A Merchantman was a classification describing merchant ships of nearly any size. They were common in the Caribbean in the late 17th to mid 18th centuries. They were built in the same style as frigates and other military ships, but were stubbier, were more lightly armed, and had much larger holds for cargo. Merchantmen were generally used in trading ventures throughout the Caribbean Sea and South Archipelago.
The East India Trading Company used merchantmen known as East Indiamen (named so for the company itself) for trade and commerce, but not for battle. Most Indiamen relied on armed escorts for protection.
Many merchantmen were unlicensed, and therefore did not carry obligations for special protection from naval ships.