“Privateer Extraordinaire”: The Story of Enos Collins

Enos Collins, YoungEnos Collins was born in Liverpool, Nova Scotia on September 5, 1774 and died November 18, 1871. He was a seaman, merchant, shipowner, financier, legislator and a very successful privateer.  The eldest son and second child of Hallet Collins and Rhoda Peek, his father was a merchant, trader, and justice of the peace in Liverpool, N.S,  who was married three times, and fathered 26 children.

Enos, did not receive much in the way of a formal education, but instead went to sea at an early age as a cabin boy on one of his father’s trading or fishing vessels. At the age of 19 he was master of the schooner Adamant, sailing to Bermuda and by 1799 he was serving as first lieutenant on the famous privateer ship the Charles Mary Wentworth. As a very ambitious young man, he soon obtained part-ownership in a number of vessels trading out of Liverpool. During the Peninsular War he made a large profit by sending three supply vessels to break the Spanish blockade and replenish the British army at Cadiz which set him on the road to making a fortune.

Not long after, he outgrew the opportunities offered by the thriving seaport of Liverpool, and moved to Halifax where, by 1811, he had established himself as a merchant and shipper.  In Halifax, during the War of 1812, Collins bought captured American ships and cargoes at prize auctions; he stored the cargoes in his stone warehouse on the waterfront and sold these for a profit.  One end of this warehouse became the Halifax Banking Company, founded by himself and several other Halifax merchants and which is known today as the Imperial Bank of Commerce.  This private bank was nicknamed Collins’ Bank, and the building which housed it, is still a part of Halifax’s Historic Properties.

Collins' Court

He was also a part-owner of three privateers, including the Liverpool Packet, the most famous and most feared Nova Scotian privateer to sail the New England waters during that war. She may have captured prizes worth a million dollars. The Black Joke, as described by John Boileau in his book, Half Hearted Enemies, was originally a slave ship captured by the British Navy in it’s attempt to stop the slave trade which had been illegal in the British Empire since 1807. She was sent to Halifax where  she was condemned by the court of the Vice-Admiralty and put up for sale to the highest bidder and bought by Enos Collins. She was built in the United States and was a 53 foot black hulled compact schooner that weighed only 67 tons. Her two masts slanted back and carried sails both fore and aft, her foremast also carried sails and three large head sails swept back from her bowsprit. She was built like a racer and the crafty Enos Collins recognized her potential.  She still reeked of her last prohibited cargo and he had to fumigate her with vinegar, tar and brimstone before he could crew and captain her. When this was accomplished he re-christened her the Liverpool Packet.

Liverpool Packet, ActualInitially she ran passengers and mail to his home town of Liverpool. With the advent of the War of 1812, however,  she was to become the most successful Letter of Marque to ever sail out of a Canadian port. She became the nemesis of American merchant shipping, capturing a total of 50 American ships, and making Enos Collins a very wealthy man. She was briefly captured by the Americans but quickly recaptured by the British Navy and returned to her owners to continue her lucrative career.

18-1During the years after the war Enos Collins was involved in many business ventures that earned him a lot of money. The bulk of his fortune was made by shrewd wartime trading and careful peacetime investments. He was successful in currency speculation, backed many trading ventures, carried on his mercantile activities, and entered the lumbering and whaling businesses. Like many of his peers, he also invested in the USA and rumour had it that his American holdings equaled those in Nova Scotia. By 1822 he was ready to move on to new ground but was convinced to remain in Nova Scotia by an offer made to him of a seat in the council.

GorsebrookAfter his entry into the principal governing body of the colony, the Council of Twelve, he reinforced his position as a member of the ruling élite in 1825 by marrying Margaret, the eldest daughter of Brenton Halliburton. He also built a fine estate which he called Gorsebrook and where he and his wife entertained the governor and other elites of the community. Gorsebrook is today the site of the Saint Mary’s University in Halifax and unfortunately his mansion no longer stands, having been demolished by the university in the 1960s. Enos and Margaret had nine children, although only one son and three daughters lived beyond childhood.

enos_collins-2Enos Collins spent the last 30 years of his life in partial retirement keeping a close eye on his investments but withdrawn mainly to the privacy of Gorsebrook.  He was a member of the Church of England and supported it financially. He believed strongly that the ruling class was responsible for the less fortunate and the less successful members of society; he was a member of the Poor Man’s Friend Society and gave generously in support of the blind, and to other charities common to 19th-century Halifax. He lived to the very old age of 97 and upon his death was reported to be the richest man in Canada.  His estimated worth was thought to be in the neighbourhood of $6,000,000 which was a huge amount of money at that time.

Enos Collins was ambitious, shrewd and very often a hard-headed and harsh business man. In other words, he was what we might call a pretty tough guy, and quite definitely a “privateer extraordinaire”!

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9 thoughts on ““Privateer Extraordinaire”: The Story of Enos Collins

  1. Rob R. says:

    I’m an archaeologist and would like to correspond with the author of the above – I’d like to be able to use it as a reference. Thanks. Rob

  2. Jeepers, I’ve just finished reading 8 webpage sources about Enos Collins, and, only one of them explains why he isn’t a house-hold name in Canada, and why a movie about his life has never been made. http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=4909 The old bugger fought tooth and nail against 1867 Confederation of Canada. If Enos and his cronies had had their way, Canada would never have been ‘born’ and not exist today. And, thanks to Enos and his cronies, the majority of Nova Scotians believed their anti-confederation propaganda that they spouted thru their newspapers in order to hang on to their oligarchal control of the Maritimes, and based on it the majority would have voted against Confederation. THEN afterwards, they tried to get N.S. to repeal Confederation by nearly bankrupting N.S. in order to fool the people in to believing that joining was the mistake they falsely claimed it would be. He and his cronies claimed to be loyal to the British Monarchy as their reason but in fact, they were in deep shit with England, AND, their investments in the U.S. were collectively greater than their investments in N.S. and other British colonies of the day. SO, I have to wonder what their real goal agenda actually was. Me thinks they were bucking for eventual statehood. Scumbags IMHO.

    • Johanna says:

      Yes, I don’t believe he was a particularly likeable character, albeit an interesting one. It’s all part of history now, and there were/are many others like him both in the past and in present…

    • Johanna says:

      PS, For you info…there were many Nova Scotians who did not at the time want to become a part of the Confederation and that had little to do with Enos Collins or others like him. Even today there real questions as to whether or not Confederation actually sent Nova Scotia into an economic crisis, something that many still believe they have never really recovered from even to this day. It may be argued therefore that Enos Collins was promoting a movement or perhaps even fighting for what most Nova Scotians were in agreement with at the time. The following is an excerpt from the The Canadian Encyclpedia on line which I think highlights an opinion that is actually still held by many.

      “At CONFEDERATION in 1867, the Maritime provinces had little in common with Canada. The region’s development had been radically different, and furthermore a Maritime distinctiveness had been significantly influenced by the interplay of 3 major forces: those of the Atlantic, New England and Britain. The Atlantic was for many inhabitants of the area a frontier of space and abundance, and for them its metaphors coloured many of the cultural expressions of their region. Its powerful appeal helped to provide, for some, not only an escape from the grim and often mundane realities of everyday existence, but also a sense of acute fatalism affected by the conviction that the environment could never effectively be mastered.

      The second formative force, not only at Confederation but also throughout the post-Indian period, was that of neighbouring New England. Until the AMERICAN REVOLUTION shattered the Anglo-American empire, the Maritime region was “New England’s Outpost,” and even in the 1980s economic, cultural, religious and social ties between the regions were surprisingly strong. (continues to this day)

      The British connection was the third formative force. After France’s direct exercise of power in North America was eliminated, Britain’s influence over the Maritimes was unrivalled. The arrival of thousands of Loyalists during and after the American Revolution, and the tens of thousands of British immigrants who settled in the region during the 19th century, reinforced Britain’s influence. The interaction of these forces before 1867 gave the inhabitants of NS, NB and PEI a strong sense of provincial identity. They did not view themselves as Maritimers, and certainly not as Canadians, but rather as British Islanders, British Nova Scotians or British New Brunswickers.

      It may be argued that the Maritime provinces have never fully recovered psychologically from the traumatic experience of Confederation and the sudden end in the late 19th century of the golden age of “Wooden Ships and Iron Men” (see SHIPPING HISTORY). Before Confederation, many Maritimers believed that their region had unlimited economic potential and that theirs was the most sophisticated and best administered of all the British colonies possessing RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT. It was felt that the Maritimes had a special role to play in the evolution of a new British Empire.

      The development of this sense of destiny came to a sudden halt after Confederation when the Maritimes found themselves left out of the westward transcontinental thrust of the new Canada, bypassed by immigrants to the interior, and lacking natural and human resources for industrialization. Most Maritimers believed the identity of the villain was obvious: the federal government in Ottawa. The proof was there – before Confederation there had been widespread prosperity and the entire region had shared a feeling of optimism and pride. After Confederation there were prolonged economic recessions and a growing sense of inferiority and bitterness.”

    • Johanna says:

      It can very easily be said then, that, at the time of Confederation and the formation of Canada, which saw most industry and population growth centralize into the interior or to the west, there were winners and there were losers. The winners were Upper and Lower Canada and the losers were in a very real sense the Maritime Provinces.

    • Johanna says:

      Please excuse the number of replies I’m making, should just wait and make them all at once I know, but I need to make one last point.

      At the time of Confederation Enos Colins was an old man in his 93rd year. He had already spent 30 years in retirement. I doubt at that later time in his life that he was acting in his own interest or for his own future endeavours. I think rather, that he truly believed it would be a mistake for Nova Scotia, and it’s people, to join the Confederation of Canada.

      • Please, Collins was a liar and manipulator and profiteer thruout his entire adult life. He’d truck and trade with anybody for a buck, and to feather his own image, which he did before, during, AND most fervently after the War of 1812, and then stiff the other fellow if he could. Why, by almost all accounts, except one that I found, he single handedly captured and ‘liberated’ about 50 American cargo ships during that war. BULL HOCKEY PUCKS. It was actually Joseph Barss who captured almost all those ships, a couple of other Captains getting almost the rest, while Collins saw to it that he Collins got all the credit for them all, AND most of the benefits. As for his allegedly helping the less well off with great acts of charity, he was spending a little to get a lot of public contracts, and fooling the poorer off in to believing him to be a great benefactor because that made his public image look good, and got him and his cronies majority support for their Anti-Confederation League, as well as pulling the wool over the eyes of the people as to what they were really doing, namely ripping the people off left right and centre.

  3. Johanna says:

    Actually, it is common knowledge that both Joseph Barss and Caleb Seely captained the Liverpool Packet and captured these approx 50 American ships. Enos Collins simply owned and funded the ship, which is of course why he was given much of the credit and the spoils, as it were. That is of course the norm, even in this day and age. He was an entrepreneur after all, an ambitious and driven man who knew the sea. I don’t believe I’ve seen it written anywhere that he single handedly captured these ships. There were many privateer ships with Letters of Marque at the time, the Liverpool Packet was quite simply one of the more successful ones and there-by gained its’ fame.

    Sounds like you knew him personally…you have such an intense dislike for a man who died almost 150 years ago. You almost seem to have first hand knowledge about the man and his motives both private and public…you judge him with such surety.

    Amazing that…:)

    Enos Collins’ beliefs with regards to the Confederation were shared by about half the Nova Scotians of his day. I’m not so sure that they were as easily led as you seem to insinuate.

    Unfortunately, I get the impression that you have a very limited understanding about the culture and sensitivities of the people of Nova Scotia during that time period, and dare I say, perhaps even in the present day.

    Regards

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