William M. James (1780–1827) was a British lawyer turned naval historian who wrote important naval histories of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815.
Little is known of his early life but he was trained in the law and began his career as an attorney. He practised before the Supreme Court of Jamaica and served as a proctor in the Vice-Admiralty Court of Jamaica from 1801 to 1813. In 1812, when war broke out between Great Britain and the United States, James was in the United States. Detained by American authorities as a British national, he escaped to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1813. This experience interested him in the War of 1812 and he began to write about it, particularly defending the reputation of the Royal Navy and pointing out the factual errors and excessive claims that American reports made against the Royal Navy. His initial literary efforts seems to have been letters written to the editor of the Naval Chronicle under the pen name 'Boxer'. In 1816, he published his first pamphlet, An inquiry into the merits of the principal naval actions between Great Britain and the United States. This pamphlet caused a controversy in the United States, leading to much American criticism of James' views.
James went on to write his six-volume Naval History of Great Britain, 1793 - 1827 in reaction to American accounts of the War of 1812. Similar in approach, this work was highly critical of the history that his contemporary Captain Edward Pelham Brenton had written on the subject and led to controversy between them that is reflected in successive editions of their works.
|The Naval History of Great Britain
|From the Declaration of War by France, in February 1793, to the Accession of George IV. In January 1820
|Naval Occurrences of the War of 1812
|A Full and Correct Account of the Naval War Between Great Britain and the United States of America,1812-1815