How Many Men Fit on a Privateer?

While Caution to the Wind is in my editor’s hands, I’m doing a bit of fact checking on various aspects of the story. I’ve already done this once, but this is more than just second guessing. I will tweak bits of detail right up until the final galley is approved.

Today’s question is: How many men fit on a privateer?

Obviously, the answer varies based on the type of ship. This article from The National Park Service suggests that it ranged from a few men on a whaler to a couple hundred on a larger ship. I’m presuming that means a whaler turned privateer. (I don’t know that a “whaler” is a type of ship like schooner or a frigate, but I could be wrong.)

Regardless of the type of ship, I think you’d need more than a “few” men. Presumably, all privateers are armed, at least enough to make a show of it. You’d probably need at least a “few” men to man each gun. This excellent article on cannons from the has a crew of eleven men to a twenty-four pounder*. That doesn’t count the powder boys.

Side note: Speaking of armament, one of the things I learned from my tour of the Pride of Baltimore II was that once a cannon is on the ship, it is no longer a cannon. Now it’s a gun.

The other thing to keep in mind about a privateer is that they also needed enough men to man a prize crew** and still more left over to continue to sail the privateer and fight.

Model of the USS Hannah, the Continental Navy's first armed
ship. Note that she only carried 4 4-pound guns. This is also a
two-masted schooner, which was typical for a privateer.  
(However, the Hannah was an official US Navy ship, and not
a privateer.)
My ship in Caution to the Wind is a schooner. Not only did I choose that type of ship because it’s the only type I’ve ever been on, it’s also of American origin and a fast ship that privateers favored. But, again, the question is, how many men were needed? I want to make sure I’m not stuffing my ship from plank to plank with sailors who can barely move, let alone fight.

According to records, the Rattlesnake, a schooner used during the American Revolution, carried as few as 12 guns and as many as 18. Although note that the guns whose sizes are listed are fairly small six-pounders. Her crew ranged from 80 to 121.

As of this draft, I have 100 men on the ship and 14 guns, so that should be about right. However, if you’ve ever seen one of these ships up close, you’ll wonder that they were able to cram half as many men onboard. Actually, the phrase “close quarters” did originate from the 18th century naval warfare, but not so much from the sleeping arrangements as from fighting behind a wooden barricade erected aboard ship. More on that here.

If you know more about schooners, privateers, ship’s guns or anything I’ve mentioned here, I welcome your comments. It usually takes a few months and a few edit rounds before the final edits are complete, so fire away! :-)


*A gun that fires twenty-four pound shot. (or cannon balls)

**A makeshift crew responsible for bringing the captured ship and its contents to the prize court where the validity of the capture is assessed along with the ship’s value.

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