The Griffin — Privateer Brig

Operating in the 1770s Under the Command of Captain R. Grimshaw


Note: It is highly doubtful that any photos exist of the Griffin. The photo above is of the restored brig U.S. Niagara and is presented to show what a brig looks like. More detail is provided below.

The Griffin was a ship operating out of Liverpool in the 1770s under the command of a Captain Grimshaw. In 1779, the ship was recorded in Lloyds Register, a book of information on ships calling at English ports. Also, records of two letters have been found in the Belfast News-Letter reporting that the Griffin, acting as a privateer, successfully captured a ship, the Le Count St. Germaine, in February 1779. Another letter from the Belfast News-Letter, from fourteen years earlier (1765), indicates that a Grimshaw was involved in the maritime slave trade. It is not known if he is the same person as the Griffin’s captain.

Is it safe to assume that Griffin’s Captain Grimshaw named his ship for the Grimshaw family icon? The griffin has been associated with the Grimshaw family (on its coat of arms) going back at least to the early 1600s, and possibly as early as the 1300s.


Webpage Credits

Record of The Griffin in Lloyds Register

Hilary Tullochs Interpretation of the Record

The Griffins Exploits as Reported in the Belfast News-Letter

What is a Privateer, and What is a Brig?

What Does a Brig Look Like? – the U. S. Brig Niagara

Grimshaws in Liverpool During the Time of The Griffin

Was the Griffin Also a Slave Ship?

Additional Information on Lloyd’s Register


Webpage Credits

Thanks to Hilary Tulloch for finding the first evidence of the existence of the Griffin and its Captain Grimshaw. Hilary has also provided a preliminary interpretation of the ship’s record in Lloyd’s Register. The Lloyd’s Register record was obtained from the Latter-Day Saints Library in Salt Lake City. Other information is from various websites that are credited where referenced.

Record of The Griffin in Lloyds Register

The earliest official records found thus far for the Griffin are in the 1778 and 1779 editions  of Lloyds Register1,2. A magnified view of the 1778 record, showing R Grimshaw as Captain, is shown in Figure 1. The full page containing the record is shown in Figure 2. Similar magnified and full page views of the 1779 record are shown in Figures 3 and 4.

Figure 1. Image of entry #265, the Griffin, in Lloyd’s Register for 17781, showing Captain R. Grimshaw and several other items of information. An  interpretation of the record and the information contained are given in the next section.

Figure 2. The full page from 1778 Lloyd’s Register with the record of the Griffin about two-thirds of the way down the page (Entry #265.)

Figure 3. Image of entry #201, the Griffin, in Lloyd’s Register for 1779, showing Captain Grimshaw and several other items of information. As noted, an  interpretation of the record and the information contained are given in the next section.

Figure 4. The full page from Lloyd’s Register with the record of the Griffin (#201) at the top of the page.

More information on Lloyd’s Register is provided further down on this webpage.

Hilary Tullochs Interpretation of the Record in Lloyd’s Register

Hilary Tulloch has conducted a great deal of research on Grimshaw family history. When she reviewed an e-mailed image of the 1779 Lloyd’s record (Figures 3 and 4,) she provided the following preliminary interpretation by return e-mail:

The Lloyd’s Register for 1779 entry resembles the entries in the Bermuda Registers of Inward and Outward Bound ships for the same range of dates. The Bermuda Registers give more information and it is likely that there are similar registers for the Port of Liverpool at that time… 

Looking at the 1779 entry for The Griffin, I would read Entry 201: Ships name, Griffin; Kind of ship, a brig; Master/Captain, Grimshaw; 150 tons; Registered at Liverpool [England] (Registration would be more important to Lloyds – the insurers – than where it was built, I would have thought.); 77 men; Owner, Captain & – I dont know what C. is – ; 12 guns; Destination, licenced privateer. I dont know what the code A1 signifies. It looks as though the ship was sold on 14 Jun 1779 (14-6) to P. Hall & C. when it was licensed for trade to Africa It then had a new Captain, L. Chamberln.

The Lloyd’s website (see further down on this webpage) provides the following information on the code A1:

By 1768-69, lower case letters, a, b and c, were employed to class the hulls with numerals for the state of the equipment; so an AG, first class ship with good outfit became a1. Subsequently upper case letters were used, and the world famous phrase ‘A1 at Lloyd’s’, denoting the highest class of ships, was born. Later, classification became still more exact and complex, and would be assigned for a specific number of years indicated by a prefixed numeral. For this reason, 100A1, the present classification symbol, appeared about 1870 when it was assigned to iron ships in the belief they would last at least 100 years

The Griffins Privateer Exploits as Reported in the Belfast News-Letter

Research by Hilary Tulloch at the British Newspaper Library turned up the following two entries in the Belfast News-Letter.

5 – 9 Mar 1779 (3)

BL NL Shelfmark: M4431


Extract of a letter from Liverpool, Feb. 28.

“Capt. Grimshaw, of the Griffin privateer, of this place, arrived here this day from a cruize, and brought in Le Count St. Germaine, Capt. Gage, bound from Port au Prince for Nantz, who was taken the 22nd of Feb. her cargo consists of 503 hogsheads of brown and 24 ditto of white sugar, 152 casks and 54 bags of coffee, 106 hogsheads of molasses, 4 casks of cocoa, 19 casks of indigo, and 72 bags of cotton. The Captain of this prize says, he is one of a fleet of 50 sail.”

There are now at Portsmouth twenty sail of the line fit for sea, and seven more in harbour cleaning. At Plymouth there are eleven sail in the Sound, and four ready to join at Hammoaze, all full manned. These are to form the grand fleet.

16 – 19 Mar 1779 (1)

BL NL Shelfmark: M4431


Extract of a letter from Liverpool, March 6.

“I herewith send you a list of the prizes which have been brought into Liverpool this week with an account of their Cargoes, &c.

“On Sunday, by the Griffin, Capt. Grimshaw, Le Comte de Germaine, bound from Port-au-Prince to Nantz, taken after an engagement of eight hours, her cargo consisting of 527 hhds. 29 barrels of fine sugar, 106 hhds. of molasses, 180 casks of coffee, 67 bags of cotton, 19 casks of indigo.

It seems apparent from these records that the Griffin, under Captain Grimshaw, took the Le Count St. Germaine and its cargo as a prize on February 22, 1779 after eight hours of battle and took it to Liverpool. The prize was on its way from Port au Prince, Haiti to Nantz, France under the command of Captain Gage when it was captured.

The Lloyds Register record (Figures 3 and 4 above) indicates that Captain Grimshaw sold the Griffin later in 1779.

What is a Privateer, and What is a Brig?

A few words of background explanation may be helpful to those who are uninitiated in matters of maritime history. The following articles on privateer and brig are from Encyclopedia Brittanica online:

Privateer. Privately owned armed vessel commissioned by a belligerent state to attack enemy ships, usually vessels of commerce. Privateering was carried on by all nations from the earliest times until the 19th century. Crews were not paid by the commissioning government but were entitled to cruise for their own profit, with crew members receiving portions of the value of any cargo or shipping that they could wrest from the original owners. Frequently, it was impossible to restrain the activities of privateers within the legitimate bounds laid down in their commissions. Thus, it often became difficult to distinguish between privateers, pirates, corsairs, or buccaneers, many of whom sailed without genuine commissions.

In the late 16th century, English privateers such as Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake were encouraged or restrained, according to prevailing political conditions. With the growth of a regular navy, however, the British Admiralty began to discourage privateering because it was more popular among sailors than was serving in the navy. At this same period, Dutch Sea Beggars and French Huguenot privateers were active. Throughout the 17th century, English buccaneers in the West Indies, such as Sir Henry Morgan, sometimes sailed as genuine privateers. From 1690, French privateers from Dunkerque (Dunkirk) and Saint-Malo were particularly active against English commerce. During the American Revolution the American colonists found it difficult to form a new navy because more than 1,000 privateers were already licensed. The popularity of privateering continued in the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States when, for example, the U.S. brig Yankee alone seized or destroyed $5,000,000 worth of English property. France used many privateers during the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

In 1856, by the Declaration of Paris, Great Britain and the other major European countries (except Spain) declared privateering illegal. The U.S. government refused to accede, holding that the small size of its navy made reliance on privateering necessary in time of war. The rise of the American navy at the end of the 19th century and the realization that privateering belonged to an earlier form of warfare prompted the United States to recognize the necessity of finally abolishing it. Spain agreed to the ban in 1908.

At the Hague Peace Conference of 1907 it was then stipulated, and has since become part of international law, that armed merchant ships must be listed as warships, though there have been various interpretations of the word armed. The ambiguous status of the privateer has thus ceased to exist–the state now assumes full responsibility for all converted ships engaged in military operations.

“privateer” Encyclopædia Britannica Online.  <> [Accessed March 3 2001].

Brig. Two-masted sailing ship with square rigging on both masts. Brigs were used for both naval and mercantile purposes. As merchant vessels, they plied mostly coastal trading routes, but oceanic voyages were not uncommon; some brigs were even used for whaling and sealing. Naval brigs carried a battery of 10 to 20 guns on a single deck. In the great European navies of the 18th and 19th centuries, they served as couriers for battle fleets and as training vessels for cadets. In the early U.S. Navy, brigs acquired distinction during the War of 1812 in small fleet engagements on the Great Lakes and as merchant raiders in the Atlantic.

Because square rigging required a large crew, merchant brigs became uneconomical, and in the 19th century they began to give way to such fore-and-aft rigged vessels as the schooner and bark.

“brig” Encyclopædia Britannica Online.  <>  [Accessed March 4 2001].

What Does a Brig Look Like? — The U. S. Brig Niagara

The restored U.S. Brig Niagara can be viewed at the website indicated below; one of the photos posted there is shown in Figure 5. Although this brig was built at least 35 years later than Captain Grimshaw’s Griffin, and it was apparently quite a bit larger (with a crew of 155 men and a tonnage of 492), it provides a nice example of what a brig looks like, with its two masts and square rigging.

Figure 5. Photo of the restored ship U.S. Brig Niagara. The following description is provided on the website: “The Niagara is a squared-rigged, two-masted warship originally armed with eighteen carronades and two long guns. On the berthing deck were sleeping quarters for the officers and crew, storerooms, sail bin, and a wood stove. Magazines for shot and gunpowder were stored in the hold below deck.”


As a side note, this particular brig fought in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812 (see description of Brigs from the Encyclopedia Britannica, above):

The United States Brig Niagara in Erie, Pennsylvania is a reconstruction of an early 19th century warship of the United States Navy. On September 10, 1813, nine small ships defeated a British squadron of six vessels in the Battle of Lake Erie. This pivotal event in the War of 1812 secured the Northwest Territory, opened supply lines and lifted the nation’s morale.

Grimshaws in Liverpool During the Time of The Griffin

A survey of Liverpool directories (primarily Gore’s Directory) was conducted for Grimshaws living in Liverpool in the 1700s and early 1800s. A total of 15 directories was surveyed covering the period 1766 to 1811. The results of the survey are shown below.

The best candidate found in the directories for Captain Grimshaw, commander and owner of the Griffin until 1779, appears to be Captain Robert Grimshaw. This Robert is shown as living on Chapel Street in the 1766, 1767, 1769, 1772, 1773, 1774, and 1777 Directories, as Captain in the first three directories and as merchant thereafter. He then apparently shows up again as Captain, this time on Edmund Street, in 1781. This seems to be his last appearance in the Liverpool Directory.

Meanwhile, another Robert, a butcher, appears on Cable Street in 1781, when Captain Robert Grimshaw is shown on Edmund Street. This Robert appears as a butcher on Cable Street again in 1790 and (possibly) as a victualler on Church Alley in 1794 and 1796.

It is not known whether Caleb Grimshaw, who first appears in the Liverpool directory in 1829, is descended from, or otherwise related to, this Captain Robert Grimshaw. Caleb Grimshaw was a merchant (among other things) and was the presumed owner of the ship Caleb Grimshaw, which sank in 1849 with the loss of 90 lives, as described on a companion webpage.

The Grimshaw entries found in Liverpool directories are summarized as shown below. The entries are shown as they appear in the directories.

The Liverpool Directory for the Year 17663

Grimshaw, Capt. Robert, chapel street.

Grimshaw, John, butcher,

Gores Liverpool Directory for the Year 17674

Grimshaw Capt. Robert, Chapel street

Grimshaw John, butcher, Batchelors wient

Gores Liverpool Directory for the Year 17695

Grimshaw Capt. Robert, Chapel Street

Grimshaw John, butcher, Batchelors lane

Gores Liverpool Directory for the Year 17726

Grimshaw Robert, merchant, Chapel-Street

Grimshaw John, butcher, Batchelor Street

Grimshaw James, Wapping

Liverpools Fourth Directory – a Reprint of the Names and Address from Gores Directory for 17737

Grimshaw, James, Wapping

Grimshaw, John, butcher, Batchelor Street

Grimshaw, Robert, merchant, Chapel Street

Gores Liverpool Directory for the Year 17748

Grimshaw Robert, merchant, No. 34, Chapel Street

Grimshaw John, butcher, No. 3, St. Pauls Square

Gores Liverpool Directory for the Year 17779

Grimshaw Robert, merchant, 36, Chapel Street

Grimshaw John, butcher, 3, St. Pauls Square

Gores Liverpool Directory 178110

Grimshaw Thomas, brazier, 3, Ormond-Street

Grimshaw John, gentleman, 3, St. Pauls-Square

Grimshaw Capt. Robert, 27, Edmund-Street

Grimshaw Robert, butcher, 1, Cable-Street

Baileys Western and Midland Director, or, Merchants and Tradesmans Useful Companion for the Year 178311

(no Grimshaw entries)

Baileys Liverpool, 178712

Grimshaw Robert, Butcher, Cable-Street

The Liverpool Directory for the Year 179013

Grimshaw Robert, butcher, 1, Cable-Street

Grimshaw John, gent. 3, St. Pauls Square

Grimshaw Thomas, victualler, golden grove, Dale-Street

Lewiss Liverpool Directory for 179014

Grimshaw Daniel, tailor, Rimmers ct., Chapel st.

Grimshaw John, gent., 31, St. Pauls square

Grimshaw Robert, butcher, 1, Cable street

Grimshaw Thomas, victualler, 28, Ormond street

Universal British Directory. c.179415

Grimshaw Daniel, Taylor, 5, Chapel-Street

Grimshaw Hannah, Victualler, 4, Ormond-Street

Grimshaw John, Gunsmith, 33, Trueman-Street

Grimshaw Robert, Victualler, (Grapes,) Church-alley

Gores Liverpool Directory, 179616

Grimshaw Daniel, Tailor, 6, Chapel street

Grimshaw Mrs. Hannah, 20, Ormond Street, Oldhall street

Grimshaw, John, gent. 31, St. Pauls-Square

Grimshaw John, Gun-Smith, 37, Trueman Street, Dale street

Grimshaw John, Joiner, 25, Baptist lane, back of Gerard street

Grimshaw Robert, Victualler, 1, Church alley, St. Peters

Gores Directory of Liverpool and its Environs; for the year 181117

Grimshaw John, gunsmith, 36, Trueman street

Grimshaw John, gent. 8, Ward street

Grimshaw Sarah, 26, St. Pauls square

Was The Griffin Also a Slave Ship?

Hilary Tulloch’s search of the Belfast News-Letter also turned up the following entry:

6 Dec 1765 (1)

BL NL Shelfmark: M4417

Extract of a letter from Anamaboa, in Africa, dated July 10, 1765: a description of Shanty wars and how people were captured – sold as slaves. Then tells of problems in slave market and the activities of some individuals.

“Grimshaw (whose abilities you are no stranger to) has been eleven months out of England, and has not bought 30 slaves; so that if their Palavers [disputes] are not amicably settled with the King of Shanty, all the ships now here must make ruinous voyages.”

Although the exact meaning of the letter is somewhat obscure, there appears to be a clear implication that a Grimshaw was involved in the maritime slave trade in the 1765 timeframe. It is not known if this is the same Grimshaw, Captain of the Griffin, who captured the Le Count St Germaine 14 years later. But city directories clearly indicate that Captain Robert Grimshaw was living in Liverpool as early as 1766.

In her interpretation of the Lloyd’s Register entry on the Griffin, Hilary Tulloch noted that the Griffin was sold by Captain Grimshaw to be licensed for trade in Africa, and that she believed slave ships had to be licensed.

The implication seems clear, but browsers of this website are free to draw their own conclusions…

Additional Information on Lloyd’s Register

Lloyd’s has been registering and classifying ships since the mid-1700s and continues in business today. The following information on Lloyd’s is provided on their website (


Lloyd’s Register (LR) is the world’s premier ship classification society, founded in 1760. The concept of ‘ship classification’ originated in the eighteenth century, when the practice began of awarding different classes to ships according to their condition.

LR not only serves the shipping industry but provides offshore and industrial advisory and inspection services. LR’s impartiality and integrity stem from its complete financial, commercial and political independence.

LR operates from more than 200 exclusively staffed offices worldwide, with 4,500 technical and administrative staff undertaking work for LR and on behalf of 135 national administrations. A further 1,500 staff are employed in LR’s main subsidiary companies.


Early Years

Edward Lloyd’s coffee house, opened in 1691 in the heart of the City of London, witnessed the genesis of several ‘Lloyd’s’, whose descendants were eventually to include what is today the world’s premier ship classification society – Lloyd’s Register. Marketing shipping intelligence, Lloyd produced A LIST OF SHIPS, the forerunner of the first Register of Shipping, which was set up by the Register Society in 1760.

The underwriters of the day employed their own surveyors to make periodical surveys and kept registers containing particulars of ships they insured. These private registers were probably collated to form the first publication of the new Register Society. The earliest surviving Register, held in the British Museum, is for 1764-65-66, and contains details of the condition of some 4500 classed vessels. The classes assigned to the vessels were designated by the letters A, E, I, O or U, which referred to the hulls; additional letters, G, M or B – good, middling or bad – related to the equipment. Thus, class AG denoted a first class ship with good equipment, while UB represented the lowest class with bad outfit.

By 1768-69, lower case letters, a, b and c, were employed to class the hulls with numerals for the state of the equipment; so an AG, first class ship with good outfit became a1. Subsequently upper case letters were used, and the world famous phrase ‘A1 at Lloyd’s’, denoting the highest class of ships, was born. Later, classification became still more exact and complex, and would be assigned for a specific number of years indicated by a prefixed numeral. For this reason, 100A1, the present classification symbol, appeared about 1870 when it was assigned to iron ships in the belief they would last at least 100 years.


1Lloyd’s Register, 1778, 

2Lloyd’s Register, 1779,

3Gore’s Directory, 1766

4Gore’s Directory, 1767

5Gore’s Directory, 1769

6Gore’s Directory, 1772

7Gore’s Directory, 1773,

8Gore’s Directory, 1774,

9Gore’s Directory, 1771

10Gore’s Directory, 1781,

11Gore’s Directory, 1783,

12Gore’s Directory, 1787,

13Gore’s Directory, 1790,

14Gore’s Directory, 1790

15Gore’s Directory, 1794,

16Gore’s Directory, 1796,

17Gore’s Directory, 1811,

Webpage History

Webpage posted February 2001, updated March 2001.