A Blupete Biography Page

Joseph Barss

The father, who was also named Joseph, came up to Liverpool from New England in 1761 and was thus one of the original settlers of this south shore community. The father was but eleven years old when he arrived in the company of his widowed mother and two uncles.1 In 1773, he married and the couple went on to have 14 children. Joseph, junior, was one of the older ones2, born on February 21st, 1776. In 1798, the Barss Family built one of the largest homes in Liverpool. This is the house that now forms part of Lane's Privateer Inn.

Liverpool, as we can see from our larger narrative3, was a seaside community that turned to the open ocean to keep itself going. They also turned to the forest -- untouched prior to their arrival. From Nova Scotian timber they built sailing vessels (never were there better) and sailed to markets up and down the American coast and to the Caribbean Islands. These people were traders. They had northern wood, milled and cut; and they had fish in a pickled state. For the return voyages: rum and salt would do just fine. So, it will come as no surprise to read that our hero, at the age of 14, was a member of the crew in his father’s salmon-fishing boat that took in its harvest on the Labrador coast.

With the beginning of that long stretch between 1793 to 1815, the seventeen year old Joseph Barss would have seen the great activity at his home port at Liverpool as privateers set out to sea and brought in their prizes. He had to be crew in more than one of them. In 1798, he was second lieutenant aboard the privateer, the Charles Mary Wentworth; and in October 1799 he came to command, the Lord Spencer. His fame, however, stems from his command of the Rover. The Rover, which carried a crew of between 50 and 60 men, was first under the command of Alexander Godfrey, who also gained his reputation as the captain of this very successful privateer. The second time around, however, the command of the Rover was given to Joseph Barss, junior. We see from Perkins' diary that on January 14th, 1801, the owners "make a beginning to get the privateer Rover ready for sea. We have about 40 men entered." On the 26th, she departed for sea, Joseph Barss, Junr., Commander. Eleven weeks later, on April 18th, the Nostra Sen. Del Carman hauled into Liverpool, a prize that the Rover sent in. Not long after that, on May 8th, the Rover returned to Liverpool. She was not left to lie long, for on May 11th, the owners were fitting her out again. "Captain Barss declines going. Captain Alex Godfrey has the offer." So, it seems that the command of the Rover alternated between Godfrey and Barss; giving both, I suppose, time to spend at home to attend to their respective domestic matters.

When not in command of a privateer during the war years, "Barss continued in the coastal trade, buying and selling for himself as well as others. He was also a member of a local group of underwriters which insured Liverpool vessels and cargoes."4 It was with the opening of the war between the United States and Great Britain, in 1812, that opportunities once again appeared for profitable privateering.

The Liverpool Packet was a schooner that "sailed like a witch."5 She was 54 feet long with a 18½ foot beam, displacing 67 tons. She had a number of letters of marque issued to her. The first was issued on 24th August, 1812, Captain John Freeman; the second was issued on 10th February, 1813, Captain Joseph Barss, jr.6 The owners of the Liverpool Packet were Enos Collins, Benj. Knaut, John and James Barss, all of Liverpool. On her first two cruises and before the year was out, she sent in nineteen prizes ranging from a small 39 ton sloop, Susan, to the 134 ton schooner, Four Brothers. (It is to be remembered that the size of the Liverpool Packet was 67 tons.) Her good fortune was not to last.

In June of 1813, the Liverpool Packet met her match in the American privateer, Thomas.

"[A]fter a stubborn fight she was forced to surrender to an American privateer, the Thomas [Captain Shaw], a vessel of twice her size. Great interest was taken in her capture, for her career had been so bold and daring that Captain Barss was regarded as capable of meeting any emergency. ... Greatly outnumbered, they were compelled to surrender, but not before several of the crew of the Thomas had been killed. Captain Barss was taken to Portsmouth and there closely confined by order of the American Government. Through the influence of Governor Sherbrooke, his release was secured in the course of a few months."7
We note that the Thomas was much larger than the Liverpool Packet (143 tons versus 67 tons) had more guns (12 versus 5), and more men (80 versus 45). This capture brought no shame on Captain Barss and the crew of the Liverpool Packet.

The Liverpool Packet is considered one of the most successful Nova Scotian privateers. She was bought for £420 and during her short career it is thought that she made upwards of a million dollars for her owners.8 She was most successful off the New England coast, especially in the spring of 1813. In one week she captured 11 vessels off Cape Cod. In another five day period, she captured four schooners. She also made several landings in the Elizabeth Islands and at Wood's Hole. At these places, we presume, she relieved the citizens of their money and goods.

After their capture in June of 1813 by the Thomas, Barss and his crew were brought to shore. They were "manacled and guarded by militia [and] ... marched through the streets of Portsmouth."9 Eventually they were returned to Nova Scotia in an exchange of prisoners which came about due to the intercession of Governor Sherbrooke. The Americans hung onto Barss for a number of months before his release, and then only on parole. He broke the terms of his parole, when, in 1814, he took over the command of the Wolverine (formally the American privateer, Thomas). In one of his cruises south in the Wolverine, Barss was captured by the Americans and imprisoned once again. By the end of the war, Barss was back in Liverpool. His health had suffered account of his imprisonments.

In 1817, Barss, like many seaman on giving up their seafaring life, went inland away from the ocean. He bought a farm close by his wife's family near Kentville. There he lived with his wife and the nine children that were born to them. He had married earlier in his career Olivia (b.1783), the daughter of Elisha DeWolf of Horton Township. Joseph Barss died in 1824, at the relatively young age of 48. The graves of both Joseph Barss and his wife, Olivia, can be found at Oak Grove, Kentville, Kings County, Nova Scotia.


1 C. H. J. Snider's Under The Red Jack (Toronto: Musson, n.d.), from which book, incidently, I took the portrait.

2 Snider, at p. 44, wrote, "He had many sons and daughters -- Elisha, Eliza Ann, Amelia, James and Joseph (twins), John William, Thomas, Mary and Simon."

3 See, The Early Settlement of Liverpool And the Perkins' Diaries.

4 DCB.

5 "In early September the Liverpool Packet was at sea, with Joseph Barss second in command. During her first voyage the command changed from John Freeman to Barss, probably because of a need for effective discipline, and he remained in control on subsequent cruises." (DCB.)

6 Snider's Under The Red Jack (Toronto: Musson, n.d.) at p. 32.

7 "Notes on Nova Scotian Privateers," NSHS, #13 (1908), p. 133. After her capture, the Liverpool Packet was sold at auction and renamed Young Teazer`s Ghost and used as an American privateer. Later she was renamed the Portsmouth Packet. Within months, however, she was captured by HMS Fantome. Brought into Halifax and restored to her former owners, she soon sported her old name, the Liverpool Packet and was put under the command of Caleb Seely. She then continued her career as a successful Nova Scotian privateer. During these times she was often to be found off the coast of New England working in conjunction with British naval vessels and did so right up to the war's end. As for the Thomas: she was captured and under a letter of marque dated 21st August, 1813, out of Liverpool, as the Wolverine. Barss who as the captain of the Liverpool Packet when captured by the Thomas was to become one of her new owners. She apparently was better fitted out as the Wolverine then when she was known as the Thomas.

8 See, Snider's Under The Red Jack (Toronto: Musson, n.d.) at p 227.

9 DCB.


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Peter Landry
2012 (2020)