Strategies, Ruses and Tricks

By employing strategy, they succeeded in overrunning much larger ships.In any kind of warfare, strategy is often more important than sheer force. This was especially true for the privateers, whose ships were small and lightly armed. By employing strategy, they succeeded in overrunning much larger ships.

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One strategy was to send privateers to sail in advance of an invading fleet. When William Phips tried to capture Quebec City in 1690, his fleet included an advance party of privateers. It was these privateers who pillaged the post of Percé. (Create a link to the text about the pillaging of Percé.)

In wartime, supplies and provisions were transported by naval convoys. Ships would sail together so that they could better defend themselves. But privateers would infiltrate these convoys. By disguising their vessels as supply ships, privateers could take their adversaries by surprise.



Showing Their True Colours

One of the favourite strategies of a privateer captain was to approach an enemy ship without "showing his colours," that is, with no flags on the masts that could identify the privateer ship. The captain of the enemy ship would believe the privateer was an ally and let it approach. Then, at the last moment, the privateer would show its colours and attack!

Sometimes privateer captains would carry flags in their enemies' colours on board and hoist them when they sighted their prey. This ruse enabled the privateer ship to approach the enemy without arousing suspicion.

These strategies were very effective against scattered convoys, in which allied ships often had difficulty recognizing each other. The privateers would slip in among the dispersed ships, hiding their colours. Then, at the last minute, they would launch an attack against an isolated and poorly defended ship.

This tactic was used by the English privateers who devastated Percé in 1690:

To make a long story short, at the beginning of the month of August, two English frigates appeared, flying the flag of France, in the roadstead off Bonaventure Island, and by means of this strategy easily seized five fishing vessels, whose captains and crews, who were then entirely occupied with fishing, were all obliged to come ashore at Quebec, because they were in no condition to defend themselves, or to resist so many nations in league against them.

Chrestien Leclercq, Nouvelles relations de la Gaspésie (News from the Gaspé), 1691