Loose and Unknown Persons: Listing Seamen in the Late Seventeenth Century

By Margaret Robinson, published November 2009


The confusion evident in the placing of responsibility and over the nature of the listing required makes it necessary to check the reliability of the lists. The masters listed in 1690 can be checked against the Exchequer Port Books and the 1689 lists of ships taken up as troop transports, though unfortunately no such check is possible for ordinary seamen. Government attempts to make a reliable list of the available maritime workforce foundered on the rocks of inconsistency and misunderstanding between the centre and the localities, allowing ‘loose and unknown persons’ to continue to evade service in the navy.  At the end of the Seventeenth Century, the 1688 invasion of Ireland revealed that the British had no register of available seamen. After the Dutch Wars, a decade of peace resulted in records not being maintained. The attempt to establish records showed flaws and inefficiency in the system. Confusion entailed as to whether local authorities or central government should collect information. Robinson uses information from local histories, such as the counties of Lancashire and Cheshire, to show variations in how, and what, information was collected, such as, for example, ages of the seamen. The variations and faults in the system allowed ‘loose and unknown’ persons to evade service in the navy.

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Filed under: Dutch Wars | Other (Early Modern) | Other (Eighteenth C) | Press Gangs | Other (location)
Subjects include: Administration | Harbours & Dockyards | Manpower & Life at Sea | Merchant Marines | Navies

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