Pirates And Privateers: Sailing The Schooner FameMay 23, 2022
There is an abundance of maritime history in Salem, Massachusetts. The Schooner Fame and Real Pirates offer the unique opportunity to get up close and personal with privateer and pirate history, especially when it comes to North Shore maritime history.
We spoke with Captain Michael Rutstein of the Schooner Fame in Salem, MA to learn a bit more about the ship, Real Pirates, and privateering on the North Shore of Massachusetts.
What Is The Schooner Fame?
The Schooner Fame found in Salem is an accurate recreation of a local privateer vessel active during the War of 1812. These boats were very common in New England at the time as they were mostly used as fishing vessels.
The Schooner Fame is particularly famous as it was converter into a privateer combat vessel during the War of 1812.
“Twenty-five sea captains pooled their money together to buy the schooner,” explained Captain Rutstein. “They decided that if war came, they would go out as a crew and go privateering.”
The Schooner Fame is noted for capturing The Concord of England and the Elbe of Scotland. These were the first prizes taken by an American privateer during the War of 1812. Amazingly, these two ships were captured without a single shot fired.
What Was Privateering?
Privateers played an essential role in protecting American waters during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. At the time, the United States Navy was small and relied on private ships to defend against and capture enemy vessels.
This became a war for former North Shore fishermen to serve their country and supplement the income lost due to the war.
“Most of the people on the North Shore at that time made their living on the sea,” Captain Rutstein said. “People fished. People were trading. The war took that away from them and there wasn’t a navy to join. Privateering was patriotic and a necessity.”
And, according to the National Park Service, “In all, privateers damaged the British economy more severely than did the American navy: 23 American navy vessels captured 254 ships; the total privateer haul was 1,345 ships for a net worth of $45.5 million.”
Privateering vs. Piracy: What’s The Difference?
While similar, there are quite a few key differences between piracy and privateering. The major difference of course was that privateering was legal.
And unlike pirates, privateers have the “burden of proof” as Captain Rutstein explains. “The vessels captured are enemy property and need to be brought back to port to make a profit.”
How Were Pirates and Privateers Similar?
However, both groups often relied on a board and capture strategy when it came to attacking enemy ships. This ensured that valuable ships and their cargo could be captured and sold/turned in for money. There’s not much profit in sending a ship to the bottom of the sea. This often lead to ships being captured without bloodshed – or at least, that was the goal.
And, the socio-economic status of pirates and privateers originates from the same spirit.
“There was not a lot of social mobility back in the colonies,” Rutstein elaborated. “You tend to remain in the station in which you were born. The seas were no different, you were born in a class of people that produced crew – it was very difficult to rise to command without social status or money. Piracy and privateering were a way to shatter the glass ceiling.”
Pirates and privateers weren’t paid hourly or monthly, like traditional crews. They were paid based on the ships they captured and the haul found within, and everyone received their share of the profits.
“It was very rare in colonial times to find employment with profit sharing. Even the lowest member of a privateering crew could make lots of money. Like piracy, privateering held the allure of a big payoff but it was legal! There was no shame. You would get off the ship, take your deplumes, and dump them on the table when you returned to your family. Most privateers made more in a month than others made in two years.”
How Do The Schooner Fame and Real Pirates Complement Each Other?
Going from sailing on the Fame to Real Pirates (or vice-versa) provides a well-rounded in-depth look at New England maritime history. Both of these incredible experiences provide an unmatched level of immersion within the time period.
The Fame Captain praises Real Pirates for its perspective look at the allure of piracy (and privateering) and what makes an everyday person turn to a life on the high seas.
“Real Pirates has a great claim to their name. It really speaks to the care and expertise of the people involved. They have very thorough pirate exhibitions, presentations, and information. It’s all well-researched and very educational. I never hesitate to recommend Real Pirates to school groups for field trips. It’s a great attraction in Salem.”
The Schooner Fame features an incredible hands-on experience when it comes to getting out onto the waters. Once there, guests can learn incredible maritime history, especially when it comes to privateering, whilst enjoying the epic views and a delicious cocktail.
Visiting the Pirate Museum before or after is a great way to complement the sailing experience with 90-minutes of in-depth information about pirates. Here, you’ll get up-close with authentic pirate artifacts, such as the world’s first and only fully authenticated pirate treasure. The museum also features a discovery lab exploring the science of archaeological excavation and an incredibly detailed replica of the pirate vessel Whydah Gally.
“As someone who has been operating and maintaining a wooden vessel (the Schooner Fame),” Rutstein said. “Real Pirates has done an amazing job putting together a model that is realistic, lifelike, and sensational. It speaks to the care and expertise of the people involved.”