Sunday, November 13, 2016

Christopher P. Magra's "Poseidon’s Curse"

Christopher P. Magra is an Associate Professor of Early American history at the University of Tennessee, and author of The Fisherman's Cause: Atlantic Commerce and Maritime Dimensions of the American Revolution.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Poseidon's Curse: British Naval Impressment and Atlantic Origins of the American Revolution, and reported the following:
The American Revolution was deeply moored in Atlantic matters. Dramatic events on and around the Atlantic Ocean shaped the contours of this formative event.

The British navy forcibly appropriated ships and manpower for military purposes along the West Coast of Africa, off Caribbean shores, within sight of European ports, and up and down the eastern seaboard of North America. Press gangs forcibly requisitioned free labor and private property. British naval impressment supported the rise of Great Britain’s seaborne empire, then it contributed to its decline.

The British Empire appropriated free laborers to man the warships that defended overseas colonies and maritime commerce. Mariners resented the ways in which impressment jeopardized their earning potential and occupational mobility. Maritime employers were bitter about the detrimental effect of manpower losses on trade.

British press gangs took mariners into military service around the Atlantic World. Why, then, did impressment only contribute to a revolution in North America? Extensive new archival research demonstrates that a sea of shared resentment and particular American concerns about imperial policy changes largely explain why impressment is listed in the Declaration of Independence as one of the foremost grievances Americans had with the British government.

Page 99 of Poseidon’s Curse is fantastic. It will leave you spellbound. It is the introduction to the second part of the book. Are you ready for this? Here it is. Page 99 in its entirety:
The shared burdens of a seaborne empire generated resentment among Britons living and working in different regions around the Atlantic World. The British state commonly used impressment to man, supply, and transport military forces across watery highways. But, conventionality did not foster widespread acceptance. Like slavery, just because impressment existed for centuries and was widely used did not mean people did not resent it, nor did it mean people did not resist it. The military appropriation of labor and property generated a significant amount of resentment and resistance across the social spectrum in regions around the world over the course of the early modern era. Maritime employers resented the ways in which impressment jeopardized profit margins and private property. They equated their ability to pursue profit and control property with political liberty. Mariners resented press gangs because they curtailed their earning potential and employment options. For these Britons, liberty was connected to wage rates and occupational mobility. This sea of resentment provided the basis for a significant portion of the material and ideological origins of the American Revolution.
When you regain control of your senses and purchase a copy of the book, you will see that the first and third introductions are equally amazing. I hope you find that I make a compelling case for shifting the focus of our study of the origins of the American Revolution out to sea.
Learn more about Poseidon's Curse at the Cambridge University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Fisherman's Cause.

--Marshal Zeringue