Book Review-‘Poseidon’s Curse: British naval impressment and Atlantic origins of the American Revolution’ by C. P. Magra

By J.Ross Dancy, published November 2020


British naval impressment has been a subject of scholarly debate and fascination for well over a century now, and recently this subject has become even more heated. The scholars currently engaging in this debate generally fall into two camps. On one side are those who examine the subject from an administrative point of view and are generally concerned with uncovering how the mechanism functioned and how it provided men for the Royal Navy. The second camp is made up primarily of social and cultural historians who are concerned, not with the practical machinery of impressment, but rather with its symbolic value and how the practice affected society. Administrative historians have begun to show that impressment was responsible for far fewer men recruited into the Royal Navy than had been previously thought. Though undoubtedly press gangs still collected thousands of men across the eighteenth century, it was not the primary means of manning Britain’s fleets. This does not mean that the political implications of impressment were not important or that they did not exist. Impressment was perceived as a major issue throughout the eighteenth century, as social and cultural historians have emphasized. Yet this simple synthesis has yet to appear in book form. The two camps remain firmly divided, fundamentally speaking different historical languages. As a result historians in one camp are liable to dismiss criticism from those in the other…

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Filed under: American Revolution | Other (Nineteenth C) | Press Gangs
Subjects include: Manpower & Life at Sea

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