The Evil Necessity
British Naval Impressment in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World
Publication Year: 2013
A fundamental component of Britain’s early success, naval impressment not only kept the Royal Navy afloat—it helped to make an empire. In total numbers, impressed seamen were second only to enslaved Africans as the largest group of forced laborers in the eighteenth century.
In The Evil Necessity, Denver Brunsman describes in vivid detail the experience of impressment for Atlantic seafarers and their families. Brunsman reveals how forced service robbed approximately 250,000 mariners of their livelihoods, and, not infrequently, their lives, while also devastating Atlantic seaport communities and the loved ones who were left behind. Press gangs, consisting of a navy officer backed by sailors and occasionally local toughs, often used violence or the threat of violence to supply the skilled manpower necessary to establish and maintain British naval supremacy. Moreover, impressments helped to unite Britain and its Atlantic coastal territories in a common system of maritime defense unmatched by any other European empire.
Drawing on ships’ logs, merchants’ papers, personal letters and diaries, as well as engravings, political texts, and sea ballads, Brunsman shows how ultimately the controversy over impressment contributed to the American Revolution and served as a leading cause of the War of 1812.
Early American HistoriesWinner of the Walker Cowen Memorial Prize for an Outstanding Work of Scholarship in Eighteenth-Century Studies
Published by: University of Virginia Press
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Writing a book is much like working as a member of a crew on a ship. The au-thor may be the captain, but the ship (as this book attests) goes nowhere with-out the talented and dedicated labor of numerous individuals. The project began as a Ph.D. dissertation at Princeton University, where generous funding from the Graduate School, Department of History, and a timely grant from the ...
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...n July 1, 1666, the great English diarist and naval administrator that day, like so many during his tenure in the navy as Clerk of the Acts (1660â73) and Admiralty Secretary (1673â79, 1684â89), tending to the problems of impressed sailors. Pepys went to the Tower of Lon-don, where captured seamen were then kept, multiple times until fi nally at ...
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...n November 1794, the sailors of the northeastern English seaport of North Shields received a temporary respite from naval impressment. The portâs three press gangs announced that during performances in the local theater of John OâKeefeâs comedy The World in a Village, seamen would not be at risk of capture. Offi cers in the press gangs advertised the terms of ...
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...aval impressment has never received the credit it deserves for the success of the early British Empire. The practice came under attack during the eighteenth century not simply by philosophes, political commentators, and early humanitarians but by British statesmen, including Admiralty offi cials. Rather than complain that impressment was ...
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...of the more unpleasant dining experiences of his storied career in lawny, in Port Royal. Ever since Vernonâs successful bombardment of Porto Bello nearly three years earlier, his fl eet had experienced a string of spectacu-lar defeats attempting to further reduce Spanish colonial possessions in the War of Jenkinsâ Ear (1739â43). Moreover, the admiralâs ships faced chronic ...
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...gap in logic has pervaded writing on the British Royal Navy from the eighteenth century to today. One the one hand, contemporaries and historians have long cited superior seafaring as a key advantage of the navy over its European rivals. On the other hand, past and current commentators have maligned the British naval manning systemâthe ...
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...verything that we know about the sailor William Symons comes from a tip provided by an anonymous informant to Londonâs press gangs in August 1779. That month, England faced one of its most serious invasion threats since the Norman Conquest of 1066, by a combined Franco- Spanish fl eet that briefl y gained control of the English Channel. Sy-...
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...n May 1748, Admiral Charles Knowles faced the familiar prospect of hav-ing to fi nd recruits for his woefully undermanned Jamaica naval squad-ron. For most of the 1740s, Knowles had struggled to keep his ships at fi ghting strength wherever the War of Jenkinsâ Ear (1739â43) and the War of the Austrian Succession (1740â48, known in America as King Georgeâs War, ...
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...aval impressment supported Britainâs imperial ambitions in the eighteenth- century Atlantic world and beyond. The protection of overseas trade, the maintenance of permanent naval stations, and the contest with imperial rivals for control of Europe and colonial territories across the globe all demanded unprecedented amounts of skilled ...
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Page Count: 376
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: Early American Histories