Massachusetts Privateer Ship Rover


Commander James Barr


28 May 1781-20 June 1781

Massachusetts Privateer Ship

Commissioned/First Date:

28 May 1781

Out of Service/Cause:

20 June 1671/captured by HM Frigate Medea


Joseph White et al, of Salem, Massachusetts


166, 208


Date Reported: 7 May 1781

Number/Caliber  Weight           Broadside

20/4-pounder      80 pounds     40 pounds

Total: 20 cannon/80 pounds

Broadside: 10 cannon/40 pounds


Date Reported: 28 May 1781

Number/Caliber  Weight        Broadside


Total: 24 cannon/

Broadside: 12 cannon/


Date Reported: 20 June 1781

Number/Caliber  Weight           Broadside


Total: 20 cannon/

Broadside: 10 cannon/


Date Reported: 4 July 1781

Number/Caliber  Weight           Broadside

18/6-pounder     108 pounds    54 pounds

Total: 18 cannon/108 pounds

Broadside: 10 cannon/54 pounds



(1) 7 May 1781: 71 [total]
(2) 28 May 1781: 101 [nominal]
(3) 20 June 1781: 72 [total]
(4) 4 July 1781: 140 [total]


90′ in length, 76′5′′ length on the keel, with a 22′8′′ beam, and a depth in the hold of 9′


(1) First Lieutenant Jacob Clark, 28 May 1781-20 June 1781; (2) Second Lieutenant James Cheever, 28 May 1781-20 June 1781; (3) Master William Dennis, 28 May 1781-20 June 1781; Surgeon William Vinal, 28 May 1781-20 June 1781


(1) Salem, Massachusetts to sea, [5] June 1781-20 June 1781




Massachusetts Privateer Ship Rover was commissioned on 28 May 1781 under Commander James Barr, of Salem, Massachusetts. She was reported armed with twenty-four guns and having a crew of one hundred men. Rover was bonded for $20,000 by Barr, White, and Joseph Lambert of Salem.1 Jacob Clark served aboard as First Lieutenant, James Cheever as Second Lieutenant, William Dennis as Master, and William Vinal as Surgeon. The remainder of the crew came to sixty-five men.2

An interesting document exists for the Rover, namely the ship’s articles for the upcoming cruise. All recruited members of the crew signed these. This document is typical of a privateer’s articles of agreement:


“Concluded at Salem this Seventh day of May, 1781, between the owners of the Privateer Ship Rover, commanded by James Barr, now fixing in this port for a cruise of four months against the Enemies of the United States of America, on the first part and the officers and seamen belonging to said Ship Rover on the other part as follows, viz.:

“Article 1st. The owners agree to fix with all expedition said Ship for sea, and cause her to be mounted with Twenty Guns, four Pounders, with a sufficiency of ammunition of all kinds and good provisions for one Hundred men for four months’ cruise, also to procure an apparatus for amputating, and such a Box of medicine as shall be thought necessary by the Surgeon.”

“Article 2d. The Officers and Seamen Shall be entitled to one half of all the prizes captured by Said Ship after the cost of condemning, etc., is deducted from the whole.”

“Article 3d. The Officers and Seamen agree that they will to the utmost of their abilities discharge the duty of Officers and Seamen, according to their respective Stations on board Said Ship, her boats and Prizes, by her taken, and the Officers and Seamen further agree that if any Officer or Private shall in time of any engagement with any Vessell abandon his Post on board said Ship or any of her boats or Prizes by her taken, or disobey the commands of the Captain or any Superior Officer, that said Officer or Seaman, if adjudged guilty by three Officers, the Captain being one, shall forfeit all right to any Prize or Prizes by her taken.”

“Article 4th. The Officers and Seamen further agree that if any Officer shall in time of any engagement or at any other time behave unworthy of the Station that he holds on board said Ship, it shall be in the power of three officers, the captain being one, to displace said Officer, and appoint any one they may see fit in his place. That if any Officer belonging to said Ship shall behave in an unbecoming character of an officer and gentleman, he shall be dismissed and forfeit his share of the cruise.”

“Article 5th. The owners, officers and Seamen agree that if any one shall, first discover a sail which shall prove to be a Prize, he shall be entitled to Five Hundred Dollars.”

“Article 6th. Any one who shall first board any Vessell in time of an engagement, which shall prove a Prize, Shall be entitled to one thousand Dollars and the best firelock on board said Vessell, officers’ prizes being excepted.

“Article 7th. If any officer or Seamen shall at the time of an Engagement loose a leg or an arm he shall be entitled to Four Thousand Dollars, if any Officer or Seaman shall loose an Eye in time of an Engagement, he shall receive the Sum of Two Thousand Dollars; if any officer shall loose a joint he shall be entitled to one thousand Dollars, the same to be paid from the whole amount of prizes taken by said Ship.”

“Article 8th. That no Prize master or man, that shall be put on board any Prize whatever and arrive at any port whatever, Shall be entitled to his share or shares, except he remain to discharge the Prize, or he or they are discharged by the agent of said Ship, except the Privateer is arrived before the Prize.”

“Article 9th. That for the Preservation of Good order on board said Ship, no man to quit or go out of her, on board of any other Vessell without having obtained leave from the commanding officer on board.”

“Article 10th. That if any person Shall count to his own use any part of the Prize or Prizes or be found pilfering any money or goods, and be convicted thereof, he shall forfeit his share of Prize money to the Ship and Company.”

“That if any person shall be found a Ringleader of a meeting or cause any disturbance on board, refuse to obey the command of the Captain, or any officer or behave with Cowardice, or get drunk in time of action, he shall forefeit his or their Share or Shares to the rest of the Ship’s Company.”

“That every man who shall sufficiently prove himself in the judgement of the captain and other officers an able seaman shall be entitled to one share and a quarter of all prizes which shall or may be captured by the said ship during her now intended cruise.”

“In condition whereof the said parties bind themselves in the sum of Five thousand pounds lawful money fully to abide by aud perform each and every article above written.”3


A photo-gravure of James Barr from a portrait in Leghorn. In the Essex Historical Collections, volume 27.




This appears to be a very early photograph, taken about 1840, showing James Barr at age ninety. If  so, this is a very rare photograph of a veteran of the American Revolution. In the Essex Historical Collections, volume 27.


Rover was said to measure 90' in length, 76'5" length on the keel, with a 224'8" beam, and a depth in the hold of 9'. Her tonnage was listed as 166, but, by British calculation measured 208 and 78/94.4

Rover sailed soon after her commission, perhaps about the early part of June 1781. Barr steered northeast, heading for the waters around Nova Scotia. The morning of 20 June 1781 Rover was off the Cape Sable, Nova Scotia. The morning brought fresh breezes and cloudy weather, and also brought HM Frigate Medea (Captain Henry Duncan). After a short chase Medea ran down the Rover at 0600 and Barr surrendered. The British took seventy-two members of her crew aboard the frigate and kept the prize in company. Medea’s log stated she was armed with twenty guns. Medea and Rover arrived at New York, New York on 1 July 1781.5

Reporting the capture, Admiral Arbuthnot stated that Rover was armed with eighteen 6-pounders and had a crew of 140 men.6  Rover was tried and condemned at New York, New York.7 Barr, and presumably his crew, wound up on the Jersey, the prison ship at New York, but Barr was soon exchanged.8

Rover was purchased into the Royal Navy on 4 July 1781 as HM Sloop Rover. On 25 August 1781 she was driven ashore off New Jersey in bad weather and destroyed to prevent capture.9

1 NRAR, 448; Allen, Massachusetts Privateers of the Revolution, 268

2 Curwen, James Barr, “Reminiscences of Capt. James Barr of Salem, Mass.,” in Essex Institute Historical Collections, vol. XXVII, Salem: Essex Institute, 1890, 123-148. Online.

3 Curwen, “Reminiscences of Capt. James Barr of Salem, Mass.,”. The articles are on pp. 136-139.

4 Winfield, British Warships in the Age of Sail 1714-1792, 290, 291. The British captured two large American privateers, both out of Massachusetts; one was the Cumberland and the other was the Rover. Both were taken into the Royal Navy as sloops, and both named Rover. It appears that the dimensions of these two vessels are reversed in Winfield. In the bond applications for Cumberland, she is listed as 290 and 296 tons. On p. 290, Winfield gives her calculated tonnage of the ex-Cumberland as 208 78/94, far too small. The Americans were more in the habit of understating tonnage, rather than overstating it. On p. 291, Winfield gives the calculated tonnage of the ex-Rover as 275 70/94. It appears that the ex-Rover’s dimensions have been assigned to the ex-Cumberland.

5 McManemin, Captains of the Privateers During the Revolutionary War, 115, with extract of Medea’s log

6 McManemin, Captains of the Privateers During the Revolutionary War, 115

7 HCA 32/443/21/1-7

8 McManemin, Captains of the Privateers During the Revolutionary War, 115

9 Winfield, British Warships in the Age of Sail 1714-1792, 290

Posted 16 November 2014 ©