Sir John Sherbrooke (Halifax)

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Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svgNova Scotia
Owner: Joseph Freeman, Enos Collins, John Barss, Joseph. Barss, Benjamin Knaut
Port of registry: Halifax, Nova Scotia
Commissioned: 11 February 1813
Honours and
18 captures
Fate: Captured and burned 1814
General characteristics
Type: Privateer Brig
Tons burthen: 278 bm
Sail plan: brig
Crew: 150; reduced to 40 men when engaged in mercantile trade
Armament: 18 x 9-pounder cannons; reduced to 12 when engaged in mercantile trade

Sir John Sherbrooke was a successful and famous Nova Scotian privateer brig during the War of 1812, the largest privateer from Atlantic Canada during the war. In addition to preying on American merchant ships (she captured 18 between her commissioning on 11 February 1813 and her conversion to a merchant vessel in 1814), she also defended Nova Scotian waters during the war. After her conversion to a merchantman she fell prey to an American privateer in 1814. She was burnt to prevent her reuse.


She was originally the American privateer brig Thorn, Asa Hooper master, and was armed with eighteen long 9-pounder guns.[1] Thorn was from Marblehead, Massachusetts, and she was on her first cruise when the British captured her.[1][Note 1] At the time of her capture she had already taken as prizes the brig Freedom, loaded with salt, and the American vessel Hiram, with a cargo of flour and bread on a voyage to Lisbon and traveling with a British license (safe conduct pass) that asked all British naval vessels and privateers to let her pass, provided that she was on a bona fide passage to Spain or Portugal with flour. This capture, on 15 October, gave rise to a US Supreme Court court case in which the court ruled that Hiram, although an American vessel, was a legitimate prize.[2][Note 2] The British naval vessels Tenedos, Shannon, Nymphe and Curlew captured Thorn on 31 October 1812.[1] Thorn was sold at Halifax as a prize and renamed after the former colonial administrator Sir John Coape Sherbrooke.


She had three letters of marque issued to her: 27 November 1812 (Captain Thomas Robson); 15 February 1813 (Captain Joseph Freeman); and 27 August 1814 (Captain Wm Corken). Sir John Sherbrooke's primary captain was Joseph Freeman, an experienced privateer officer from Liverpool, Nova Scotia, who was a veteran who did everything in navy fashion. (Freeman was eventually buried in the Old Burying Ground (Halifax, Nova Scotia)). Freeman co-operated with the navy, which treated him with the same respect as a naval officer.

On 7 April the Betsey, which had been sailing from Newport to Havana, arrived at Halifax, a prize to Sir John Sherbrooke.Lloyd's List,[3]

On 18 December 1813, the prize agents advertised the distribution of prize money for the following captures:

  • Sloops Red Bird, Apollo, Betsey, and Fame
  • Brig Columbia
  • Schooners Mary, Paulina and Caroline
  • Privateer schooner Governor Plummer, of six guns[Note 3]

as well as salvage for the recapture of the ship Loyal Sam, brig Paragon and sloop General Hodgson.[4]

Next, Sir John Sherbrooke sailed in company with Rattler and the schooner Bream. Together the three captured 11 American vessels between 7 and 9 April.

Sir John Sherbrooke provided reinforcements for Shannon prior to her famous victory over the USS Chesapeake, although Sir John Sherbrooke was not present at the battle. Sir John Sherbrooke had gathered 50 Irish volunteers when on 26 May 1813 she recaptured the Duck, which was transporting them as laborers from Waterford to Newfoundland. The Duck had been the prize of the American privateer General Plummer, which Sir John Sherbrooke had captured two days latter. Twenty-two of the laborers agreed to transfer from Sir John Sherbrooke to the Shannon.

Sir John Sherbrooke also began the chase of the notorious American privateer schooner Young Teazer, which British naval ships, including Hogue and Orpheus then took up. The chase ended with Young Teazer's destruction at the hands of a member of her own crew who feared capture because he had violated his parole resulting from a previous capture.


Far larger than most colonial privateers, Sir John Sherbrooke required a constant supply of American captures to pay for her large crew. Following the destruction of most American shipping during the war, the Sir John Sherbrooke became unprofitable to operate as a privateer and her owners sold her in 1814. Her new owners then employed her as a merchant ship.


In the autumn of 1814 Sir John Sherbrooke was outward bound from Halifax with a cargo of oil and dried fish. She encountered the American privateer Syren, which captured her and put a prize crew aboard her. However, a British squadron came along and chased Sir John Sherbrooke ashore. The American crew managed to get away with all the valuables on board despite the fire of the British frigate's guns. The frigate sent her boats to attempt a recovery, but gunfire from a nearby fort drove them off. Salvage was impracticable, so the cutting-out party from the frigate set Sir John Sherbrooke on fire; she then burned to the water's edge.

On 16 November 1814, boats from Spencer and Telegraph, herself a former American privateer, ran Syren ashore under Cape May, where her crew destroyed her.[5]

Other information[edit]

Sir John Sherbrooke was not as famous as her smaller and more successful counterpart, the schooner Liverpool Packet. However some believe that Sir John Sherbrooke inspired the line "I wish I was in Sherbrooke now", from the Stan Rogers song "Barrett's Privateers", because the town of Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia did not yet exist, as the song takes place in 1778. The Sherbrooke also significantly postdates the American Revolution as it was commissioned only two years before the town, a full 35 years after the song's setting.[6]

Notes, citations, and references[edit]


  1. ^ She had sailed with 140 men but had put prize crews aboard two prizes so only 124 remained.
  2. ^ THE HIRAM, 12 U. S. 444 (1814)
  3. ^ The General Plummer had had a crew of 100 when Sir John Sherbrooke captured her.


  1. ^ a b c "No. 16684". The London Gazette. 22 December 1812. p. 2569. 
  2. ^ Justitia
  3. ^ [1] - accessed 15 December 2013.
  4. ^ Acadian Recorder 1 January 1814 p. 4
  5. ^ "No. 17012". The London Gazette. 16 May 1815. p. 923. 
  6. ^ Dan Conlin, "Is the Song Barrett's Privateers True?", Canadian Privateering Homepage