Labor History in 2:00

November 17 - Resisting Impressment

November 17, 2020

On this day in Labor History the year was 1747. 

That was the day that a crowd of Boston workers took British officers as hostage and held them for three days. 

The workers were outraged that fellow Bostonians had been pressed into service on British Navy ship against their will. 

Impressing ship crews was one of the ways the British manned their ships when there were not enough willing crew members. 

The seaport at Boston had become so notorious for this kind of worker kidnapping that other merchant vessels had begun to avoid the area for fear their crews might be taken by the British Navy. 

Bostonians became increasingly vocal against the practice, and worried about its impact on the local economy. 

In 1745 the local Selectmen petitioned for “immediate relief” from impressment.

They wrote that it was a matter that “nearest effects the Libertys of the People and is a great insult upon this government.”

Two years later, Commodore Charles Knowles sailed into Boston on his way to the West Indies. 

While he resupplied and refit his ships, some of his crewmembers escaped from service. 

To make up his diminished crew, on November 16 Knowles ordered local workers to be rounded up as replacements. 

Fed up Bostonians detained members of the British fleet including one of Knowles lieutenants. 

The Massachusetts Governor William Shirley was able to persuade Knowles not to retaliate. 

He helped facilitate an exchange the impressed Bostonians for the British hostages. 

That January a young Samuel Adams founded the newspaper the Independent Advertiser, published to “defend the rights and liberties of mankind.” 

The paper commended the mob for standing up to impressment. 

Samuel Adams would go on to become a leader in the American Revolution.

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