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The dangers of war

 Letter about seaman claiming protection, 1813

Fishing was even more dangerous in wartime. Indeed, fishermen have often formed part of the first line of defence for the coasts of Britain. There is evidence that the attacks of the Spanish Armada and the later Dutch Wars had the effect of restricting the fishing. The fishermen were afraid to go too far from shore to their usual fishing grounds in case they met with an enemy vessel.

There was also the danger of being "press-ganged" into military service. Many wars took place in the 17th and 18th centuries, and sailors were needed to fight. The press gang was a body of Royal Navy seamen who forced merchant seamen to join the Royal Navy. They toured coastal districts looking to impress men into service, either by persuasion or by force. Once taken into service, there was little chance of escape for the men. The conditions aboard the military ships were very harsh and many died before they had served their time. Fishermen were particularly prized because of their knowledge of the sea and skill with boats. However, petition could be made to release them from service on the grounds that they supplied vital food to the population. Individual letters asking for exemption survive although, but we do not know whether they were successful. If a fisherman carried a letter of 'protection', he could not be press-ganged.

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