Definition of privateer in US English:



  • 1An armed ship owned and officered by private individuals holding a government commission and authorized for use in war, especially in the capture of enemy merchant shipping.

    • ‘There is also reference to the Wasp, formerly the Guepe, a French privateer captured in 1801 and later under the command of Lt. Joseph Packwood in 1805.’
    • ‘The basis for the story is that in February 1704, William Dampier, a noted British buccaneer and navigator, arrived at Juan Fernandez with two ships, both licensed privateers.’
    • ‘Bored with this profession, or aware that it was a declining industry, Paine left home and shipped aboard a privateer in 1756.’
    • ‘Great names are associated with the privateers and the ships that sailed the waters off the south coast of Ireland including the name of the great John Paul Jones.’
    • ‘The US navy also took 50 merchant ships, while privateers took a further 450.’
    1. 1.1also privateersman A commander or crew member of a privateer, often regarded as a pirate.
      • ‘He spent two years in the post, toiling to save Louis XVI, sheltering aristocrats from the Paris mob, and working hard to protect American merchant vessels against French privateers.’
      • ‘However, American neutral shipping suffered grievous losses at the hands of the Royal Navy and French privateers.’
      • ‘The difference between pirates and privateers was that the pirates were simply sea robbers who captured or looted ships at sea for plunder, without authority.’
      • ‘According to the records of Lloyds, between 1775 and 1781 American privateers captured 2,600 British merchantmen.’
      • ‘Nearly all the slaves were brought to Bermuda from the West Indies or as slaves on ships captured by Bermuda privateers.’
      pirate, marauder, raider, sea rover, freebooter, plunderer, cut-throat, viking, bandit, robber, desperado
      View synonyms


[no object]
  • Engage in the activities of a privateer.


Mid 17th century: from private, on the pattern of volunteer.