Historical Documents

of the United States of America

Resolves Of The Continental Congress Regarding Privateers ~ 1776

Passed 23 March 1776


     During the session held on Saturday, 23 March 1776, the delegates meeting in the Second Continental Congress passed the following resolves regarding privateers.


     Whereas the petitions of these United Colonies to the King, for the redress of great and manifest grievances, have not only been rejected, but treated with scorn and contempt, and the opposition to designs evidently formed to reduce them to a state of servile subjection, and their necessary defence against hostile forces actually employed to subdue them, declared rebellion; And whereas an unjust war hath been commenced against them, which the commanders of the British fleets and armies have prosecuted, and shall continue to prosecute with their utmost vigour, and in a cruel manner; wasting, spoiling and destroying the country, burning houses and defenseless towns, and exposing the helpless inhabitants to every misery, from the inclemency of the winter; and not only urging savages to invade the country, but instigating negroes to murder their masters; And whereas the parliament of Great Britain hath lately passed an Act, affirming these colonies to be in open rebellion, forbidding all trade and commence with the inhabitants thereof, until they shall accept pardons, and submit to despotic rule, declaring their property, wherever found upon the water, liable to seizure and confiscation; and enacting, that what had been done there by virtue of the royal authority, were just and lawful acts, and shall be so deemed; from all which it is manifest, that the iniquitous scheme, concerted to deprive them of the liberty they have a right to by the laws of nature and the English constitution, will be pertinaciously pursued. It being therefore necessary to provide for their defence and security, and justifiable to make reprisals upon their enemies, and otherwise to annoy them, according to the laws and usages of Nations, the Congress, trusting that such of their friends in Great Britain (of whom it is confessed there are many entitled to applause and gratitude for their patriotism and benevolence, and in whose favour a discrimination of property cannot be made) as shall suffer by captures, will impute it to the authors of our common calamities, Do Declare and Resolve as followeth, to wit:
     Resolved, That the inhabitants of these colonies be permitted to fit out armed vessels to cruize on the enemies of these United Colonies.
     Resolved, That all ships and other vessels, their tackle, apparel, and furniture, and all goods, wares, and merchandizes, belonging to any inhabitant or inhabitants of Great Britain, taken on the high seas, or between high and low water mark, by any armed vessel, fitted out by any private person or persons, to whom commissions shall be granted, and being libelled and prosecuted in any court erected for the trial of maritime affairs, in any of these colonies, shall be deemed and adjudged to be lawful prize; and after deducting and paying the wages of the seamen and mariners on board of such captures as are merchant ships and vessels, shall be entituled to, according to the terms of their contracts, until the time of the adjudication, shall be condemned to and for the use of the owner or owners, and the officers, marines and mariners of such armed vessel, according to such rules and proportions as they shall agree on: Provided always, that this resolution shall not extend to any vessel bringing settlers arms, ammunition or warlike stores to and for the use of these colonies, or any of the inhabitants thereof, who are friends to the American cause, or to such warlike stores, or to the effects of such settlers.
     Resolved, That all ships or vessels, with their tackle, apparel, and furniture, goods, wares, a0nd merchandizes belonging to any inhabitant of Great Britain, as aforesaid, which shall be taken by any of the vessels of war of these United Colonies, shall be deemed forfeited, one third, after deducting and paying the wages of seamen and mariners as aforesaid, to the officers and men on board, and two thirds to the use of the United Colonies.
     Resolved, That all ships and vessels, with their tackle, apparel, and furniture, goods, wares, and merchandizes belonging to any inhabitants of Great Britain as aforesaid, which shall be taken by any vessel of war fitted out by and at the expence of any of the United Colonies, shall be deemed forfeited, and divided, after deducting and paying the wages of seamen and mariners, as aforesaid, in such manner and proportions as the assembly or convention of such colony shall direct.
     Resolved, That all vessels, with their tackle, apparel, and furniture, and cargoes, belonging to the inhabitants of Great Britain, as aforesaid, and all vessels which may be employed in carrying supplies to the ministerial armies which shall happen to be taken near the shores of any of these colonies, by the people of the country, or detachments from the army, shall be deemed lawful prize; and the court of admiralty within the said colony is required, on condemnation thereof, to adjudge that all charges and expences which may attend the capture and trial, be first paid out from the monies arising from the sales of the prize, and the remainder equally divided among all those, who shall have been actually engaged and employed in taking the said prize. Provided, that where any detachments of the army shall have been employed as aforesaid, their part of the prize-money shall be distributed among them in proportion to the pay of the officers and soldiers so employed.
From Journals Of The Continental Congress 1774-1789, Volume IV, 1906, Government Printing Office, Pages 229-232.