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Writer's Corner- New Brunswick

Caleb Seely – Privateer
By Barry L. Hatt

   It is really interesting to look into the lives of your ancestors. You may find many interesting people with whom you can identify. I became interested in the realm of privateers and the direct link that they played on the outcome of various wars. I continually came across references to one of the most famous privateer ships, the ‘Liverpool Packet’. She was the first privateer to put to sea for the crown in the war of 1812, out of Liverpool Nova Scotia, and is listed as the second ship to receive a letter of marque. Reference to the 4 captains of the vessel gave me the name Caleb Seely. As my maternal grandmother was a Seely, I mentioned it to my mother, and found out that, indeed, he is one of my ancestors.
   Caleb Seely was born in Saint John, New Brunswick on 31 August, 1787, son of Ebenezer and Bethia (Gilbert) Seely, Loyalists, who arrived in Saint John in 1783. Caleb obviously went to sea at an early age as he is mentioned in ‘The Seelys of New Brunswick’ as being Captain of the privateer, ‘Star’ out of Saint John, during the War of 1812. He is reported to have captured 3 prizes for the crown with the ‘Star’, after which he decided to move to the Privateer capital of the Maritimes in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. Liverpool had 94 privateer vessels registered during the war.
   One of these was the ‘Liverpool Packet’. At the outbreak of the war she was listed as a Baltimore Clipper Schooner, length 53 feet, 18 foot hold, depth 6 ½ feet, 67 tons. The armament that she carried was 1 six pounder and 4 twelve pounder guns, pistols, muskets, pikes, cutlasses, grappling irons, and nets. Spruce oars were later added for rowing out of danger in calms. Captain Joseph Barss Jr. was listed as her skipper. He had great success, as he captured 33 American vessels, until the morning of 11 June, 1812. The ‘Liverpool Packet’ was peacefully anchored off the Maine coast when the ‘Thomas’ out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire came bearing down on her. The ‘Thomas’ was a fast sailing, Baltimore built schooner and although the ‘Packet’ hauled anchor and quickly hoisted her sails and led a merry, five-hour chase, she was greatly outgunned and, to save useless loss of life, surrendered. After the two ships docked in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the captain and crew were manacled and led to jail. They spent many months in jail and Captain Joseph Barss Jr. was set free only after he agreed to terms that would not allow him to privateer again.
   The ‘Liverpool Packet’ then set sail under American colours as the ‘Portsmouth Packet’ with John Perkins as captain. She was quickly recaptured by HMS ‘Fantome” off Mount Desert Island, before she captured even one ship, and returned to Halifax where she was bought by the firm of Collins and Allison and renamed the ‘Liverpool Packet’.
   The owners of the ‘Liverpool Packet’ were Enos Collins, John Allison, and James Barss. It has to be assumed that they were again looking for a Captain with Joseph Barss Jr. involuntarily retiring. It is interesting to note that Caleb Seely later married Phebe, the sister of Enos Collins. Caleb, already being a captain, obviously knowing Enos, probably seemed to be the obvious choice as captain of the recaptured ‘Liverpool Packet’. The letter of Marque for Captain Caleb Seely, as skipper of the ‘Liverpool Packet’, was issued on 13 October, 1812.
   In a list of captured vessels reported to the admiralty for the second half of 1812, it reports that from the 14 October, to19 October, 1812, the ‘Liverpool Packet’ captured 5 American vessels. Talk about somebody being good at his job! Before the year finished the ‘Liverpool Packet’ had captured 19 merchant ships.
   An American point of view of privateering and especially the ‘Liverpool Packet’ is mentioned in an essay: Privateering and National Defense: Naval Warfare for Private Profit, by Larry J. Seachrest; “It should come as no surprise, that, from an American perspective “ The privateers of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia provided a major incentive for peace. By far the most renowned of these was the ‘Liverpool Packet’, which hailed from Liverpool, Nova Scotia. She became so feared that just the rumor of her presence along the coast of the United States was enough to drive commercial vessels back into their homeports. It was for this reason that, late in 1812, the American House of Representatives debated the possibility of cutting a canal through Cape Cod as a less costly alternative to losses through commercial raiding,”
   Another reference showing the fear that the ‘Liverpool Packet’ generated was in a paragraph from the: ‘Pictorial Field-Book of The War of 1812 by Benson J. Lossing. This was written in 1814: I quote: “At about this time Commodore Lewis made his appearance in the Sound with 13 American gun-boats for the protection of the coast-trade against the ‘Liverpool Packet’ privateer, which was cruising very mischievously all along the Connecticut shore. She fled eastward at Lewis’s approach, and when he reached Saybrook he found more than fifty vessels there, afraid to weigh anchor for fear of this corsair.”
   It is reported that during the war that the ‘Packet’ captured between 100 to 200 vessels of which 50 are described as ‘prizes’. In ‘The Seelys of New Brunswick’ it is noted that ships of lesser value were allowed to go free by Captain Seely. Enos Collins and his co-owners became wealthy from the spoils of war, as probably did Caleb Seely. Enos Collins invested his money and at his death was reported to be the richest man in Canada.
   Caleb bought the now famous Perkins house, in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, at the death of Simeon Perkins, in 1812, and lived there until his death in 1869. The house is now the Perkins House Museum and is listed as “A Colonial treasure.”
   Caleb Seely and eight family members are buried in the Seely Vault at Trinity Anglican Church and Cemetery in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. The Church was built in the years 1821 and 1822 and the vault is the only one of its kind in Liverpool, and probably the County.
   If you go to Liverpool, Nova Scotia, be sure to visit these historical sites and as you look out across the harbour it is not hard to imagine Captain Caleb Seely telling his crew to weigh anchor and hoist the sails. Those were the days of excitement and daring on the high seas, when privateers, on both sides, played an important part in the early settlement of the war of 1812. Here’s to Captain Caleb Seely, privateer.

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


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