While I was doing genealogy research, I came across an interesting story from many years ago. When I was in school, I learned that one of the causes of the War of 1812 was that Americans were outraged by the British Royal Navy’s practice of impressment, or removing seamen from U.S. vessels and forcing them to serve in the British Navy. Impressing American sailors became a common practice, with an estimated 15,000 American sailors impressed into the British Royal Navy in the years leading up to 1812.
Although I knew about the impressment of American sailors, I was not aware of the impressment of sailors from the Maritime Provinces in Canada. The Crown claimed a permanent right to seize men of seafaring experience for the Royal Navy. The men pressed into service were usually sailors in the merchant fleets, but would often be ordinary apprentices and laborers.
The Royal Navy used press gangs to force men into service. Press gangs operated in British North America with the legal backing of the British Parliament. A commissioned officer would lead the…
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