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The Evil Necessity

British Naval Impressment in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World
Denver Brunsman


BUY Cloth · 376 pp. · 6.13 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813933511 · $29.95 · Mar 2013
BUY Ebook · 376 pp. · ISBN 9780813933528 · $29.95 · Mar 2013

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 eighteenth century.

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 Studies

Reviews:


Denver Brunsman's examination of British impressment in the Atlantic world emphasizes the importance of sailors to British global power, and the clash of ideas with the American colonies that helped to spark both the War of Independence and the War of 1812 and that sustained Anglo-American antagonism down to the 1860s. It remains a potent metaphor for the tyranny of King George.

Andrew Lambert, King’s College London

The first book-length study of British naval impressments in a transatlantic context, The Evil Necessity tells the fascinating story of impressments in the British and British colonial world. Denver Brunsman is a fine storyteller and an excellent writer, who offers a highly original piece of scholarship on a subject that has received remarkably little scholarly attention

John Dann, editor of The Nagle Journal: A Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor, from the Year 1775 to 1841

The author reproduces some engaging engravings and provides a rich bibliography; his research is as thorough as his writing is fine. Given Brunsman's interest in liberty, his book especially reveals impressment's costs to individuals and to their families. Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students, faculty.

B. M. Gough, Wilfrid Laurier University

Impressment remains a potent metaphor for the tyranny of George III. The author reproduces some engaging engravings and provides a rich bibliography; his research is as thorough as his writing is fine. Given Brunsman's interest in liberty, his book especially reveals impressment's costs to individuals and to their families. Summing Up: Recommended.

Choice

"At once deeply researched and eminently readable, Denver Brunsman’s new book on British naval impressment during the long eighteenth-century is the first book-length study of this important topic in a very long time."

W. Jeffrey Bolster, University of New Hampshire Durham · The Journal of American History

"Brunsman has made an invaluable contribution to the literature on the British navy and the Atlantic world. Any further studies of eighteenth-century impressment will have to begin with The Evil Necessity."

Robert W. Smith · The Journal of Southern History

I would certainly call Brunsman’s book required reading for scholars interested ini the economics, politics, and culture of the Atlantic world and, likewise, for naval historians.

Peter Staffel, West Liberty University · The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer

"With this book, Brunsman has provided a welcome corrective to scholarship on impressment and a fresh way to consider the role of the institution in the creation and expansion of the British Empire."

Charles R. Foy, Eastern Illinois University · Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

Aspects of the colonial story have been told before...No one has quite tied it together so ably, and here Brunsman displays considrable powers of synthesis and engagement as well as a fine writing style.

Nicholas Rogers, York University

" The Evil Necessity is crucial reading for scholars of the British Empire, but will be of great value as well to anyone interested in the negotiation of freedom between center and periphery, and between impersonal systems and individual agency."

Natalie A. Zacek, University of Manchester · American Historical Review

About the Author: 

Denver Brunsman, Assistant Professor of History at George Washington University, is an editor of both Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Development and Revolutionary Detroit: Portraits in Political and Cultural Change, 1760–1805.

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