“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”!