Impressment

By British law, naval captains had the right to stop ships at sea, search for deserters and other British citizens, and force them to join the crews of warships—a practice called “impressment.” Some British captains seized almost any able-bodied, English-speaking sailors they could find. As many as 6,000 American sailors were impressed in the period, and American outrage over the practice contributed to the War of 1812.

Press Warrant, 1794

This British Admiralty document authorized Capt. John Thomas Duckworth of HMS Orion to seize, or impress, as many men as he needed to man his vessel or “any other of His Majesty’s Ships.” Each man recruited this way was to receive one shilling as “Prest Money.”


 

Instructions for Impressment, 1794

This British Admiralty pamphlet outlines the conditions for impressing men into the Royal Navy. British warships in need of crewmen routinely bent these rules.