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Writer's Corner- New Brunswick

A Look at Our Seafaring Past
By Barry L. Hatt

   It is interesting how some things came to be. During the late 1700s and the early 1800s privateers were enlisted by the French, the British, and the Americans, especially here in the Maritimes. Their job was to capture ships of the enemy along with their cargos. Privateering became a very important industry. The Privateers were usually converted merchant ships fitted with the necessary armament and manned by tradesmen, farmers and fishermen. They received no pay unless they managed to capture ‘prizes’, from which they received shares of the booty.

   To give the privateers a semblance of respectability Letters of marque were issued by respective governments. These letters gave the Captain and Ship the right to capture enemy vessels, no matter where they were. Frequent battles were fought in the Bay of Fundy and along the Maine Coast and raiding parties went ashore wherever there were settlements.

   Jason Smith, published a story in the ‘Dispatch’ telling of the first account of soldiers being used as marines. The ship ‘Newcastle Jane’ sailed out of St. Helen’s, in convoy, loaded with uniforms and payroll, for Canada and the maritime provinces along with 27 recruits for the Royal Highland Emigrants. Their Captain was Murdock MacLaine and he was the only one on board who had been in battle.

   The ship became separated from the rest of the ships and Captain MacLaine felt that he should make plans for defense of the ship if the occasion arose, because Yankee Privateers were numerous.

   The normal action for sailors was just to give up the ship and go ashore and await another ship. Captain MacLaine knew that his recruits would fight so he called a ships meeting with the ships Captain and crew. The Captain of the ship, Carey, agreed to fight, as did his men, when Captain MacLaine offered to pay each of the sailors. It probably helped that he fortified them with Grog.

   As feared, on October 23, 1776, a sail was spotted to windward bearing down on the Jane. It was indeed a rebel privateer. MacLaine ordered all hands to their stations. When the ship came alongside about 30 yards away they ordered the Jane to strike her colours and surrender. When no reply was forthcoming the privateer fired a broadside of carriage guns as well as swivel guns and small arms fire. Because the Jane was prepared she returned fire for about a half hour and the other ship backed off.

   It should be noted that the other ship was about 200 tons with10 carriage guns and 12 swivel guns and around 80 men. The Newcastle Jane had only six, 3 pound carriage guns and a few swivel guns, 11 sailors and the 27 recruits on board. It would be a great understatement to say that she was outclassed, outgunned and undermanned.

   After dark Captain Carey put on all sails to try to lose the privateer, to no avail. MacLaine spent the night preparing the ship against being boarded in the morning by making anti boarding nets out of the men’s hammocks. These he used to barricade the deck.

   Early the next morning the Privateer closed to try to board, but Captain Carey quickly changed course and raked the deck with fire from his guns. The rebels were being hurt and backed off for about 30 minutes. When they again closed both ships angled for good shots and pounded each other until about 1 o’clock in the afternoon at which time the enemy veered off after losing many men and suffering a great deal of damage to the vessel.

   Captain Carey yelled “All hands ready for boarding!” At which the rebel ship ran off. The ‘Liverpool Jane’ then heaved-to and made emergency repairs and then set sail on her original course. It is interesting to note that after the battle that only 2 rounds of shot were left on board except for the rounds that the enemy had fired at them which were embedded in the breastwork of bedding that had been used as a barricade.

   The amazing fact was that no one was killed or wounded and that they had saved 20,000 pounds sterling from falling into enemy hands.

   This was the first victory of a merchant vessel against the rebel pirates and the Crown decided to use the Royal Highland Regiment as marines.

   As Jason Smith wrote: “In order to protect the inhabitants of the Maritime from attack, plunder and rape, Smalls’ infantry companies patrolled the coast and manned diatant outpost in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and New Brunswick. These Highland soldiers were also used in amphibious attack on rebel controlled territory as their brother soldiers serving on ships patrolled the bays and harbors.”

   Privateers and pirates were numerous in the area. American privateers were mostly stationed at Machias on the Maine Coast from which they attacked Cumberland, Annapolis, Saint John and any unprotected village that they could find.

   There were many sites where forts and blockades were set up for protection and the Royal Highland Regiment served a useful role as the first marines.

   The harbours and coves of the Bay of Fundy were indeed visited by pirates and privateers so don’t be quick to discount stories that have been handed down by our ancestors. You never know where you might find pirate gold. Arr, bring your port cannons to bear.

Barry Hatt lives in Fredericton. You may contact him through his e-mail address which is


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