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Rhode Island Governor Issues Letter of Marque

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April 13, 2011

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

Providence, RHODE ISLAND: Lincoln Chafee, America's only Independent Governor, is now also the only sitting American governor, in fact, the only governor at all in more than a century, to issue a Letter of Marque.[1]

Fully called a “Letter of Marque and Reprisal”, the document authorizes a privately owned ship to attack and capture enemy ships in the government's name, essentially making the Letter's holder into a naval axillary. In times of old, sailing under a Letter of Marque was a noble profession, unlike being a mere pirate, “at war with the world.”

Governor Chafee has, of course, not actually commissioned piracy in the name of the state, and the Letter of Marque (dead link) is only ceremonial. But the 20 members of the Rhode Island Pirate Players are still thrilled. They requested the Letter in order to educate Rhode Island's modern citizens about the state's pirate history.

In the late 17th and early 18th century, a Letter of Marque could be had for about $300 and piracy so swamped tiny Rhode island that it was nicknamed “Rogue island”.

Chafee's Letter of Marque authorizes the Pirate Players to “arm, furnish, and equip” themselves for purposes of education and requests that any ship captains who encounter the Players offer “all succor and assistance needful.”

The last true Letter of Marque issued by Rhode Island was signed by Governor William Jones during the war of 1812.[2]

The U.S. Congress also has the power to issues Letters of Marque and Reprisal under its enumerated powers and, in the years since September 11th, there has been some serious discussion of using that power to authorize private security forces in the 'War on Terror'.

The Players are next scheduled to invade the Public Library of Pelham County, New Hampshire on April 25, 2011.

See also