Impressment, or colloquially, “the Press” (or sometimes called the “Press Gang”), refers to the act of taking men into a navy by force – with or without notice. It was used by the Royal Navy, beginning in 1664 and during the 18th and early 19th centuries, primarily during wartime, as a means of crewing British warships. The Royal Navy impressed many British merchant sailors, as well as sailors from many other nations, the nascent US included. People open to impressment were “eligible men of seafaring habits between the ages of 18 and 45 years”. Non-seamen were impressed as well, though very rarely.
Impressment was strongly criticized by those who believed it to be contrary to the British constitution; at the time, unlike many of its continental rivals, Britain did not conscript its subjects for any other military service, aside from a brief experiment with army impressment in 1778 to 1780. Though the public opposed conscription in general, impressment was repeatedly upheld by the courts, as it was deemed vital to the strength of the navy and, by extension, to the survival of the empire.
Impressment was essentially a Royal Navy practice, reflecting the size of the British fleet and its substantial manpower demands. While other European navies applied forced recruitment in time of war this was generally as an extension of the practice of formal conscription applied to most European armies from the Napoleonic Wars on. The U.S. Continental Navy also applied a form of impressment during the American War of Independence.
In actuality, it was the impressment of seamen from American ships that caused serious tensions between Britain and the United States in the years leading up to the War of 1812. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, the practice of impressment ended and was never resumed it.
After a long day in the hot sun, I was given to thinking about how miserable it must have been, toiling under an Equatorial sun, swabbing the deck of a British Man O’War… Given that Grog was part of the ration (not being suspended until the early 1970’s), Rum was plentiful on board ship… What libation can we create to slake our thirst and pay homage to those poor souls, hijacked in a drunken stupor from their favorite tavern and put under the lash aboard a Royal Navy frigate? Well, why not an Impressment Cocktail!
Ladies and Gentlemen, here you are… One too many and you may find yourself a victim of impressment!
2oz. Spiced Rum
1oz. Sorel Artisanal Liqueur
1/2oz. Lime Juice
5 dashes Bittermens Elemakule Tiki Bitters
Shake the ingredients with crushed ice, vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lime.