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Privately owned vessel commissioned by a state at war to attack enemy ships, usually merchant vessels. All nations engaged in privateering from the earliest times until the 19th century. Crews were not paid by the government but were entitled to receive portions of the value of any cargo they seized. Limiting privateers to the activities laid down in their commissions was difficult, and the line between privateering and piracy was often blurred. In 1856, by the Declaration of Paris, Britain and other major European countries (except Spain) declared privateering illegal; the U.S. finally repudiated it at the end of the 19th century, and Spain agreed to the ban in 1908. See alsobuccaneer, Francis Drake, William Kidd, Jean Laffite.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on privateer, visit Britannica.com.