© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2010 DOI: 10.1163/138537810X12632734396945 Journal of Early Modern History 14 (2010) 9-44 brill.nl/jemh Men of War: British Sailors and the Impressment Paradox 1 Denver Brunsman Wayne State University Abstract In the long eighteenth century, the British Royal Navy established dominance of the seas with the widely despised forced labor system of impressment. Previous attempts at explain- ing this paradox have erred either in deemphasizing the devastating personal and commu- nal costs of impressment or by stressing that the navy’s oppressive system of discipline left sailors with no choice but to serve admirably. In fact, sailors exercised their agency both by resisting British press-gangs and by serving to the best of their ability on naval vessels. Th e British navy created incentives that appealed to mariners’ professional self-interests and male gender aspirations. Th rough naval service, sailors regained some of their dignity and sense of manhood that capture by press-gangs had taken away. Keywords Impressment, British Royal Navy history, merchant mariners, Great Britain 18th century history, 18th century seafaring life, gender relations Introduction If impressment was so bad, why was the British Royal Navy so good? I pose this question in response to a logical
Journal of Early Modern History – Brill
Published: Jan 1, 2010
Keywords: Great Britain 18th century history; 18th century seafaring life; British Royal Navy history; gender relations; merchant mariners; Impressment
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