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
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
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