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  #1  
Old 06-11-2011, 12:36
Abbeywood. Abbeywood. is offline
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Default Americans at the Battle of Trafalgar

While this was fought between British and a combined force of French and Spanish ships off Cape Trafalgar, SW Spain, there were more than a few Americans who were serving in the British fleet at that time, either by design, or mostly under the duress of the Press Act.
I have occasionally pondered over this and wonder if any of those US seamen have ever been recognised by the United States government, post-humously, as I have not come across many, if any, references to this in US naval annals. Or were those seamen siezed from US ships by British Press gangs, treated with ignomony by their fellow citizens.
Although not the principal cause, I believe that these siezures were, in part, contributary to the 'War of 1812'.
As a footnote, I believe that there were, also, at least 5 women on board H.M.S. 'Victory' during the battle at Trafalgar, supposedly seamen's 'wives'.
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Old 07-11-2011, 17:19
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Dreadnought Dreadnought is offline
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Default Re: Americans at the Battle of Trafalgar

There were indeed many Americans serving in the British Fleet at Trafalgar. In fact, at this time. Americans made up the largest contingent of foreign serving seamen in the Royal Navy, followed by Scandinavians, Italians and Africans.

As you allude to, very many Americans entered the Royal Navy through impressments, and this was a major source of aggravation between Britain and America.

One of the largest impressment operations occurred in the spring of 1757 in New York City, then still under British colonial rule. Three thousand British soldiers cordoned off the city, and plucked clean the taverns and other sailors' gathering places. "All kinds of tradesmen and Negroes" were hauled in, nearly eight hundred in all. Four hundred of these were "retained in the service."

The actual number of Americans pressed into service in the Royal Navy is unknown, but it is estimated that a thousand American seamen per year were illegally pressed into British service. Though the United States government regularly protested against the impressment of its citizens, little could be done to protect them.

By a law passed in 1740, foreigners could not be pressed. But due to the shortage of manpower, the Admiralty found lots of ways around this law. If a foreigner served more than 2 years on a British merchantman he could then be pressed. If he married a British citizen then he became a British citizen by naturalization.

There was also the disagreement with the United States over what made a citizen. The British held that anyone, born a British subject, was always a British subject. That meant that anyone born before the Declaration of American Independence in 1775 was regarded as still a British subject. Whereas the United States was willing to claim just about anyone as a citizen, all it took was serving on an American ship for 2 years (5 years from 1802).

In the eyes of the Royal Navy, all Englishmen were available for service even if they were on the ship of a foreign nation. Therefore, it was not uncommon for British naval vessels to stop American ships searching for English crewmen. During these searches, American sailors who could not prove their citizenship were often pressed. Not forgetting that, at that time, there was no distinctive American accent.Some carried sworn affidavits or certificates issued by American consuls, but these had no legal status and easily could be (and often were) forged, so British captains were apt to ignore them.

Between 1803 and 1812, approximately 5,000-9,000 American sailors were forced into the Royal Navy with as many as three-quarters being legitimate American citizens. Though the American government repeatedly protested the practice, British Foreign Secretary Lord Harrowby contemptuously wrote in 1804, "The pretention advanced by Mr. (Secretary of State James) Madison that the American flag should protect every individual on board of a merchant ship is too extravagent to require any serious refutation."

I will resist the temptation to skew this thread into one about the Chesapeake-Leopard affair of 1807, where the Royal Navy forcibly took four sailors off a US Navy vessel and ended up hanging at least one of them. For America, impressments were the biggest single cause of the War of 1812.

Thread on impressment HERE

Back to Trafalgar. HMS Victory is reported as having a crew of 820 (some sources cite 821?) at the battle, and of these 22 were American (24 if you include two unconfirmed Ė see note). Most of them were 29 years old or under, and so were born in the newly independent country, but three were older, the oldest being 47. It is not clear how they came to be on board a British warship, but in one case, Samuel Lovett is listed as pressed, whereas all the others are listed as joining from other British vessels. However, it is possible that they were pressed from US vessels, perhaps in the West Indian trade, onto other British ships and from then on listed as transfers rather than pressed. It was common practice in times of war when crews were needed to transfer men immediately from one ship to another on reaching harbour to ensure that they did not desert.

Actually, there were very few pressed sailors at Trafalgar Ė fewer than 10% of the Royal Navy seamen, but many more of the French crews.

A list of names and ranks of the Americans on HMS Victory is given below. The men are listed as being born in a range of east coast cities, including New York and Philadelphia, Baltimore and Charlestown.

SURNAME..........FORENAME......AGE......RANK/RATE
ATKINS..............William.............25........LM (landsman)
BAILEY..............Thomas............32........Gunners Mate
BROWN..............William.............40........LM
BULKELEY...........Richard............18........Midshipman
COLLINS.............Richard............23........Ab
DAVIS................Charles............26........Ab
HARVEY..............William.............29........Ab
INWOOD.............William.............29........Ab
JACKSON............John................28........Ab
JOHNSON............John................24........Ord
JONES................Peter...............30........Ab
KING..................William.............20........Ord
LEWIS................John................29........Ord
LEVITT...............Samuel.............42........Ab
MATTHEWS.........John................25.........Ab
MORRISON...........James.............41.........Armourer
MURRAY..............Alexander.........25.........Ab
NIPPER................James..............23........Ab
PACKETT/FERNIE...John/Peter........47........Ord
SMITH.................James..............31........Ab
STAIR..................John...............27.........Ab
SWEAT................William.............21........Ord
THOMAS..............Charles............25........Ord
THOMPSON...........William............30.........Ord

NOTE:
List taken from the HMS Victory website, and cross referenced to the list in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. The two nanes in italics are include from another source I found. The National Archives confirm Morrison was on Victory at Trafalgar as armourer, and John Packett, AB. In the muster roll of Victory that the solicitors Messrs C.Cooke & J Halford used for distributing the £100,000, John Packett, alias Peter Fernie, AB, is listed, but curiously, Morrison isnít? But ther are other minor inconsistencies with this list, even though it is regarded as definitive.

Samuel Spencer, Bosunís Mate, aged 25, and John Graham, Able Seaman, aged 33, both from Canada.

George Westphal, Midshipman, aged 20, is not on the above list, as he is listed as English; The National Archives have him born in Lambeth, but it appears he was born in Nova Scotia Ė probably Preston (christening record 37th March 1785 St. Georges Church, Halifax Nova Scotia).

It is interesting to note that There were a very large number of genuine British seamen serving quite legally on American ships. (The Admiralty, in an estimate made 57 years later, long after the acrimony had died down, reckoned as many as 20,000.) This was partly because wages in the American merchant service were anything up to twice as high as on British merchant ships; partly because many British seamen wanted to avoid being pressed into the Royal Navy, which on British merchant ships they were much more likely to be; and partly because it was the obvious place for Royal Navy deserters to go.
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Old 07-11-2011, 17:24
Dave Hutson Dave Hutson is offline
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Default Re: Americans at the Battle of Trafalgar

There as always at your fingertips Clive. BZ

Another printout to add to my growing file on Nelson without having to do as before the research myself. Many thanks my friend.

Dave H
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Old 07-11-2011, 17:55
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Dreadnought Dreadnought is offline
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Default Re: Americans at the Battle of Trafalgar

No problem Dave. I have the complete Cooke & Halford list if you ever need any info. One day I will perhaps transcribe it - not a small job though ..!!

Here is the Historic Dockyard list, which of course you may already have. As I said, ther are som minor inconsistencies between the lists.
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File Type: pdf VictoryTrafalgarMusterRoll.pdf (61.6 KB, 11 views)
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Old 08-11-2011, 11:22
Abbeywood. Abbeywood. is offline
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Default Re: Americans at the Battle of Trafalgar

Well what else can I say except WOW.
Many thanks for filling me in on the Americans at Trafalgar.
While I suspected that there might have been a few the, numbers that were actually there, are somewhat overwhelming.
I hope you don't mind but I've run off a copy of the 'Victory' crew-list for my records. Alas none of my pre-cedents seem to have been present
(As Henry V is reported as saying ...' and gentlemen at home, a-bed, would hold their manhoods dear, and think themselves acursed.... etc ).
Once again, Dreadnought, many thanks.
In response to my follow up question, was any recognition given to who served, by the US Government in later years, as taking their ages into account many may well have also served in the US Navy before they 'swallowed the hook'.
Regards and best wishes.
Pete'
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Old 08-11-2011, 16:16
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seaJane seaJane is offline
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Default Re: Americans at the Battle of Trafalgar

Don't forget the National Archives' Trafalgar Ancestors search tool and associated pages

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/t...rs/default.asp
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/n.../trafalgar.htm
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