Thursday, August 28, 2014

Press Gang Week: Press Gangs in Nova Scotia

Today we continue our posts in support of HMS Acasta's Press Gang Week.

"The Press Gang," John Collet

One region of British North America that I often neglect is that of Nova Scotia and Canada. Part of the reason for this is that neither was actually part of the British Empire until their capture in the French and Indian War. Thousands of New Englanders moved to Nova Scotia following the end of that conflict in 1763, and brought with them the resistance to the press gangs that Yankees were known for.

In the short history of the province, there had been no major issue with impressment, but the manpower needs of the Royal Navy increased dramatically with the American Revolutionary War, and the original thirteen North American colonies could no longer be used to make up the shortfall. The war years would be especially rough on the small population of Nova Scotia.

Thanks to Keith Mercer's 2008 PhD dissertation North Atlantic Press Gangs: Impressment and Naval-Civilian Relations in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, 1749-1815, we have a thorough summation and examination of the use and consequences of press-gangs in the new colony.

Of particular interest to me is the proclamation issued by Lieutenant Governor Richard Hughes against the use of impressment in Nova Scotia:
Whereas impressing Men on the Land for the Sea Service without the Countenance & permission of Civil Authority and the Search after Deserters from that Service without the Power of the Magistrate are both proceedings irregular, unjustifiable and unlawfull, and are frequently attended with Quarrels and Bloodshed, and the loss of life. In order therefore to prevent such Evils, and for the Public Security[,] I have thought fit to Publish this Proclamation hereby restricting all Persons whatever, from such irregular and illegal Practices, as they would avoid the pains & penalties following the prosecutions at Law to which Offenders in such Cases become liable.
Despite his efforts, the press gangs and the officers who commanded them would continue to bring "Quarrels and Bloodshed, and the loss of life" throughout the American Revolution.

Tomorrow we'll return to England and finish Press Gang Week with a look at the unfortunate end to one of the countless victims of impressment.

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