Saint Mary's course explores history of pirates and privateers in Atlantic Canada
A class at Saint Mary's University is diving into the history of pirates and privateers right in our own backyard.
For decades, pirates have been the stuff of legends; cruising the seas, capturing treasure, and taking time for a song or two.
But how much of that is true?
Dan Conlin, a professor and curator at the Canadian Museum of Immigration and the course instructor at Saint Mary’s, says not so much.
“All that ‘arrrgh, shiver me timbers’ stuff? Invented by Robert Louis Stevenson,” Conlin says. “Many of those glorified pirate rituals that you see in some of those films have seeds of truth and sifting out the fact and the myth is a lot of what makes piracy study really fun.”
That's why Conlin started teaching the course at Saint Mary's University this year, diving into the history of piracy and privateering in Atlantic Canada.
In the 18th century, there were both pirates and privateers in Nova Scotia.
One famous privateer ship was the Rover, a well-armed privateer brig that sailed out of Liverpool, N.S.
Only privateers were formally recognized.
“Pirates were stateless outlaws,” Conlin said. “In their own words ‘enemies of all mankind.’ Privateers were licensed sea raiders, like kind of a private-sector navy, who had a licence from the king to attack enemy ships, but only in times of war, and they were regulated.”
And of course, there is one very famous story of a local privateer.
Stan Rogers wrote Barrett's Privateers as an ode to the sea-faring world.
It's stories like these that entices students.
“I saw it when I was registering for courses, and I thought ‘how often am I going to get university credits for talking about pirates?’” said Rudy Bartlett.
Learning about pirate raids even got Alicia Jacquard to take a closer look at her own family history.
“He mentioned that when they had come, it was in Digby and in Yarmouth, and I'm from Yarmouth,” said Jacquard. “There was one case of documented deaths, and I don't know if that one case is my ancestor or not, but I kinda want to look into it and see if it is.”
Students are learning how to identify ships, flags, and even naming their own ships.
Privateering even changed the landscape of Halifax. Saint Mary's University is built on part of the estate of an old privateer, but there is one myth that Conlin needs to clear up.
“We have virtually no accounts of pirates ever burying treasure,” Conlin said. “Pirates knew that they were going to have a short life and the idea was to spend that money as quickly as you captured it.”
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Emily Baron Cadloff.