shared prizes too but not first priority

Split with the government

Kept it all

In war or peace

Only in war

In war or peace

Fought under its true flag

Never fired a gun under false colors, tho might approach with one.

Usually fired a gun under false colors

A pirate was an individual who acted on his own, rather than in the interests of a particular nation, and attacked almost any vessel on the seas for his own gain, while a privateer usually acted for a specific country when that country was at odds with another.

The privateer was used as a tool to economically and militarily hurt another country. They were granted Letters of Marque, a license to attack enemy ships without retaliation from the issuing country.

Simply, a privateer is a privately financed, owned, outfitted, crewed, and operated armed vessel -- a private warship -- allowed forth under government license to attack the vessels of a declared national enemy, for profit. Thus, unlike pirates, who are simply criminal, privateers are quite legitimate. Also, their activity must cease with peace; anything further indeed is piracy, and so recognized internationally.

Because the United States began the War of 1812 with 16 Navy ships, the enlistment of 1,400 additional fighting ships - privateers- by War's end was important. There were complaints that the appeal and potential profit of privateer service made it more difficult for the US to enlist crew in the regular Navy but under some circumstances, the US Navy also took and shared prizes too.



In New York City, what the business was to 1999, privateering was to 1812

It was Patriotism AND profit - sometimes big profits. A number of investors could put up perhaps $40,000 (1813) dollars to build and arm a sloop (figure $1.5 million today). The average prize proceeds were $116,712 per privateer (although the privateer America took $700,000 = perhaps a hundred million today)

Here was a thoroughly incentive-based system. After the US took a portion, officers and crew generally received one-half of all the proceeds generated by the sale of captured ships and their cargoes, the other half was distributed to the investors.

[Armstrong stock certificate]




Since most crewmen earned from two to four shares, this meant that in the typical privateer cruise of three months, a man might earn the equivalent of eighteen months' wages, and sometimes even more (Garitee 1977, 193-94).

On the other hand, some privateers captured little or nothing or were captured or destroyed themselves.

There's a wonderful paper by a Texas economics professor, Larry J. Sechrest, on the web called Naval Warfare for Private Profit. In it, he says,

Privateering was not a worthless anachronism. It was a powerful method by which maritime nations could discourage aggressors without indulging in the massive public expenditures needed to maintain a large public navy. Indeed, it was, on occasion, publicly acknowledged to be more effective than public navies.

In addition, since the British blockade and war in general had reduced US imports to 10% of their pre-war total, the captured English merchant ships that the American privateers sent into NY, Baltimore, Charleston, etc., brought scarce supplies to the American economy.


The war lasted about 31 months, a bit short of three years; in that time, American privateers took some 1,800 British merchantmen, an average of about two per day, 60 per month, and at times brought vital British sea trade to a virtual halt. There was a time when British soldiers in the Peninsula Campaign in Spain were not paid because of American privateers.

To show that everyone wanted to get into the business, I found at the National Archives what looked like a Letter of Marque for a large rowboat. Sure enough, I later found a record of an English merchantman with $20,000 worth of goods on board, which was captured off George's River, by a row-boat privateer, and sent into a neighboring port. (Cogges)


Privateering goes back a log way. "by mid 1700s [privateering] was carefully regulated, respectable and as law abiding as the navy," according to Daniel Conlin, Curator of Marine History at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The British had privateers. So did the French and the Canadians. One Canadian privateer waited off Cape Cod to snatch American merchantmen coming from Boston.

It was not enough to build and outfit a vessel for privateering activity, one also had to post a bond in order to guarantee compliance with international laws of the sea. The intent was to make sure that privateers did not degenerate into pirates. Such "letters-of-Marque" or "surety" bonds were usually in the amount of either $5,000 or $10,000

Again, what distinguished a privateer from a pirate was its license, its Letter of Marque.

[Letter of Marque] authorizing James M. Mortimer Captain, and William Ross Lieutenant of the said schooner Patapsco and the other officers and crew thereof to subdue, seize and take any armed or unarmed British vessel, public or private, which shall be found within the jurisdictional limits of the United States or elsewhere on the high seas, or within the waters of the British dominions, and such captured vessel, with her apparel, guns and appurtenances, and the goods and effects which shall be found on board the same, together with the British persons and others who shall be acting on board, to bring within some port of the United States;

I should also add, since we will later focus of those events leading up to the Battle of New Orleans, regarding Pirate vs Privateer:

The famous Jean Lafitte and Dominique You were indeed pirates, that is, high-seas criminals, who, by fiat of Andrew Jackson, became, at least for a time, not privateers but allies of the United Sates at New Orleans, primarily for their artillery skills and their stocks of munitions. Lafitte, however, was back to his old tricks in the Gulf of Mexico before long, as a pirate. (rr)

It should be noted that privateering is not necessarily a dead concept. It still stands in the US Constitution, in the very same breath as the right to declare war:

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution states,
"The Congress shall have power ... to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;

Let's talk about how they did that ……


[Privateers at war]


Technology and armament in 1812

"Profit-minded Americans had created a type of vessel especially well suited to commerce raiding. It was a sort of schooner with ship or brig rigging. It had speed and an uncanny1812Rambler.jpg (48082 bytes) ability to seemingly sail up wind. When heavier British vessels were closing in on it, they were often astounded to see it virtually head into the wind and outrun them. It carried 16 to 18 guns and 90 to 150 sailors. It did not fight warships unless cornered, but outran them. On the other hand, it could outmaneuver and outfight armed merchantmen. Royal Navy men of war depended on largely sailing down wind.


The power that made all this happen, of course, was the wind. And it was American perfection of a sailing ship that could make the most of the wind that made her so surprisingly formidable.

These small, lightly armored schooners, built in Boston and Charleston and especially in New York and Baltimore, were continuously perfected in design with two objectives:

  • to get in fast, even into the middle of a British convoy, threaten and then board an English merchantman and

  • to get away fast, outrunning the Royal Navy's strongest men-of-war and the range of their longest guns.

In order to be fast, they had lots of sail, especially in relation to their weight and size. If you look at a Royal Navy square-rigger, you could see that only wind from the rear or a rear angle could propel her forward. This wind factor also had a lot to do with maneuverability. The Royal Navy was thinking of gigantic gun-platforms, the kind that would win for Nelson at Trafalgar.

The shape and arrangement of sails on an American privateer schooner, brig or brigantine, are quickly movable to much more radical angles. English seamen have written that they saw privateers escaping "sailing directly into the wind."


The armament of these private armed vessels reflect their tactics. Unlike the RN's gun-platforms, a privateer needed only enough armament to intimidate a lightly-armed merchantman. The intent was never to face a ship of the British Navy and win a gun battle. So the privateer would have 6 to 20 cannon on each side and one or two "Long Toms". Because she was more maneuverable, sailing so that the guns pointed in the right direction was something she could do better than a man-of-war. (rr)

Of course, all this took place at speeds 2 to 20 miles per hour; it would have seemed like magical slow motion if we had been there. (rr)


"General Armstrong', one of the most famous American privateers, carried 8 long 9-pounders, 1 long 42, and 90 men. She had taken $1 million in English property when cornered in September 1814 in the Portuguese port of Fayal by 'Rota' and 'Plantagenet.'


This is not to say that American privateers were on an uninterrupted course of triumph: human error and miscalculations intervened. Britain did an early Q-ship, disguising a well-armed brig as a merchant ship and waited for an American privateer to try to pounce. But, there are celebrated cases of the privateer coming out on top, even in these circumstances.

In this age of sail, it took some guts to engage in these showdowns. The munitions were daunting and naval science of the day often measured the effectiveness of a vessel of war in the weight of objects like these a ship could throw at an enemy:

The devices at the bottom were intended to bring down whole masts while the nasty looking spider device in the middle was meant to tear sail, all depriving the privateer's prey of its power.





I also tried to determine how bloodthirsty and ruthless these non-pirate privateers were. George Coggeshall who wrote A History of the American privateers and was himself a privateer captain, goes to great pains to describe the gentlemanly-behavior of these warriors:

These are instructions issued along with the Letter of Marque:

…2. …rights of neutral powers…You are particularly to avoid even the appearance of using force or seduction

…3. Toward enemy vessels and their crews, you are to proceed in exercising the rights of war, with all the justice and humanity which characterize the nation of which you are members….


The Dolphin has taken six prizes without receiving the smallest injury. She was repeatedly chased by the English, and at one time for twenty-four hours, but finally escaped.
She has treated her prisoners with the greatest kindness. In rowing away from men-of-war, she found great aid from their voluntary assistance. The prisoners said they had much rather go to America than return on board a British man-of-war."





For America, for privateers, for the Royal Navy, and for New Orleans, perhaps

The fateful year was: 1814

August may have been the peak month of the War.

And a month in which many forces were at play

If you were there then, you probably would never have guessed that the War would be over in six months or that the US wouldn't have completely lost it and maybe its independence. Here's what I mean:

In August, British Navy ships - from all over - began their voyage to the rendezvous point in the Caribbean. Capt. Robert Lloyd would have set sail from England.


The Battle of New Orleans

New Orleans might be thought of as the southern prong of a 3-pronged attack decided on by the British in the Spring of 1814, just as Peace negotiations were getting under way. What we'd call today, "Combined Operations"




To bring the American nation to heel, the British cabinet worked out a grand plan of conquest. The goal was "to destroy and lay waste the principal towns and commercial cities assailable either by their land or naval forces." The strategy consisted of a three-pronged invasion from three widely separated areas of the continent: an amphibian thrust into the Chesapeake Bay area aimed at Washington, Baltimore, and other coastal cities; another from Montreal into New York State via Lake Champlain; and a third from the Gulf of Mexico into Louisiana with the purpose of seizing New Orleans and detaching the Mississippi Valley from the Union.

But the biggest, best prize was to be New Orleans. Admiral Cochrane's fifty-ship armada initially carrying fifteen hundred marines and 5,498 veteran troops sailed from Negril Bay, Jamaica. Other units joined them near New Orleans.

Morale was high. So high that at Cochrane Hqs at Jamaica, the New Orleans target was discussed in front of outsiders with US connections and Cochrane's log records that it seemed the whole Island knew.

The New Orleans objective, in some ways, was no secret from the start. In London, thruout the war, many allusions were made to this city as a valuable prize.

There was an image in the British mind of the French, Spanish, and Creole citizens of New Orleans being alienated from their new American rulers. The Louisiana Purchase was only 15 years before. Statehood took place just 45 days before the outbreak of the War.


My main concern here was not with the land Battle of New Orleans but rather the expedition. How it was planned, how it assembled. What actually happened as it progressed. Did the fight with the General Armstrong really delay the assembly of the British expedition against New Orleans?


Some conclusions

Now I was in a position to deal with some of the questions which initially arose.

Why did British Captain Robert Lloyd attack the Armstrong when he had orders to join the New Orleans expedition and despite being in a neutral port?

In addition to all my fascination with the prospect that my ancestors were on the General Armstrong, I also became deeply intrigued with Robert Lloyd, the British captain who commanded the squadron that sailed into the harbor in the Azores that September evening.

He was under orders. Important ones. For the big strike at the American underbelly.

But here was possibly a Captain on-the-edge. Perhaps he had been viewed like numerous British captains who had risen thru the ranks: one Naval observer complained about the "means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction," -- many sailors made their fortunes and ranks through the capture of enemy ships.

HMS Plantagenet in three months captured 25 small American ships along the NE coast.

I found four other intriguing events which have been recorded as having occurred while Lloyd commanded the Plantagenet:

1.  The London Statesman, in 1813 published an article which seemed to imply that Lloyd had failed to pursue an American warship off the coast of Maryland.

2.  During most of the war, the USS Constitution was bottled up in the Chesapeake. In an attempt to clear the blockading British ships, Edward Mix of the US Navy attempted to target the Plantagenet with the world's first use of "fish torpedoes" - that is, a submarine. The explosion took place within view of Lloyd's ship. (Forester)


Really intriguing but without a full explanation was a recorded incident where

3.  During a hit-and-run attack from British blockaders along the Connecticut coast where HMS Plantagenet stood "on the American station", five Englishmen were captured by local militia. They gave their "parole", that is, their word they were out of action for the duration or until exchanged. They were discovered back in action shortly thereafter. One of the - apparently ordinary seamen, marines or junior officers - had given his name to the militia as: Robert Lloyd. (History of Stonington).

4.  When Lloyd arrived at Jamaica, he sent a letter to Admiral Cochrane, asking for a court-martial. I made great effort to follow this up and failed. Did he want to clear his name over the Battle of Fayal and the loss of so many men?

Were this drama, we could build a wonderful villain.



Herodotus, known for his double roles as an historian and a spinner of yarns is supposed to have said - referring to events in history - "Very few things happen at the right time and the rest do not happen at all. The conscientious historian will correct these defects."


Now, as I looked over these materials, doubts began to creep into my speculations.


Some Doubts



Before, I showed a hand-colored Nathaniel Currier print


But this illustration betrays a number of inaccuracies:

  • In spite of the sky, all accounts agree that the battle was fought after dark and the multiple boat attack after midnight.

  • The legend inscribed below has the date in October - wrong by a month.

  • Also, The General Armstrong was not a square-rigged vessel.


And remember the 1886 Cincinnati Inquirer piece I quoted?:

It is therefore incontrovertible that the heroic action of the Armstrong saved New Orleans from ….

  • Fine, except that this article had the British arriving at New Orleans direct from Waterloo,
    though that actually happened 5 months later,

  • and it talks about Lord Castlereagh as British Prime minister, when he was actually Foreign Secretary.

So despite all the 19th century hype and the readiness with which a number of sources have credited The General Armstrong with having delayed the invasion and assured American victory, I have hopefully cast a skeptical eye on this.


Did Lloyd's attack on the General Armstrong really delay the assembly of the British expedition against New Orleans?

As I thought about it, it occurred to me: Why should it? Lloyd had only 3 ships out of 50 in the expedition?

Now, it is true that it could take 8 or 10 weeks to get from Plymouth to Jamaica.


Westerly voyages took longer, the Gulf Stream was against you…sailors called it "sailing uphill". He might have run into autumn storms and hurricanes



It's worth noting that British morale was high in Jamaica before they left for New Orleans. Higher officers wives accompanied them. The New Orleans objective was referred to as "Booty and Beauty". The Beauty for the doe-eyed Creole girls and the Booty for the New Orleans warehouses full of cotton and perhaps $15 million worth of goods. The British Treasury and economy were broke. A threatened renewal of the property tax had awful political implications. (Perhaps another theory and another paper, or perhaps just a contributing factor?)

General Packenham, the Army commander, didn't arrive until the fleet was at New Orleans meaning they started from Jamaica without him.


This told me a lot about cross-Atlantic movement: British General Edward Packenham was appointed to command the land forces and work with Admiral Cochrane, who was in Jamaica. He was to replace General Ross who was killed by American riflemen outside Baltimore after the burning of Washington. Word of this needed-change didn't reach London until mid-October and Packenham was appointed on October 24th and departed Plymouth on October 28th with General Gibbs, to be his second in command. (They were both to die, like Ross, shot by American marksmen.)

On their voyage to join the New Orleans force, the elderly Captain of HMS Statira (STAH-tir-ah) shortened sail every night. The passengers urged him to make all possible speed. But the captain is the captain. (Brown)

They were 7 weeks to get to Jamaica. Cochrane's fleet had left. Packenham and Gibbs arrived at New Orleans on Christmas Day, after the first actions with the Americans.

So Packenham was late. And that, truly, may have effected the outcome of the Battle of New Orleans.


Did a delay, as so many historians have asserted, really cause the British to lose the Battle of New Orleans?

The evidence clearly suggests that if the British had arrived at New Orleans earlier and moved more quickly, the city would have been theirs. Here the answer is probably yes.

One interesting speculation relates to a letter written by Wellington after the war, charging that British Naval Commander Cochrane advocated the project against New Orleans for the purpose of plunder (that estimated $15 million in cotton and goods in New Orleans' warehouses) and then led the army through Lake Borgne into a trap. Combine this idea with several recorded complaints that the British expedition had numerous transports heavy with ballast which traveled slowly to the rendezvous in Jamaica: Ships loaded with ballast in the expectation the ballast would be replaced with the booty of New Orleans. Wellington was saying that the Royal Navy, in its quest for its own prizes, for greed, got his brother-in-law killed.


We've also heard from John Buchanan about Jackson and Horseshoe Bend - - Had the Creek civil war been delayed and synchronized with the landing of the British troops, the combined forces might well have overcome Jackson's army and gone on to capture New Orleans and the lower Mississippi Valley.


But my research brought me back to a more basic, simple question -

When did the British Navy plan to rendezvous to attack New Orleans?

This was a big operation. More ships than at Trafalgar.

My great discovery was the original War Plan - written in London in the Spring - and dated 20 June 1814:




"…should meet at the said rendezvous not later than the 20th of November."


So as far back as June, the planned rendezvous date was set to November 20th   This date was never changed; subsequent documents emphasized that these instructions were firm .   The advantage Jackson had, in addition to good intelligence, was simply that the long-before planned date was set so late. The British, in fact, did complete the rendezvous by November 20th and departed Jamaica for New Orleans on November 26th, including Lloyd and the ships that had fought the General Armstrong in Jamaica two months before.


But the final blow to the contention of so many historians, and of Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt and the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings,

(not to mention my fantasies about the impact of my ancestors)

came when I finally saw the log of Royal Navy Captain Robert Lloyd's ship, the Plantagenet.


In fact, it shows him leaving the Azores on October 5th, eight days after the battle.

But even more importantly, it shows him arriving at Port Royal, just outside Kingston, Jamaica just one month later, on November 4th,


In plenty of time for the Battle of New Orleans,

in complete contradiction of the American legend.

In other words, LLOYD WASN'T LATE!  In fact, he was early!



If the British HAD WON at New Orleans, would they have ignored the Peace Treaty and ruled the middle of America?

1840USAwithbritishflagandlabel.jpg (207267 bytes)


There is SOME evidence to suggest this, more than I think is usually acknowledged.

I found that it was less than an elaborate and systematic plan of action. And that British opinion, public, military, political were all split in that Autumn of 1814.

In mid-Autumn, American negotiators John Quincy Adams and John C. Calhoun at the peace talks at Ghent in Belgium were somewhat mystified when, out of the blue, the British negotiators began to allude to a previously unmentioned document: the Treaty of San Ildefonso.


The Treaty of San Ildefonso ------ denied the right of the now-deposed Napoleon to dispose of Louisiana to any state other than Spain. As historian Edward Channing said, the US was "the purchaser of stolen goods from a known highwayman." (Brown) Strict international law would have upheld that the US had not legally purchased the Louisiana Purchase.

John Moser, Department of History at the University of Georgia Wrote on H-Net:

This is true, but that's not to say that the battle had no effect on the peace, for it in large part determined how the Treaty of Ghent would be interpreted by the British. Under the terms of the treaty, the British would have been within their rights in withholding recognition of the Louisiana Purchase, or of American claims to the Gulf Coast. Had the British won at New Orleans, Britain would almost surely have turned the city back over to Spain. Monroe realized this, and said as much to Madison. The net effect of Jackson's victory, then, was nothing less than the international legitimization of the Louisiana Purchase in the eyes of the Great Powers.


The logic of the propaganda - - that the General Armstrong saved New Orleans and the Middle of America from British rule - is consistent with how military information was dealt with by the Public and Press - most especially naval information of the time. For example, in the first two months of the War, we can witness the case of US Army General William Hull and his nephew US Navy Captain Isaac Hull - the uncle tries to invade Canada and loses everything - the nephew sails out with Old Ironsides, destroys a smaller British vessel.

The American public, faced with concluding they had either just declared a foolhardy war, based on a failed invasion of Canada,

or a war where they were certainly going to tweak the British bully's nose, based on this victory of the USS Constitution vs HMS Guierriere, the American public and press, of course, opts for the latter, and a triumphant posture.




What happened to:

OUTCOME - what happened to them all? Now that I've told you the story, I have to tell what happened to all these people:


Andrew Jackson

General Andrew Jackson’s stunning victory over crack British troops at Chalmette on January 8, 1815, was the greatest American land victory of the War of 1812.— the last battle of the last war ever fought between England and the United States—it preserved America’s claim to the Louisiana Purchase, prompted a wave of migration and settlement along the Mississippi River, and restored American pride and unity. It also made Jackson a national hero


Thomas Fleming - one of our favorite speakers, wrote:
 "He was able to parlay his popularity into a political base of power that propelled him to the presidency in 1828. As Jackson was leaving the White House at the end of his second term in 1837, a congressman (perhaps a wise guy, trying to needle him?) asked him ----- had there been any point to the Battle of New Orleans? After all, it had been fought after the peace treaty was signed. The old warrior gave him one of his patented steely glares and said: "If General Pakenham and his ten thousand matchless veterans could have annihilated my little army...he would have captured New Orleans and sentried all the contiguous territory, though technically the war was over....Great Britain would have immediately abrogated the Treaty of Ghent and would have ignored Jefferson's transaction with Napoleon."

Was he right? We will never know for certain. Old Hickory settled the argument in advance by winning the battle." again from Thomas Fleming's article on Jackson on the web - see my bibliography.



The War

'Uti posseditis', is the Latin phrase that means "you keep what you conquered" as opposed to "status quo ante bellum" - "the way it was before the war".  In the negotiations at Ghent, America had successfully opposed Britain's attempt to sign a treaty where they'd hold onto conquered US territory.  Did they know about the massive fleet assembling for New Orleans?  And yet, Britain gave way and agreed, in essence, to the evacuation of US Territory - without any news from New Orleans. Why?

In the Spring of 1814, the Duke of Wellington had urged a settlement. Faced with the depletion of the British treasury due in part to the heavy costs of the Napoleonic Wars, and privateers in British waters, the negotiators for Great Britain accepted the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814. It provided for the cessation of hostilities, the restoration of conquests and a commission to settle boundary disputes.

…so, the Peace Treaty was signed on Christmas Eve, 1814. Good thing, too. The War was ruining the economies of both the UK and the US. In New York City in early February, on a dark winter night, a ship with an American and a British diplomat brought the news.  From the downtown docks, after dark, the word began to spread thru the icy city; candles in celebration began to appear in the windows up and down lower Broadway.


The United States had ended hostilities without losing any territory and asserted its status as an independent nation that would no longer stand for the violation of its neutral rights or the humiliation of impressment. Perhaps the best measure of the impact of the war is how Americans learned from the experiences and mistakes of the war and applied those lessons to postwar America. After the war the United States reorganized the Army, Navy, and War Department to correct the defects revealed during the War of 1812. In his message to Congress in December 1815 President Madison acknowledged the financial difficulties caused by the lack of a national bank and the supply problems caused by the poor conditions of American roads, and he recognized the value of American domestic manufacturing, stimulated by the trade disruptions of the war. Madison's recommendations that Congress approve a national bank, federal support for transportation and internal improvements, and protective tariffs were all enacted in the years immediately following the War of 1812. Americans also emerged from the war with a message to the world that their experiment in republicanism had been proven successful.

Jayne Triber

Only the Indians, that the Treaty made some effort to consider, lost land.

Three of our great icons -- the Star Spangled Banner, "Old Ironsides," and Uncle Sam -- date from this war.


With the final defeat and removal of Napoleon, impressments as an Admiralty system was not needed and largely ceased to exist.



Though the U.S. gained none of its avowed aims, popular legend soon converted defeat into the illusion of victory. Several circumstances contributed to this process: the series of military successes in the war's closing months created a sense of victory The war also marked a decline of U.S. dependence on Europe and stimulated a sense of nationality. EB article

It demonstrated enough resilience to force the British to look at the United States as something other than a renegade colony, and perhaps helped to lay the groundwork for the rapprochement later in the century. It may also have played a part in the British willingness to compromise on the issue of the North West territories in the 1840's possibly averting another war.  In a sense, the War of 1812 might have ended the last external threat to the survival and growth of the United States [the issue of slavery being an internal threat] until the development of Soviet nuclear capabilities in the Cold War.



British Naval Commander Admiral Alexander Cochrane

While awaiting a replacement for Ross, Cochrane had commenced the attack against New Orleans. On December 14, his forces captured the American gunboats on Lake Borgne. The British subsequently advanced through Bayou Bienvenu to within seven miles of the city by December 23. But the British attack on General Andrew Jackson's army ultimately failed and Cochrane's Navy withdrew with the rest of the British force.

He got most of the British brigades back in time for the Battle of Waterloo.

Cochrane died in Paris on January 26, 1832.




British Army Commander Sir Edward Packenham -

On January 8, 1815, on the field of Chalmette, a few miles before New Orleans, "whole platoons were mown down as with a scythe; but the gallant army continued to press forward until officer after officer was killed, and Pakenham himself fell, bleeding and dying…." (MOA)

He was shot by a Tennessee marksman from behind bales of cotton. Like General Ross from Baltimore, some say, he is shipped home to England in a keg of Jamaican rum (a variety of stories, and jokes, have spun out of this method of preservation.)  So like General Ross at Baltimore, he was shot by an American sharpshooter and he died attended by the same staff aide as Ross, Captain Duncan MacDougall


British man-of-war Captain Robert Lloyd

- who started the fight in the Azores. He was given the honor of bringing back to England from the Battle of New Orleans, the body of General Sir Edward Packenham. Before the Napoleonic and 1812 Wars, Lloyd had earlier been, and after became again, a sheriff in Wales on the island of Anglesey.

At one point, I found a distant cousin of my villain on a Welch genealogy forum.  In hopes of getting more, I posted a request for information.  Hoping to appear both honest and scholarly, I added in my request for more information:

"I must now caution you that some of this research focusing on Robert Lloyd tends to characterize him as a villain and, perhaps, as a man who lost his temper and thus changed the course of world history. You can see more at my website. (  But I would hope you find it interesting as a far-reaching tale of turbulent times and as an unearthing of a most significant son of Anglesey. I will apologize in advance for any residue of American jingoism in this material from the period."

Well, it did me no good, I got no replies, and you get the feeling the Welch are happy to leave their confrontational Royal Navy Captain behind.


Privateering in General

Today, there are known cases of piracy in the South China Sea but as for privateering -

Members of NYMAS will, of course, know about

… Imperial Germany in WWI (especially the famous SEEADLER, an armed sailing barque skippered by the humorous Kapitan and Graf Felix Von Luckner) --

and especially the Plan of Nazi Germany in WWII, in arming and sending out numerous disguised merchantmen as naval raiders worldwide to attack Allied merchantmen.

The United States is not a party to any instrument which explicitly renounces privateering. The U.S. is a party to some of the Hague Conventions of 1907 which, by implicit incorporation of the 1856 Paris Declaration, have been construed to reaffirm the principle that "privateering is, and remains, abolished." (H-DIPLO)


The General Armstrong

As far as I know, The General Armstrong still lies in the harbor in the Azores, altho the Long Tom pivot gun was rescued; the massive iron 42-pounder gun -- a monster weapon for its day -- eventually was acquired by the Navy Museum at Washington Navy Yard.

What didn't go away for a very long time was a series of lawsuits and claims, both nationally and internationally. In 1852, the French Emperor Napoleon ruled against the US simply because the crew of The General Armstrong had fired first on that evening in September in 1814.



Captain Samuel Chester Reid, Captain of The General Armstrong -


Whatever doubts I've cast on the mythology of the General Armstrong, Captain Reid and his crew were very brave men and tho cornered, stood up to an attack others would have withered under.

The hype, and I don't know what else to call it, that the General Armstrong changed the outcome of the Battle of New Orleans, perhaps tells us more about the psychological needs of America.

An underpopulated, new nation, fighting a contemptuous former ruling country and King, needed to feel it had sway over wide ranging events.


Reid became harbormaster of the Port of New York in 1843. (LC) and passed away in obscurity in Brooklyn on the eve of the Civil War in 1861.

In 1956, his unmarked grave was found at Greenwood Cemetery - the Stonemasons erected an imposing monument, lauding Reid as designer of the 1818 flag and esp. as Captain of the Armstrong- and on the base of it, carved in stone, is -

"If there had been no Battle of Fayal, there would have been no Battle of New Orleans." -- Andrew Jackson

We've all heard that "the first casualty of war is truth." Perhaps, in this case, it was the last casualty.



As for my ancestors, the Mackies


Frankly, I loved the idea that my great-great-grandfather might have changed the course of world history…and the idea of informing my cousin in California that if it weren't for our ancestor, on his next trip east, he might be flying over British Middle America.

But now I must tell you that on my last day of researching American privateer Captain Reid's family papers at the Library of Congress, I finally found the crew list for the fateful voyage -- and there were no Mackies on it.

But the search launched this, to me, wonderful expedition you've heard about tonight.

Don't know what happened to the other brother, but the first, John Hewitt Mackie, settled initially in New London, CT, then across the Sound in Greenport, LI. He married an Irish girl, as would his grandson. He and his son worked as ship riggers, then the son struck out on his own, (possibly with Congressional bounty money from the father that Reid had pressed for), and acquired a clipper ship plying trade to China and then within China. Alas, sail was overtaken by steam and there were possibly complications relating to the opium trade, so that by the end of the 1800s, the family was in Bridgeport, CT and growing children were taking jobs in factories.

It was in this era that these Scotsmen met the Irish branch of the family. Our Irish matriarch didn't like the Scottish branch when she met them and held that they were "adventurers and dreamers". In fact, she stood in the way of the marriage and my grandfather and grandmother eloped. But turn-of-the-century convention reigned, they had five children, this Mackie became a florist and they never, ever mentioned privateering;  it took John Hewitt Mackie's grandson's brother to reveal to the young niece, my aunt, the details you heard about at the beginning of the story:

Two brothers, conscripted off Isle of Skye, Scotland, on English man of War to America.

Both brothers helped build privatier Gen. Armstrong War 1812.

They stayed with the ship until wrecked.


Me?  I learned that history, like Roshomon, has many points of view.



And just as Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt and the Naval Proceedings got to spin their myth, so did I.

As for the historical legend of The General Armstrong and its effect on the Battle of New Orleans, I am reminded of Shaw's The Devil's Disciple.  I remember well the 1959 movie version with Lawrence Olivier as Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne who, when told he'll have to surrender to the Americans, because of a bureaucratic error in London, is asked by his aide:

"Sir, what will history say?"

Burgoyne replies with great British arrogance:
"History, Sir, will tell lies, as usual."

Sir George Bernard Shaw,

The Devil's Disciple (1901), Act 3




A short Bibliography for American Privateers in the War of 1812


On the Web

My own site with primary sources:

The War of 1812 Casebook site is not to be missed, especially the "British Views of the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake" by Christopher T.George at

An absolutely splendid and detailed history on the War of 1812, causes, battles and personalities is at Galafilm (they made a four-part TV documentary on the subject; part of what can only be described as a Canadian renaissance of interest in the War of 1812.)

Part of is their War of 1812 Website. Lots of detail about uniforms, ordinance, and battles in the north - conspicuously from a Canadian point of view.

That wonderful Tom Fleming article on Jackson is at the Military History Quarterly website at Old Hickory's Finest Hour - Cover Page: Winter '01 MHQ ... - 9k


Best single, small book on the War: Coles, Harry Lewis, 1918- The War of 1812, Chicago, University of Chicago Press [1965]

My nomination for most readable, but good on scholarship, is Lord, Walter, 1917- The dawn's early light /: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. 384 p. : ill., maps ; 22 cm.

I think, by far, the best book on the Battle of New Orleans is: Carter, Samuel, 1904- Blaze of glory; the fight for New Orleans, 1814-1815. New York, St. Martin's Press [1971. The only trouble is Blaze of Glory may be hard to find.

Also excellent is: :Brown, Wilburt S., 1900-1968. The amphibious campaign for West Florida and Louisiana, 1814-1815; a critical review of strategy and tactics at New Orleans. University, Ala., University of Alabama Press [1969] xii, 233 p. maps. 26 cm.

Hickey, Donald R., 1944-, The War of 1812 : a forgotten conflict / Donald R. Hickey. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, c1989. xiii, 457 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.

Recent and more popular is Remini, Robert Vincent, 1921-, The Battle of New Orleans / Robert V. Remini. New York, N.Y. : Viking, 1999.

Valuable for its details is Mahan, A. T. (Alfred Thayer), 1840-1914. Sea power in its relations to the War of 1812. New York, Haskell House, 1969. 2 v. illus., maps, ports. 23 cm.

Privateering is covered by a contemporary who actually captained a privateer himself: Coggeshall, George, 1784-1861. History of the American privateers, and letters-of-marque, during our war with England in the years 1812, '13, and '14. Interspersed with several naval battles between American and British ships-of-war. By George Coggeshall ... 3d ed., rev., cor. and enl. New York, The Author, 1861. lv, 482 p. front. (port.) plates. 22 cm. Reprints available and you can read it or download it from the splendid Making of America site at the University of Michigan at

Prof. Larry J. Sechrest apt paper Privateering and National Defense: Naval Warfare for Private Profit is at aa a pdf file.




Cockburn = CO-burn

Cochrane = COCK-run

Packenham = pack-EN-am



Special acknowledgements:

Don Canney, official Historian of the United States Coast Guard.

Kay Larson, of NYMAS and National Historian of the USCGA  who took time from her schedule to help with myriad issues.

Philip S. Goodman's for his invaluable assistance and guidance.

Frank Radford for his Naploeonic expertise on the British and European perspectives.

Norman Brower of the South Street Seaport Museum Library helped pinpoint detail of the era.

Altho Norman Friedman has dozens of books on naval history to his credit, he was kind enough to give this amateur history buff direction.

Bob O'Hara, who lives in Kew, London, outside the gates of the Public Record Office, and is a top professional researcher.

Thanks to Joseph C. Abdo whose paper from the I Congresso Internacional de Estudos Anglo-Portugueses 6-8 Maio de 2001 Lisboa on the US Consul Dabney's family was an important resource.

And to Alice Galassi, great-granddaughter of the General Armstrong's valiant Captain Samuel Chester Reid.

And last but not least, to Christine Enright Snyder, the cousin who supplied the three lines from her mother, without whom this paper would not have been written.




Topics for Discussion + Misc. outtakes


I did a lot of research - learning how a real historian might do it - but was able to get almost 50% from the web.

Dates, times and places don't agree in primary sources.




I have some evidence that in the 1812 Battle between the Constitution and Guerrière, Lloyd was a subordinate officer on the Guerrière which might have created a situation where the British officers would have hated capture by the Americans but the crew, especially impressed crewmembers, would have loved it. And would willing sailors been allowed to escape becoming POWs and perhaps join the US Navy…or privateers?




In August 1814 the 93rd sailed to Plymouth, England thinking of home. Instead on 17 September they embarked on three ships as part of a three-pronged offensive designed to chastise the United States and end the war dragging on there since 1812 when the U.S. declared war and invaded Canada. Napoleon had been sent into his first exile. Tens of thousands of veteran British soldiers were now free to be used in America. One prong of this strategy would attack through the Great Lakes region, the second front would smash into the eastern seaboard ultimately to burn the capital of Washington in retaliation for U.S. forces burning York (Toronto), Canada. The third - with the 93rd aboard - would attack through the Gulf of Mexico. Their final destination: New Orleans.

The 93rd Sutherland Highland Regiment of Foot 1800 - 1881

(was John Lambert with Capt. Lloyd at Fayal?)



In short, I was never able to find proof, beyond my aunt's notations from her great uncle, that my ancestors had actually been on the General Armstrong. They would have had reason to adopt assumed names or be given aliases by their Captain and crew, but for evidence, that's like proving a negative. In any case, it launched for a me a time travel over Europe, the Atlantic, the very-young United States to the bayous around New Orleans. I went to college in New Orleans and Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop and the Napoleon House were very regular hangouts…yet I knew almost nothing of their history…as I knew almost nothing of this neglected period in US history.


Washington appointed Pierre L'Enfant to plan the new city and three commissioners to be in charge. The commissioners dubbed the city Washington. In 1793 the president laid the cornerstone for the Capitol. In October 1800 the government moved from Philadelphia. The district was still largely remote. Many called it "Wilderness City." Not until British troops forced them to defend it from burning in 1814 did Americans develop a proud attachment for their capital.



Washington Encyclopedia Britannica Article


Aaron Burr wrote an unsolicited letter to a NY newspaper in 1817. (LC)


Mackies, change name, Chesapeake incident even before war, one hung, while Goya was drawing the horrors of Napoleonic warfare in Spain.






British undertake a three-part invasion of the United States at Chesapeake Bay, Lake Champlain and the mouth of the Mississippi River. British troops are repulsed at Baltimore harbor after capturing Washington and burning the Capitol buildings.

January 22 - Battle of Emuckfau.

January 24 - Battle of Enotachopco Creek.

March - British-French war ends with British victory. Britain can now concentrate on the war with the United States.

March 27-28 - The Creek Indians are defeated by Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend

April 11 - Napoleon abdicates the throne of France.

April 14 - Embargo and Non Importation Law repealed by United States.

April 25 - British blockade extended to New England.

July-September - Eastern Maine occupied by British forces.

July 3 - Americans capture Fort Erie.

July 5 - Battle of Chippewa.

July 25 - Battle of Lundy's Lane.

August - American public credit collapses. Banks suspend specie payments.

August 8 - Peace negotiations begin in Ghent with the British outlining initial peace terms.

August 9 - The United States and Creek Indians sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson.

August 14 - British forces occupy Pensacola.

August 15 - Battle of Fort Erie.

August 24 - Battle of Bladensburg.

August 24-25 - Washington, DC burned by British forces.

August 28 - Nantucket declares neutrality.

September 11 - Battle of Lake Champlain. American victory over a larger British force at the Battle of Plattsburgh secures the U.S. northern border.

September 12 - Battle of Mobile Bay. Battle of North Point.

September 13-14 - Battle of Baltimore. The Star Spangled Banner is written by Francis Scott Key.

September 17 - American forces sortie from Fort Erie.

September 26 - General Armstrong captured by British.

October 21 - Peace on basis of uti possidetis.

November 5 - Fort Erie evacuated by American forces.

November 7 - American forces occupy Pensacola.

November 27 - The British drop the uti possidetis.

December 14 - Battle of Lake Borgne.

December 15-Januray 5 - A group of federalists meet at the Hartford Convention to discuss secession and propose seven amendments to protect the influence of the northeastern states.

December 15-February 27 - Additional internal taxes enacted by the United States.

December 23-January 1 - Preliminary battles at New Orleans.

December 24 - British and American diplomats sign the Treaty of Ghent agreeing on status quo ante bellum.

December 28 - Conscription proposal rejected in United States.


January 8 - Andrew Jackson defeats the British at the Battle of New Orleans. Seven hundred British are killed and fourteen hundred wounded as opposed to eight Americans killed and thirteen wounded, all after the war was officially over.

February 4 - Second Enemy Trade Law enacted by the United States.

February 11 - Treaty of Ghent reached the United States.

February 16 - Treaty of Ghent is approved by the U.S. Senate and President Madison.

February 17 - War of 1812 ends as the United States and Britain exchange ratifications.

Miscellaneous Notes:

The United States is not a party to any instrument which explicitly renounces privateering. The U.S. is a party to some of the Hague Conventions of 1907 which, by implicit incorporation of the 1856 Paris Declaration, have been construed to reaffirm the principle that "privateering is, and remains, abolished."

The United States formally renounced its right to issues letter of marque and reprise to privateers in the Spanish-American War of 1898. This was accomplished via an Executive Order which was published in the Statutes at Large. No such announcement was made in World Wars I and II. None was probably needed: no prize case was even adjudicated in U.S. courts in the Great War, and just a handful were litigated in WW2.


Some have speculated that the United States may not, by treaty, renounce a power given to Congress in the Constitution (in this case the right to authorize privateers, under article I, section 8, clause 11). I think this view is spurious. The treaty power is broad enough to encompass a renunciation of privaterring. Besides, under the "last-in-time" rule, Congress can always pass a statute reinstating its right to issue letters of marque and reprise, even though such would violate international law. The real reason that the United States did not sign the 1856 Paris Declaration is that it wanted further limits placed on the right of maritime prize, limits that the other great Powers were unwilling to concede. (H-Net)



David J. Bederman Voice (404) 727-6822 Associate Professor of Law Fax (404) 727-6820 Emory University School of Law Internet Atlanta, Georgia 30322

On the American side, Jackson had got together about four thousand raw levies, and under a thousand regulars; the British brought into action ten thousand of the best of Wellington's Peninsular veterans, men who had never known defeat, commanded by some of his ablest generals. The British had a fleet of fifty ships; Jackson had two, one of which was destroyed early in the proceedings. Upon arriving; the British army got ashore on low land west of Lake Borgne and east of the river; the American lines were between them and the town of New Orleans on the east bank of the river; a series of three intrenchments one in the rear of the other. There was also a redoubt on the west bank of the river; and the two American vessels, the Carolina and the Louisiana, were so disposed as to be able to fire on the British advance.

Jackson had begun to fight long before the enemy arrived: he had dominated the town, and enlisted all its able citizens in preparing the defense. His fortifications were as strong as they could be made with the means at hand; and the men caught the contagion of his courage and confidence. Both armies received reenforcements before the battle began; General Pakenham getting three thousand troops, and Jackson eight hundred, which he placed under Morgan as a garrison for the fort on the west shore of the river. Pakenham's plan was to attack on both sides of the river at once, his main advance being of course against Jackson. But before, he had left his camp on the shore of Lake Borgne, Jackson attacked him, and the guns of the Carolina galled his men severely.



7. The route from Lake Borgne through the narrow straits known as the Rigolets, across

Lake Pontchartrain, and up Bayou St. John. A well-known route of commerce, this

course would take a landing party within two miles of New Orleans.

The seventh choice constituted the one the British originally intended to pursue,

but a shortage of light vessels and Cochrane's belief that the Americans effectively

defended this route forced him to abandon this plan. Instead, the British selected option

number six, sailing into Lake Borgne and landing below New Orleans via Bayou



Keep in mind:

The English navy time and again during the preceding twenty years had humbled the navies of France, Spain, Denmark, Turkey, Algeria, Russia and Holland. In the twenty years preceding 1812 the ships of his majesty's navy had fought in over 200 single ship to ship engagements and lost in but five battles. The last time an English ship had lost a ship to ship action had been seven years earlier when in 1805 the French Milan had bested the HMS Cleopatra.

Also has Steve McQuillan's excellent SUPER FRIGATES - AMERICA'S HIGH TECH WEAPONS OF THE 1790's

Against this:

One story tells of the agility of two American privateers:

The GOVERNOR TOMPKINS sailed right into a protected convoy, and took three prizes.

The KEMP sighted an escorted convoy of seven East Indiamen, snookered the protecting frigate into a fruitless chase into dark rain squalls, circled back, and took five Indiamen before departing with her prizes.

One contemporary observer said that privateers "go where they please; they chase and come up with everything they see, and run away at pleasure"

(Garitee 1977, 117)

Then operative verbs for privateers were

"cut her out" (head off a merchantman and take her with little or no damage)

"sent in" (as in "we sent her into Baltimore" where 20-30 of the privateers would board the surrendering merchantman and sail her as a "prize" into Baltimore harbor.)



By 1814 there were three more "large" US Navy frigates and one ship-of-the-line being built in U.S. ports.
The problem for the British Navy was that they needed to keep US Navy warships bottled up in eastern harbors - if one got loose, it might do extensive damage, it would take many ships to chase it thereby weakening the blockade. In other words, you had to maintain a tight grip. If you didn't you could be on a downhill slide. The US had at least 5 of their fast and powerful Navy ships building which had to be contained.

In the meantime, small and fast privateers leaked out continuously.

I can't conclude this narrative without pointing out that the most crucial battle of the war may not have been in the Azores, Washington, Baltimore or New Orleans but on the New York / Vermont border on September 11, 1814, two weeks before the General Armstrong, when other US ships built by Noah and Adam Brown defeated the first of the 3-part invasion; When Thomas Macdonough destroyed the British on Lake Champlain, Sir George Prevost backed off 10,000 troops which could have descended on the Hudson Valley, cut off and perhaps even allied with vacillating New England and taken Albany and New York City. (rr)



 The author is delighted to get questions, contributions, comments or concerns about this paper at


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