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  • Maritime History
  • History of the Americas


Quick Reference

One who, during the days of the press gang, made it his business to persuade seamen to desert from a ship in order to sell them to another or to deliver them to the press gang on payment of head money. Most of them operated as keepers of seamen's lodging houses or taverns in ports with a busy turn-round of ships. The usual method of delivering seamen to a ship in need of hands was to make them drunk and deliver them on board, while still insensible, an hour or two before the ship's departure. One crimp, short of the number he had been required to collect, delivered a dead man aboard pretending he was drunk. The word is first noted in this sense in 1638. Although the practice was widespread around the world the most notorious port in which crimps flourished was San Francisco in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the rate for seamen delivered to a ship about to sail reached $30 a head plus expenses. Often crimps also claimed the first month's pay of the men they delivered. In Britain, crimping was an indictable offence leading to a prison sentence.

Subjects: Maritime History — History of the Americas.

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