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HIS 221- Week 5 Discussion: Jack Tar in the Streets

Aug 4, 2023

Week 5 Discussion: Jack Tar in the Streets –
Answer any two out of the three discussion questions about Jesse Lemisch’s “Jack Tar in  the Streets: Merchant Seamen in the Politics of Revolutionary America,” William and Mary Quarterly 25:3 (1968): 371-407 
1. Why does Lemisch disagree with Samuel Eliot Morison’s characterization that the typical merchant seaman “was a clean young farm boy on the make” (p. 374)?  Why does Lemisch instead characterize merchant seamen as “fugitives and floaters,” “outcasts,” “dissenters from the American mood,” and “rebels” (p. 377)?
2. Why were merchant seamen “treated so much like a child, a servant, and a slave” by their employers and colonial authorities (p. 380)?  What was the reality of the employment and legal statuses of merchant seamen in the 1700s?
3.  What was “impressment” (p. 381)? Why did seamen, merchants, and American colonists in general “share a common grievance” against impressment?  How did the use of impressment by the British Navy fuel major protests in Boston and other colonial port cities in the 1740s-60s?  How did opposition to impressment factor into the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution?


Week 5 Discussion

1. Lemisch is actually based on the annotation of the visiting member, which deals with the Department of History, based at Northwestern University. Based on the earlier note the version of the article is to read an Organisation of the American Historians, by the year 1966. Thus, this grants the fellowship from the American Council on the Learned Societies aided in research. Therefore, Lemisch mainly believed the typical merchants about the Seamen, who actually clean about the different farm boys, which can never be considered taboo. As noted in the quote that “was a clean young farm-boy on the make” then this is likely to be succeeded that Josiah Franklin is actually apprehensive that at least the young Benjamin “break loose and go to sea”? (Lemisch, 1968).
As compared to this theory, Lemisch mainly focuses on the “fugitive and floaters”, only because these were filled with husbands and their wives, who often ran away with other men. Therefore, for this reason, he saw the fugitive and the floater men who had been cursing and often getting drunk and trying to do criminal activities. Therefore, Lemisch mainly tries to conclude that these men had no other options so they flowed into the sea, as they had no hope in the land. Moreover, this can be considered as the circumstances faced by America.

2. Merchant Seamen were “treated so much like a child, a servant, and a slave” because they had a life that was very poor by the year 1700s. Thus, this was mainly selected from all the civilians so that they could work as manual laborers in the Merchant ship. Therefore, this was mainly based on the poor people, who could join as per the work designated to the Seamen, with a merchant ship and learn about the women who were employed. Thus, they are designated to carry forward the various things in order to serve the crew members. Apart from this, they are often exploited with different means like getting paid with very little wage. While they are provided with low-quality food and shelter. Compared to this, this has been stated that the manual laborers were like the slaves who did not get any health facilities and had to do hard work. Thus, for this reason, they were recognized as the victims who were attacked by the enemies on a pirate ship. Moreover, they could get more dangerous work and are often severely punished for any mistake they have made (Lemisch, 1968). Thus, in this article, this could be articulated that slaves were treated like a slave and had to get a punishment like beasts. Hence, they were killed, and the murderers were not even punished. Moreover, the employment is based on no legal guidelines that were there so the seamen were supposed to select things of their own choice based on the ship-owners. Thus, the children of the slaves were mainly employed as seamen later.


Lemisch, J. (1968). Jack Tar in the streets: merchant seamen in the politics of revolutionary America. The William and Mary Quarterly: A Magazine of Early American History, 371-407.

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