Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.


A privately owned vessel that is commissioned by one power to attack merchant ships from a hostile power. The term also refers to the commander or a crew member of such a vessel.

A privateer was commissioned by the issuance of a letter of Marque and Reprisal to commit hostile acts at sea, generally in accordance with the Rules of War. Letters of marque and reprisal were issued by a state to its own subjects as well as to the subjects of neutral states. The owner of a vessel who accepted letters of marque from both belligerents was, however, deemed a pirate.

Privateering was abolished on an international scale with the ratification of the Declaration of Paris in 1856, which was signed by Great Britain, France, Turkey, Sardinia, Austria, Prussia, and Russia. The United States, Spain, Mexico, and Venezuela, however, did not consent to the declaration. The United States refused to join the treaty because the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the power to issue letters of marque, does not authorize it to participate in a permanent treaty abolishing privateering. Regardless, the act of privateering is considered a federal offense punishable by fine or imprisonment (18 U.S.C.A. § 1654 [2003]).

Further readings

Woodruff, James J. 2002. "Merchants, Traders, and Pirates: The Birth of the Admiralty Clause." Tulane Maritime Law Journal 563.

References in periodicals archive ?
On 8 January, the firm refused to reveal the investment amount, yet described it as a multi-million dollar participation in a $75 million fundraising effort by Privateer.
The Canadian medical cannabis system offers a great opportunity for us to provide patients with premium, pure cannabis that addresses their health needs," said Privateer Holdings CEO Brendan Kennedy.
25) A cyber letter of marque would enable a privateer to seize digital assets, disrupt fiscal and communication networks, destroy attacking networks, (26) and act as a cyber bounty hunter.
Privateer crews were known as hard men who committed many outrages when in Liverpool, often bringing terror to the town.
monitoring lists of privateer crews" in order to facilitate
The privateer will assume the costs and risks of a licensing campaign.
Thus many pirates became a combination of slaver, privateer and pirate, and by the 183os, the term picaroon had come to mean both pirate and slaver.
American privateers in the war of 1812; the vessels and their prizes as recorded in Niles' weekly register.
The smaller the friendly public navy, the less competition a privateer would face for prizes because privateers were in competition with public navies for prizes.
After gathering enough money to captain his own ship he eventually became the "admiral" of a fleet of privateer ships, plundering wealthy Spanish cities in the Americas, seizing islands, fighting battles, boarding treasure ships and earning a fortune.
For example, in December 1812, to evade Bream, the crew of the tiny American privateer Lilly ran their ship onshore and took shelter, "and then we histed English collers under American cullars and took the trumpet and told them to come in and take them downe we was so near we could hear them talk.
The privateer pair eventually finished the season 25 points, a full race win, ahead of Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege who also scored their early season points in a Hilux before switching vehicles.