Thursday, May 23, 2013

Boston, May 29, 1780

     Britain had no military draft during the Revolutionary War, a war unpopular with many Britons.  Desperate for recruits for the Army and Navy, the British tried to coerce American Prisoners of War to enter the British service.  On May 29, 1780, Massachusetts newspaper The Boston Gazette, And The Country Journal reported news of coerced enlistment of prisoners in the British West Indies.  Readers in the United States should again remember that “goal” was a common term for jail, and still is in British usage:

Captain Joseph Atkins of Newbury-Port, bound from Martineco [Martinique] to Newbury, was taken the 24
th of December last, by the Sterling-Castle, of 64 guns, Robert Carket, Commander Capt Atkins informs, that there were about 100 American Prisoners taken out of Barbadoes Goal, and distributed on board the different Men of War—That on board the Sterling-Castle they were asked if they would enter, and they to a Man said they would they would not; they had Time given them to think of entering ‘till the next Morning, when being call’d on again, they still’d refus’d; the first who refus’d, as tied up, and receiv’d two dozen; the second, third and fourth the same, and then turn’d over to the boatswain to do duty: The fifth seeing it in vain to persist, comply’d as likewise did the rest, to the number of about ten.

    Presumably, the five American prisoners who “receiv’d two dozen” specifically received two dozen strokes of the lash.  In British seaports, the Royal Navy employed press gangs to force English civilian mariners into wartime service, sparking riots in England’s ports. 
     For more on British efforts to force American POWs to fight against their own independence, consult articles by Historian Philip Ranlet, including “In the Hands of the British: The Treatmentof American POWs during the War of Independence,” Historian, vol. 62 (summer 2000): 731-757.  For English resistance to the press gangs, please consult Malcolm Archibald, Sixpence for the Wind: A Knot of Nautical Folklore (Dunbeath, Scotland, UK: Whittles Publishing, 1999), page 75; and Frank Howley, Slavers, Traders and Privateers: Liverpool, the African Trade and Revolution, 1773-1808 (Birkenhead, UK: Countyvise, 2008), page 56.  
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