History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution/Chapter XXIV
To prevent breaking in on and interrupting the thread of narration, through a detail of the important and interesting scenes acting on the American theater, many great naval operations have been passed over in silence, and others but slightly noticed. A particular description of nautical war was never designed by the writer of these pages; yet a retrospect may here be proper, and a cursory survey necessary, of some of the most capital transactions on the ocean, which were closely connected with American affairs,and the interests of her allies.
The beginning of naval hostilities between Great Britain and France took place in the Bay of Biscay in June 1778. A fleet commanded by Admiral Keppel, a gentleman in whom the nation had the highest confidence, from his bravery, his prudence, and long experience in naval transactions, was at this critical period directed to sail with discretionary orders. A member of Parliament of eminence observed "that all descriptions of men seemed pleased with the choice, and to feel their own security included in the appointment" of such an able commander at so anxious a moment. He met a squadron of 32 ships of the line and a large number of frigates, commanded by the Count D'Orvilliers, before he was in reality prepared for an interview with such a formidable force on the part of France. This was indeed before any formal declaration of war had taken place between the rival nations.
Two frigates from the squadron of D'Orvilliers were very soon discovered near enough to prove evidently that they were on a survey of the British fleet. They were pursued, and a civil message delivered to the captain of the Licorne from the English admiral; but it was not civilly returned. Some shot were exchanged, and in a short time, the frigate surrendered.
The other French frigate, called the Belle-Poule, was of heavier metal and, appearing disposed for a rencounter, Captain Marshal, who commanded the Arethusa, pursued her until out of sight of the fleet. When near enough to announce his orders, he informed the captain of the Belle-Poule that he was directed to conduct him to the British admiral. A peremptory refusal of compliance on the part of the French captain induced Captain Marshal to fire a shot across the Belle-Poule. This was returned by the discharge of a whole broadside from the Bell-Poule into the Arethusa.
A severe action ensured, which continued near two hours. Both frigates suffered much. The Arethusa was so far disabled that she was conducted off the French coast by two British ships that accompanied the chase and arrived in time to tow her back to the fleet. The Belle-Poule escaped only by running into a small bay on the coast of France. The resolute deportment of the French captain, in this beginning of naval hostilities between the two nations, was much applauded by his countrymen, and munificently rewarded by the King of France.
For some time after this action, a mutual display of the strength of the two fleets was kept up: chasing, re-chasing, maneuvering, and gasconade continued for several days, with little effective action and no decision. During the cruise, Admiral Keppel discovered by the officer of a frigate taken after the action of the Belle-Poule and the Arethusa, that D'Orvilliers was in daily expectation of reinforcements of strength, while there was yet no formal declaration of war, while the French admiral played off, as unwilling to begin hostilities and while, from may circumstances, Keppel himself was in no situation for a general engagement. Thus, to the unspeakable mortification of this meritorious officer, he found it convenient to turn his back on the French squadron and repair to England.
His own inadequate force and equipment to meet the powerful squadrons of France, which had been prepared with diligence and system for the execution of great designs, was viewed by him with the deepest regret, both for his own share in the disappointment and the disgrace brought on his nation by such unpardonable negligence. He had, however, from the discoveries he had made, from the officers of the captured frigates and the causes which had induced his immediate return, kept his opinions very much within his own breast, disposed to think candidly of men in high office, great responsibility, and some of them endowed with superior talents. He hoped, from the necessities of the moment, the honor of the nation, and the hazard of their own characters, they would adopt and adhere to more decisive and efficient measures in the future.
The motives of the admiral unknown to the people at large, occasioned much censure from the lips of those who were unacquainted with the circumstances. The superiority of the French fleet under D'Orvilliers, and the additional strength he expected from several other armaments prepared to join him, rendered it impossible for Admiral Keppel, with only 20 ships of the line, to make any effectual resistance, if a declaration of war should warrant an attack from the French commander, who had a fleet of between 30 and 40 sail of the line, besides a great number of frigates, ready for action.
Admiral Keppel very judiciously apprehended that the most cautious and prudent steps were necessary, not only to prevent the loss of his own fleet, but other inseparable evils to his nation, which might have been the consequence of defeat. He had certain information of the meditated designs of France, unexpectedly to strike at the trade of the nation by interrupting their convoys and giving a wound to the honor of the English navy, which would redound much to their own advantage in the outset of a war; while his own fleet, deficient in almost everything necessary for any effectual resistance, was incapable of maintaining its station.
Conscious that his conduct needed no apology, that the failure of the hopes of the English was owing to the neglect or want of judgment in the ministry, the admiralty, and other departments, he silently bore the censure of his enemies, the clamors of the multitude, and the opprobrium that often lights on character from the tacit demeanor of false friends, and prepared with the utmost dispatch again to sail and meet the commander of the French squadron.
New exertions were made by the directors of naval affairs; and within a few days, the brave admiral was enabled again to sail with better prospects of success, in pursuit of the Brest fleet, which was also reinforced by some of the heaviest ships and most distinguished commanders in the French service. The two fleets met, maneuvered, fought, retreated, chased, bid mutual defiance, and fought again; but neither of them had a right to claim the palm of victory, from any circumstances of the interview.
The failure of this second expedition might have been owing, in part, to a misunderstanding between Admiral Keppel and some of his principal officers. Other causes might cooperate. There is a delicacy of feeling in the mind of man, or rather a moral sense that forbids aggression and excites a reluctance to striking the first blow that must involve the human species in carnage and murder. But, when war has been denounced by regal authority, and the usual sanction of public proclamation, licensed by the common formalities on such occasions, and hardened by repeated irritation and violence, the crash of burning or sinking ships, swallowed in the yawning deep, ceases to excite due compassion in the sanguine bosom, inured to behold the miseries of his fellow men.
This disappointment in the beginning of a war with France occasioned much party bitterness through the English nation. The odium of ill success was bandied for some time between the partisans of Sir Hugh Palliser, rear admiral of the blue, and those of the brave Keppel. Both admirals were tried by court martial; and after long investigation, the business finally terminated in the honorable acquittal of Admiral Keppel, from the charge of negligence, want to ability, or misconduct in any respect; [For a particular detail of this interesting affair, the trials of the two admirals, and the virulence of party on the occasion, the reader may be referred to their trials and to other British authorities.] and his reputation completely restored, his calm dignity and cool deportment, through many trying circumstances, more strongly attached his old friends and procured him many new ones. He was afterwards appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. He received the thanks of both houses of Parliament for his many and essential services to his country. Public rejoicings on his acquittal testified the general esteem of the people, while the ratio of disgrace that fell on Admiral Palliser led him to resign all his public employments.
There had, previous to the late engagement, been the appearance of the strictest friendship between Admiral Keppel and Sir Hugh Palliser, rear admiral of the blue. It is uncertain what interrupted this amity. It might have arisen from a spirit of rivalry or the pride of a subordinate officer who persecuted the aged commander with unceasing bitterness and divided the opinion of the public for a time, relative to the appropriate merits of each; but the balance continued in favor of Lord Keppel to the end of his life.
A naval rencounter took place the next year which, though of less magnitude than many others, is worthy of notice from the valor of the transaction and some circumstances that attended it which were interwoven with the political conduct of the Dutch nation.
Captain John Paul Jones had sailed from L'Orient in the summer of 1779 in order to cruise the North Sea. The Bon-homme Richard, which he commanded, was accompanied by the Alliance, a well-built American ship, and two or three other smaller frigates.
About the beginning of September, they fell in with the Serapis, an English ship of superior force, commanded by Captain Pierson. She was accompanied by a smaller ship the Countess of Scarborough. They soon engaged. The action was valorous and desperate, severe and bloody; and taken in all its circumstances, perhaps one of the bravest marine battles that took place during the war. Both the English ships were taken by the Americans. The Bon-homme Richard and the Serapis were several times on fire at the same moment. The Bon-homme Richard was reduced to a wreck, and sunk soon after the action, which continued long enough for the Baltic fleet of British homeward-bound ships, which had been under the convoy of the Serapis and Countess of Scarborough, to make their escape and get safe to England. After this tremendous blaze of horror and destruction, the little American squadron repaired to the Texel to refit, carrying with them their prisoners and their prizes.
Captain Pierson acquitted himself with the gallantry of a British commander, zealous for the honor of his nation. But he was not permitted by the American officers to go on shore in Holland and pay his respects to Sir Joseph Yorke, the British ambassador resident at the Hague. This he reported in the close of his account of the engagement, received at the admiralty office. It was a circumstance grievous to himself and highly resented by the British ambassador. He demanded of the States-General that the Alliance and the other ships commanded by the rebel and pirate, John Paul Jones, should, with their crews, be stopped an delivered up.
Their high mightinesses replied to the demand of Sir Joseph Yorke that they should not take upon themselves to judge of the legality or illegality of those who had taken vessels on the open seas belonging to other countries; that their ports were open to shelter from storms and disasters; that they should not suffer the Americans to unload their cargoes, but should permit them to go to sea again after refitting; without taking on themselves to judge, as they did not think they were authorized to pass an opinion on the prizes or the person of Paul Jones.
The naval rencounters between the nations were too numerous to particularize. Those who are acquainted with maritime affairs, the phrases of navigation, and are fond of the exhibition of sea fights, may dwell longer on the description of single actions; while the curiosity of every inquirer may be sufficiently gratified by the proud boasters who insolently describe the British flag as controlling the nations and defying the universe to attack their fleets.
We shall pass over the more minute transactions and again recur to the general expectation relating to the siege of Gibraltar, which was long kept awake before a final decision. It is, however, necessary, previous to the relinquishment of the conquest of the contested spot, to observe on several intervening transactions of moment. It has been related in a former chapter that this fortress was relieved for a time by Sir George Bridges Rodney on his way to the West Indies in 1780.
He had been remarkably successful in the interception of convoys, the interruption of the trade of the enemies of Britain, and the capture of the homeward-bound ships of France and Spain. He fell in with 15 sail of merchantmen, under the convoy of a 64 gun ship and several frigates, found from St. Sebastian's to Cadiz. He captured the hole fleet, which belonged to the royal company of the Caracas. The principal part of their cargoes was wheat and other provisions much wanted at Gibraltar, where the admiral immediately sent them. A large quantity of bale goods and naval stores, equally necessary for the use of his countrymen, he sent forward to England.
He soon after fell in with a Spanish squadron of 11 ships of the line, under the command of Don Juan Langara, who declined an engagement, from the inequality of his force. But Admiral Rodney, determined to pursue his success, gave chase until the enemy were nearly involved among the shoals of St. Lucar; and not approaching, the brave Spaniard was compelled to the conflict. Early in the engagement, the Spanish ship San Domingo, of 70 guns and 600 men, blew up and all on board perished. The English man of war with which she was engaged narrowly escaped a similar ate.
The action was severe and conducted on both sides with the greatest intrepidity, until the Spanish admiral was dangerously wounded and most of his ships had surrendered. He then struck his flag, surrendered his own ship, reduced to a wreck, and submitted to the valiant English. This action continued nearly through the night; and many singular instances of valor and generosity were displayed on both sides, before the palm of victory was insured to the gallant Rodney.
His good fortune followed him to the tropical seas; an his rencounters with the Admiral de Guichen and other brave commanders of the Bourbon fleets, always terminated in his favor. Indeed, his successes were sometimes a little variant, and his squadron frequently suffered much loss and damage in his severe conflicts with French and Spanish fleets; yet he was always victorious. On his way to the West Indies, nothing stood before him. Many of the enemies of Great Britain, both in the commercial and military line, fell into his hands.
A plan had been meditated by the combined fleets of France and Spain to seize the rich island of Jamaica. The interference of Rodney more than once prevented the loss of this valuable spot. This was a favorite object with the French; nor was it relinquished until fortune had frowned repeatedly on the lilies of France and humbled the Gallican flag beneath her victorious rival, who waved her proud banners around her insular possessions, to the terror of France and the mortification of America.
From the capture of Dominca by the Marquis de Bouille in 1778, the West India islands had been alternately agitated by the various successes of the contending fleets, until the seizure of St. Eustatia by Sir George Bridges Rodney in February 1781.
In the autumn of 1780, tempest, hurricane, and earthquake had raged through all the islands in a degree unparalleled in those latitudes, though always subject to the most violent tornadoes. Several of the best of the islands had been nearly ruined by those recent devastations of nature, and others rendered too weak for defense against less potent foes than those who waved the flag of Britain.
The winter after the accumulated misfortunes occasioned by those convulsions, Admiral Rodney arrived in the West Indies with a strong and potent fleet and army. The army was commanded by General Vaughan. Rodney and Vaughan in conjunction took advantage of the weak, dismantled state to which St. Vincent's was reduced and attempted the reduction of the island. But, unexpectedly repulsed by the bravery of the French, commanded by the Marquis de Bouille, the next enterprise of Sir George Bridges Rodney was against the rich, but defenseless island of St. Eustatia.
The unexpected attack on the Dutch island was in consequence of secret orders received before they left England, from the Board of Admiralty. The arrival of the British armament in the West Indies as accompanied by intelligence, not suspected by the islanders, that hostilities were denounced against the Republic of Holland by a manifesto of the King of England.
The United Netherlands had not yet ratified any formal treaty with the American states, though, as has been observed, a plan for that purpose had been found among the paper of Mr. Laurens. It is true, the design of a close connection with Congress and the colonies was avowed by the principal citizens of Amsterdam. It also appeared from strong circumstances that many of the most respectable inhabitants in other parts of the Batavian circles were equally disposed to unite with the Americans. But it was some time after this period before the independence of the United States of America was acknowledged by the Stadtholder and their high mightinesses in the Hague.
Yet the assistance given by the merchants of some of the capital provinces, their negotiations with the agents of Congress, and their temporizing with regard to receiving a minister, sent on after the misfortune of Mr. Laurens to complete the terms of amity and commerce with the rebellious subjects of America, as they were termed, were steps too bold and affrontive to the Sovereign of Britain and to the English nation, then the ancient ally of the Batavians, to be passed over with impunity.
The Dutch Court, as observed, did not openly countenance these proceedings. Yet, we have seen above that when repeatedly called upon by Sir Joseph Yorke, in the name of his Sovereign, publicly to disavow them and to punish by inhibitions, penalties, and other severities, all who held any correspondence with Congress or encouraged and supported the revolted colonies; yet no explicit declaration for that purpose could be obtained. Vexed at the equivocal conduct of the States-General, and there being no prospect of the minister's succeeding in his wishes, he was recalled from the Hague, and reasons were soon after assigned by manifesto for the commencement of hostilities against the Batavian provinces, in the usual style of regal apology for the waste of human life.
Thus the storm burst on the Dutch West India islands before they were apprehensive of the smallest danger from a state of war. St. Eustatia had long been considered, by Europeans and Americans, as the most advantageous mart of any of the tropical islands. Consequently, their trade and their wealth had increased beyond all calculation. The inhabitants were generally absorbed in their own private business, the bulk of the merchants affluent and secure, the magistrates at ease, and the Dutch officers totally unapprehensive of an attack from any foreign foe. The fortresses in a state of ruin and the island weakened by the late hurricanes, they were in no condition for defense, nor did they attempt the smallest resistance, on the approach of a powerful British fleet and army.
The surprise and astonishment of both the governor and the people, on the summons to surrender themselves and their island, cannot be described. Their deliberations were short. Mr. de Graaf, the Dutch governor, with the consent of the magistrates and the principal inhabitants, returned a laconic answer to the summons of the British commander. He concisely observed "that confident of the lenity of Sir George Bridges Rodney and General Vaughan, the whole island and its dependencies surrendered. Firmly relying on their honor and humanity, they only recommended the town and the inhabitants to their mercy."
This submission proved the consignment of themselves and families to immediate poverty, desolation, and every species of misery. All descriptions of persons were at once involved in the same common ruin. Not only the officers of government and the independent sojourner in this devoted island, but the merchant, the factor, the planter, and the innocent individual of every class, whether Dutch or British, Americans or Jews, were all overwhelmed in one promiscuous, unexampled insult, outrage, and plunder. Slaves were bribed to betray their maters and inveigled to discover the smallest pittance of property that might have been secreted by the opulent or the aged to preserve a wretched existence after the loss of connections, fortune, and prospects.
When obstinate resistance and high-toned language irritates the passions of men, it may be thought by some an apology for the extreme rigor too frequently exercised by the illiberal mind toward a conquered enemy. But when full confidence has been placed in the generosity, urbanity, and equity of the victor, and submission made without a blow, the cruel inflictions imposed on the unfortunate by the successful assailant are violations of the feelings of humanity, and a departure from the nobler principles of the soul, that can never be justified by the laws of policy or even the hostile usages of war. Nor can the dignity of rank, or the glittering badges of ancestral honor prevent the indignation that must ever arise in the bosom of humanity on a survey of the rapacity, insolence, and atrocity of conduct in the conquerors of St. Eustatia.
Submission undoubtedly entitles to protection, and the vanquished have ever a claim both for compassion and support from the victor. Instead of this just and generous line of action, all safety was precluded, by indiscriminate abuse and plunder. After the surrender of this opulent island, one general pillage, confiscation, banishment, or death succeeded; and, as observed afterwards by Mr. Burke in the House of Commons, "the Dutch were robbed and banished, because they were Dutch; the Americans, because they were the King's enemies; the Jews, because their religion was different from that of the conquerors."
Some gentlemen of the most capital commercial characters were confined as criminals of a peculiar cast and punished in a two-fold sense. An extraordinary instance of this nature was exhibited in the treatment of Messrs. Courzen and Governier, two of the first merchants on the island. As Dutchmen, their property was confiscated. As Englishmen, they were sent to England as traitors to the King, charged with corresponding with "American agents, imprisoned and tried for high treason.
Mr. Hohen, an eminent Jewish merchant, a native of Amsterdam who had resided at St. Eustatia 25 years, received notice, without any crime alleged, that he must quit the island without a day's delay. Ignorant of the place of his destination, while on his ay to embark, he experienced every severe usage. His trunk was rifled; his clothes ripped open; and a small sum of money he had secreted to preserve him from famine, taken from him, even to his last penny. Thus, suddenly robbed and reduced from high fortune to absolute want, when he arrived in England, he petitioned the House of Commons for redress, and his cause was supported by the brilliant elocution of Mr. Burke and others. Yet the injured Israelite found no relief from the justice or compassion of the nation.
Such was the rapacity of the plunderers of this unfortunate island that in many other instances the garments of the aged and respectable were rent open in search of a bit of gold that might possibly have been concealed for the purchase of a morsel of bread for their innocent and helpless families. Thus, from the pinnacle of affluence, many were reduced in a day to the extreme of penury and despair. All the Jews on the island received similar treatment to that above related. Their sufferings had no amelioration. They were informed that they were all to be transported, and only one day was allowed to any of them for preparation, before they were robbed of their treasures, and sent away penniless among strangers.
Indeed, three was little discrimination among the miserable inhabitants of this once wealthy spot. The whole property of the island, collected by every undue method, was exposed to public sale; and Admiral Rodney, the commander of a British fleet of upwards of 30 ships of the line, and the renowned General Vaughan, at the head of 3000 or 4000 troops, were engaged from the beginning of February until the May following in the little arts of auctioneering and traffic, in a manner that would have disgraced the petty merchant, who had not renounced all pretenses to honor.
The islands of Saba, St. Martin's, and others had surrendered to some detachments from the British fleet and army on the same easy terms; and, with similar hopes of security and protection, they suffered nearly the same merciless fate from the hands of British conquerors that had been recently experienced by the inhabitants of St. Eustatia.
Meantime, the Marquis de Bouille improved the favorable opportunity, while the British commanders were engaged in securing the plunder of the conquered isles, to reduce Tobago to the arms of the French monarch. This required a little more military prowess than had yet been called into action by his competitors for the possession of the West India islands.
Governor Ferguson, who commanded at Tobago, made a manly defense for eight or ten days; but receiving no succors from Admiral Rodney, though within 24 hours' sail, and too weak to hold out longer without assistance, he was obliged to capitulate.
The terms granted by the noble Frenchman were honorable and lenient. The officers and troops in garrison were permitted to march out with the honors of war; after which, the soldiers were to lay down their arms, but the officers had liberty to retain theirs. The inhabitants were allowed to preserve their own civil government, laws, and customers; to enjoy their estates, rights, privileges, honors, and exemptions, with a promise of protection in the free exercise of their religion, until peace should take place. No other engagement was required on their part than an oath of fidelity to the King of France, to observe a strict neutrality until that happy event should be accomplished. They were left at full liberty to dispose of their property at leisure and to proceed in their commercial affairs as usual; with this father indulgence, that no merchant ships, the property of the inhabitants of the island or its dependencies, that might arrive from England within six months, should be liable to confiscation or seizure.
It is observable that the distinguished traits of generosity in the demeanor of the Marquis de Bouille were not forgotten by those who witnessed and experienced his clemency. Some time after the transactions above related, a large number of gentlemen in England, belonging to the several islands, met and unanimously passed a vote expressive of their high sense of gratitude for his humanity, justice, and generosity, exemplified and displayed in this treatment of the conquered isles; and as a testimony of their veneration and esteem, they ordered a piece of plate, with an inscription of their thanks, to be presented him by Sir William Young, chairman of the committee. [Analytical Register.]
After this short narration of the capture of the island of Tobago and the moderation shown by the inhabitants by the victor, a further detail is not necessary to contrast the behavior of the British and French commanders in the West Indies a this period of the war.
Many particulars through the busy scene kept up in the tropical seas, through this and the succeeding year, need not here be related; though it is proper to observe that it was but a few months after the surrender of these islands and the sufferings they experienced from the severity of the British conquerors, before St. Martin's, Saba, and St. Eustatia were surprised and recovered by the Marquis de Bouille.
It may be anticipating time, yet, to prevent the interruption of the story of other events, it will not be deemed improper to continue the narration of the insular war that raged with unabating fury in the West Indies through the succeeding year.
From the arrival of the Count de Grasse in these seas, with his brave, victorious fleet from the Chesapeake, at the close of the year 1781, not the smallest mitigation of the horrors of war took place until after the defeat of the squadron commanded by him, an event which did not happen until April 12, 1782.
Soon after the entire ruin of the inhabitants of St. Eustatia, Sir George B. Rodney had returned to England with his disgraceful booty, the indiscriminate spoils of the aged, the innocent, and the affluent. He was graciously received by His Majesty and the ministry; but, his laurels stained by his avarice an cruelty, it was impossible, either by address, deception, or effrontery to parry the severe reprehensions he received from some of the first nobility in the House of Lords, as well as from many members of distinction and talent in the House of Commons. A particular inquiry into his conduct and that of General Vaughan was urged in the most strenuous and pathetic manner, but with little effect. Notwithstanding the general sense of mankind criminated the inhumanity of their proceedings, yet the favoritism that generally prevails in courts overruled, as usual, the dictates of justice, and all investigation was postponed.
Admiral Rodney was again immediately sent out in full force, with design to prevent the valuable island of Jamaica from falling under the arms of France. Indeed, the apprehensions of the ministry on this point were sufficiently grounded. Barbadoes, Antigua, and Jamaica were all the possessions of consequence that the English still retained in the West Indies. The others, as observed, had most of them been recaptured by the French, who were pursuing victory with vigilance and success, and in sanguine expectation of wresting all the wealthy islands from the Crown of Britain.
When Sir George Bridges Rodney returned to the command in that quarter, where he arrived about the middle of February 1782, he found the French inspirited by repeated successes, ready for any enterprise, and a formidable fleet in the highest preparation for attack or defense.
Jamaica was indeed the prime object of expectation, but the first important step taken by the Count de Grasse after his arrival in the West Indies was the capture of the little island of Nevis, where he lost no time, but immediately hastened on and set down before St. Christopher's. There he found a large armament had been landed some days before his arrival by the brave Marquis de Bouille.
Sir Samuel Hood, with 20 sail of the British line, attempted the relief of that island. This brought on several rencounters between him and the Count de Grasse, with various success, but with little decision.
St. Christopher's had been vigorously defended five weeks by General Frazer, a brave British officer. He acquired more honor by his gallant behavior through the whole siege. Shirley, governor of Antigua, brought forward 300 or 400 militia and fought, hazarded, and suffered equally with his friend General Frazer, until necessity compelled them at last to yield. The island was surrendered by capitulation to the Crown of France on February 12, 1782.
The same lenient and generous terms were admitted by the conqueror as had before been granted by him to the inhabitants of Tobago, Demerara, Essequibo, and several other places of less consequence than St. Christopher's or St. Eustatia, who had repeatedly, as well as those, changed their masters in the struggle and were now again the subjects of France. But the inhabitants of St. Christopher's, by the moderate terms of capitulation, were scarcely sensible of a change of sovereignty. The garrison was permitted the honors of war in the strictest sense. The troops were transported to England until an exchange of prisoners should take place.
By a particular article, the Marquis de Bouille, as an acknowledgment of their intrepidity and valor, discharged Brigadier General Frazer and Governor Shirley, who had aided in the defense of the island, from the condition of being considered prisoners of war. To Mr. Shirley he gave liberty to return to his government in Antigua, and to General Frazer the permission of continuing in the service of his country, in whatever place he chose.
The generosity of the Marquis merited and received a large share of applause, both from friends and foes; and the name of Bouille was everywhere respected, for his equitable, humane, and honorable deportment toward all the captured islands that fell into his hands. But, notwithstanding the valor, the virtue, the magnanimity, and the repeated successes of the Marquis de Bouille, over the best and bravest troops and officers that had been employed in any part of the worth; notwithstanding the fame and valor of the Count de Grasse and the strength of the French navy; fortune soon changed her face, frowned on the flag of France, caused her lilies again to droop beneath the showers of fire poured on them by the and of the intrepid Rodney, and, as usual, placed her laurel son his brow.
On his second arrival in the West Indies, where the Bourbon flag had waved for some months under the most favorable aspect, he found both his reinforcements and his vigilance necessary toimpede the blow meditated against Jamaica. A powerful Spanish fleet had arrived at Hispaniola, also a large number of land forces, amply supplied with everything necessary to join the Count de Grasse in the designed expedition. Besides these, there was a body of troops at Cuba for the same purpose.
Though the island of Jamaica still belonged to the British Crown, it was in no respect prepared for an invasion. The island was naturally strong and defensible, but here were few troops in garrison, and the inhabitants, more attentive to their wealth and pleasure than tenaciously attached to a foreign sovereign of their island, security was their object, under whatever authority they held their immense estates; and conquest would have been easy to any power that should guarantee the enjoyment of fortune, luxury, and idleness.
When Admiral Rodney arrived, they had little to fear. He was joined by the squadron under the command of Sir Samuel Hood, and another commanded by Admiral Drake. Thus the British flag among the islands appeared in a capacity to challenge, not only the naval forces of France, but all the maritime powers of Europe.
Sir George B. Rodney very early and very judiciously endeavored, by various maneuvers, to draw the French admiral into immediate action. This the Count de Grasse was equally industrious to avoid. He was aware that it might defeat the important objects before him, and prevent the capture of the most valuable of the British possessions yet remaining under their jurisdiction. But, however reluctant, he was, much against his wishes, obliged first to come to a partial, and within a few days, to a general engagement. This ruined the expectations, the enterprise, and the hopes of the House of Bourbon in this quarter, saved Jamaica from its impending fate, and destroyed a considerable part of the French fleet.
The conflict was long, severe, and bloody indeed. The Count de Grasse, the Marquis Vaudreuil, the renowned Bougainville, and many other characters among the Gallic commanders had never before experienced the mortification of defeat. They fought with the impulse of the brave soldier, the enthusiasm of chivalry, the pride of nobility, and the dignity of the hero, confident of success.
The order of their line was, however, broken by the experienced and indefatigable Englishmen, and several of the beset of the French ships were either captured, sunk, or blown up. This decisive action began early in the morning and lasted until the evening. The carnage on this occasion, on both sides, was sufficient to shock the boldest heart. The surrender of the admiral's own ship, the Ville de Paris, of 110 guns, completed the triumph of the day. Before the Count de Grasse struck his colors, he had 400 men slain, and scarcely anyone left on deck without a wound. This ship, aimed at as the point of victory by all the British whose thunder could reach her, was reduced to a wreck, and on the point of sinking, when the admiral surrendered to Sir Samuel Hood at the close of the day of action.
The commanders of the other ships in the French navy conducted with equal gallantry, and suffered in equal proportion with the Ville de Paris. The captains of the Centaur, the Glorieux, and the Caesar did themselves immortal honor in the eye of military glory. They kept their stations until most of their men were killed or wounded, their canvas short away, and their ships reduced to splinters, before they submitted; and the lives of many valiant seamen, with some of their bravest officers, was the price of victory to their enemies.
On the other side, the loss of many valiant men and distinguished officers spread a temporary glom over the face of success. Among the number of gallant Englishmen who fell on this awful day of carnage, no one was more lamented than the commander of the Resolution, Lord Robert Manners, the only son of the Marquis of Granby, whose gallant and noble military exploits have perpetuated his fame; nor did his son fall short of his merit, or in any respect disgrace the memory of this heroic father.
After the surrender of the Count de Grasse, which terminate the action, he was received on board a British ship with the highest marks of respect, and uniformly treated with every attention due to his distinguished character. The commanders Bougainville and Vaudreuil conducted the remainder of the fleet which escaped capture or sinking, to Cape Francois; and Admiral Rodney, with his wounded ships an numerous prizes, repaired to Jamaica to refit, and to secure that island from any further danger of attack, either from France or Spain.
The Count de Grasse was immediately conveyed to England in the Sandwich, of 90 guns, commanded by Sir Peter Parker, who had the honor of delivering this noble prisoner on the shores which had long dreaded his prowess.
The reception of the unfortunate French commander at the Court of Great Britain, by His Majesty, by the royal family, and by all ranks, was in the highest degree respectful. His own sword, which, according to form, had been delivered to Sir George Bridges Rodney, was returned to his hand by the King Himself. Apartments were provided for him in the royal hotel; and during his short residence in England, nothing was neglected that could in any degree ameliorate the mortification of a mind inured to victory, an amid expectations of conquest reduced to a state of captivity.
All that a most sumptuous elegance and hospitality could invent was displayed, to express the general esteem of the firs characters in the nation, and the high sense entertained by every class of people, of the magnanimity, merits, and misfortunes of the brave and noble commander of the French navy. He, indeed, needed consolations superior to the efforts of politeness and humanity. He was sensible that his court was disgusted, and his nation chagrined beyond description, at the disappointment of their projects, the loss of the Ville de Paris, and the destruction of other capital ships. The wound given to national pride appeared in the countenance of every Frenchman on this unexpected degradation of the Bourbon flag. "The Ville de Paris in the Thames," was mentioned with a shrug of contempt by everyone; and a subscription was set on foot among the Parisians for another ship of the same name, size, and weight of metal, to be immediately built.
Public opinion had its usual operation on military character, which seldom escapes untarnished when not accompanied by success. Thus, while the Count de Grasse was oppressed by public considerations, and the odium mankind are prone to attach to misfortune, his feelings were hurt by the personal sufferings of himself and his family, and the imagined depreciation of fame; and in addition to the fear of a sinking reputation, the death of a favorite son completed the climax of his afflictions.
This amiable and promising young gentleman, unable to bear the reverse of fortune, the reproaches, however unjust, which he feared might all upon his father, and the incalculable consequences to his family that might take place in a despotic court, from the present misfortune, put a period to his own existence by a pistol ball, soon after the tiding of his father's defeat. [The writer had the above account verbally of the death of the son of the Count de Grasse, from a gentleman then in Paris.]
Thus merit languished in captivity, assailed by private sorrow, apprehensive of public censure, and uncertain of the duration of his confinement, or the grade of punishment that might be inflicted by his King. He very well knew that in an arbitrary court, death or the Bastille might cover his head forever, for the failure of achievements impracticable by the valor of man. Meanwhile, the rival of his glory, or rather the conqueror of the noble count, might justly be deemed one of the favorite sons of fortune.
Sir George B. Rodney was undoubtedly a brave officer, and his repeated successes in the West Indies greatly augmented his military fame. But for his cruelty and his avarice the preceding year, he was justly and severely censured by every virtuous man in the nation. His accumulation of property in the plunder of the Dutch and French islands, was thought abundantly sufficient to have satisfied the grasping hand of avarice, without the extreme of rapacity exercised toward every individual of the conquered plantations.
Though in the midst of inquiry into his conduct he had again been sent out on the most honorable command, his cruelty on the capture of St. Eustatia was not forgotten in his absence. His injustice toward Messrs. Hohen, Courzen, Governier, and others was brought forward and criminated in the most pointed language. A scrutiny was again called for in the House of Commons. His reputation impeached and a supercedure of his command directed.
But at the critical moment when his destruction was ripening, the news of his splendid and decided victory over so respectable a part of the French navy hushed the voice of clamor, and even of justice. The suffering islanders were forgotten in the exultation of national glory. His friends were emboldened, his enemies silenced, his interest reestablished; and instead of a rigid censure for former transactions, he received the thanks of Parliament for his services. This was accompanied by the acclamations of the people, and the applauses of the nation, for his victory over their hereditary enemies; a victory that secured to Great Britain her insular possessions, checked the pride of the House of Bourbon, and was felt with no small degree of mortification by the American states. The smiles of the Court and the favor of the King lifted him to rank, and on his return, he was by His Sovereign created a peer so the realm of England. To this dignity was added a pension of 2000 pounds sterling per annum, during his own life, and the lives of the two next successors to the title of Lord Rodney.
The maritime spirit of Britain has always been encouraged and kept up by the munificent rewards of royal bounty, to all who signalize themselves by their naval prowess. This encourages the nobility to place their sons in the navy at an early period of life, as the road to preferment. The service was always deemed honorable; and the interests and feelings of the first families in the nation were engaged to support the respectability of maine employ. This, with many other combining circumstances, has contributed to the strength, glory, and terror of the British navy, and raised it to a pitch of elevation and fame, scarcely paralleled in any notion, either ancient or modern.
But the time may arrive when the haughty superiority of her fleets may be checked and their power and aggression be restrained by a combination formed on principles of justice and humanity, among all the nations that Britain has insulted and invaded, under the domination of her proud flag. She may feel an irresistible opposition; an opposition that may redound to the advantage of commerce, the peace of mankind, and the prevention of that wanton waste of human life, that has cemented her strength, and at once rendered Great Britain respected and dreaded, envied, and perhaps, in a degree, hated by all the nations; who were sometimes ready to apprehend that the axiom formed in Greece about 3000 years ago that -- The nation that is master at sea will become master on the continent -- might be realized in modern Europe.