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Forced Into War: How Impressment Fueled the Royal Navy

Evening Program on Zoom

Wednesday, March 10, 2021 - 6:30 p.m. ET
Code: 1H0576
$20 - Member
$25 - Non-Member
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The British Royal Navy ruled the waves in the 18th century, but its maritime superiority came at a high human cost. The navy impressed, or forced, tens of thousands of seamen into service. Once impressed, a sailor remained in the Royal Navy until he died, deserted, or a war ended—whichever came first.

The practice took place across the early British Empire, including the American colonies, where it inspired particularly fierce resistance. Early Americans viewed impressment as a threat to their corporate and individual liberties and rioted against navy press gangs more frequently than against any other agents of British rule until the American Revolution. Ultimately, impressment appeared as a grievance in the Declaration of Independence and helped to cause the War of 1812, thereby shaping the fortunes of both Britain and the early United States.

Join Denver Brunsman, associate professor of history at George Washington University, in an exploration of a practice that often grabbed men from their beds, their ships, and even their weddings and forced them into wartime service.

Brunsman’s book The Evil Necessity: British Naval Impressment in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (University of Virginia Press) is available for purchase.



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This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.