This paper investigates the social standing of båtsmän – Swedish navy seamen in the allotment system – who participated in the naval war against Russia in 1788–1790. The study examines the socioeconomic attainment and the social mobility among båtsmän recruited from two towns, Söderhamn and Hudiksvall.
The main purpose of the study is to compare the image of the båtsmän presented by both representatives of the town council in Gävle (magistraten) and admiral Carl August Ehrenswärd, with the actual social position of the båtsmän from Söderhamn and Hudiksvall during the war 1788–1790.
A number of sources are used. Achival records from the navy and the parishes are used to track the båtsmän and define their civilian social position before and after the war. The method is a demographic study based on family reconstruction. A comparison of the social structure of the båtsmän and the social structure of their parent generation is conducted, in order to discover any social mobility. A comparison between the inborn townsmen, the migrators born in the county, and the migrators born outside the county limit, is also conducted to detect any relationship between migration and social position.
To answer the overarching question, why båtsmän are described as peasants and vagabonds by authorities, archival records from the parishes, the Office of the Chancellor of Justice, and the Krigskollegiet are used. The method is close reading of the documents, with a theoretical perspective based on Foucault’s theories of power and discipline
The results of the study show a mismatch between the image presented by the authorities, and the social structure among the båtsmän. The majority of the 45 båtsmän had employment in the towns before they where enrolled. One third of the båtsmän where sailors before the war, a fact not noted in the General munster roll for 1788. There where also a number of manual workers and craftsmen, as well as some members of the bourgeoisie, who were enrolled.
In this study, the social mobility between the båtsmän and the prior generation is strong. Half of a cohort of 35 båtsmän had a lower social position in comparison to their fathers, at the time of the war. Peasant’s sons with temporary jobs in towns were a clear example of social decline.
The båtsmän that survived the war did not improve their occupational position when they returned to their civilian lives. Participating in the great victory at sea – the battle of Svensksund – 1790 did not benefit the båtsmän's occupational position.
The image of the båtsmän as peasants and vagrants is based on the words of the navy and the bourgoise that has survived in the archives. It is the words of those in power, using the label of vagrancy as a tool to solve problems. This image represents a power structure and the struggle for power.