Tuesday, September 6, 2011

St. Kitts (10): The Campaign Concludes

This is the tenth and final entry in a series of posts on the St. Kitts campaign of 1782. The St. Kitts campaign took place in what is known as the West Indies theater of the Revolutionary War. [Click for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9].


On the evening of February 12th, the officers of the St. Kitts militia petitioned Governor Shirley to be allowed to surrender. They stated that they were “fully determined, from our zeal to our Sovereign, and a proper regard to the interest of this island, to defend it while prudence justified us, or till we should be relieved by his Majesty’s fleet or army”. However, “the fleet and troops which we looked upon for relief, have been arrived near three weeks, without affording us any assistance, and in all human probability cannot, from the superiority of the enemy by sea and land.” They feared that if they did not open surrender negotiations now they “would lose their estates and properties, and possibly would be sent to a French island or Old France.” [1]

Governor Shirley and Brigadier-General Thomas Fraser conceded that surrender had become the best option, and sent envoys to the French.

A French officer, the Chevalier de Goussencourt, noted the event in his journal: “On the 12th, to the great joy of all, we saw a white flag raised on the breach of the redoubt. We could scarcely believe our eyes”. He added, “the toil and hardship that de Bouillé’s army had to undergo are incredible… There were officers and men who slept only one night under their tents during the whole siege.” [2]

The Marquis de Bouillé granted the garrison generous terms, including the provision that the troops could return to England so long as they did not serve again against France for the duration of the war.

On the 13th, the British regulars and the St. Kitts militia (close to 1,000 men in total) marched out of the garrison with the honors of war and laid down their arms. The British regulars had lost about 250 men between the siege of Brimstone Hill and the January 28th battle on the Mooring Hills. The Marquis de Bouillé claimed to have lost a little more than 300 men between these affairs. [3]

The French were buoyant after the fall of the island. One of their officers was later heard to boast “that it was not necessary to keep their intentions any longer secret, that Barbadoes and Antigua were the next objects, then Jamaica, and lastly New York, and then they will consent to make peace…” [4]

Hood Escapes

Hood learned that the garrison surrendered on the evening of the 13th. He later wrote, “Under this situation of things I had no longer any business in Basseterre Road”. He also thought it was only a matter of time before the French army began to place guns and mortars on the high ground along the shore in order to bombard his ships. [5]

Fortunately for Hood, on February 14th, de Grasse’s ships were anchored near Nevis, taking on badly needed provisions that had arrived from Europe. [6]

Hood decided to sail that night, under cover of darkness. He added: “I judged it necessary… that every ship should be under sail as nearly as possible at the same moment, for the better preserving [of] a compact body”. The ships’ captains were instructed to cut their cables at the same time. Hood also had lights fixed to small boats or buoys that were placed alongside each of his ships. At the same time, the lights were extinguished on his vessels. When the British fleet set sail, the decoy lights remained behind, making it appear as if the British were still at anchor. [7]

The French did not discover Hood’s departure until morning. The Chevalier de Villebresme, recalled that “when M. de Grasse went on deck to see his enemies ...., they were fifteen leagues away. De Grasse, more and more surprised at the inventive genius of his opponent, returned to the anchorage that he had left [i.e., Basseterre Roadstead]”. [8]

French ships at sea.

Rodney Arrives

After St. Kitts fell to the French, Nevis capitulated as well. De Bouillé’s army then embarked on de Grasse’s navy and they set sail on February 20th for the French base at Martinique. De Bouillé placed Colonel Arthur Dillon (the Comte de Dillon) in command of the captured islands and left him a garrison of 850 men and part of the artillery. En route, Comte de Barras was dispatched to seize Montserrat with some ships and soldiers of regiment Auxerrois. The island had no regular army garrison. [9]

Meanwhile, Admiral George Brydges Rodney (at right) had at last reached the West Indies. He wrote:

On the 19th of February, after five weeks passage with the fleet under my command, I arrived in Carlisle Bay, Barbadoes, and instantly proceeded to join the fleet under Sir Samuel Hood, in hopes of bringing the enemy’s fleet to battle, and saving the island of St. Christopher’s [i.e., St. Kitts], which I heard they were then besieging. [10]

Rodney immediately sailed for St. Kitts, via Antigua. Meanwhile, Hood left Antigua and sailed for Barbados in hopes of finding Rodney. The two fleets took different routes and initially missed each other. It wasn’t until February 25th that Hood and Rodney finally united, in the waters west of Antigua. At that point, according to Rodney, “Every endeavour was used to arrive off Martinique before the enemy”. De Grasse, however, narrowly reached Martinique first, and anchored in Port Royal Harbor on February 26th. [11]

So concluded the St. Kitts campaign of 1782, a campaign that marked the high point of French fortunes in the West Indies. In the spring of 1782, de Bouillé and de Grasse embarked on the conquest of Jamaica. De Grasse’s fleet, however, was attacked and defeated at The Saintes by the united fleet of Rodney and Hood. This bloody battle ended France’s island-hopping campaign, for while they remained strong on land, thereafter the British controlled the seas.


1. The Remembrancer, Vol. 14.

2. John Gilmary Shea (1864). The operations of the French fleet under the Count de Grasse in 1781-2 as described in two contemporary journals.

3. The 1st Foot lost 30 killed, 97 wounded, and 2 missing. The grenadier and light infantry companies of the 15th Foot lost 7 killed, 17 wounded, and 6 missing. The Royal Artillery detachment lost 1 killed, 10 wounded, and 5 missing. Prescott’s loss on January 28th was around 71 men. De Bouille stated his total loss was 13 officers and about 290 men.

4. The statement was allegedly made by Colonel Arthur Dillon; Captain Robert Manners was relaying a statement he received second hand; see Letters and papers of the Duke of Rutland.

5. David Hannay (1895). Letters written by Sir Samuel Hood (Viscount Hood) in 1781-2-3.

6. Shea, ibid.

7. Shea, ibid; Hannay, ibid; Souvenirs du Cheavlier de Villebresme.

8. Souvenirs du Cheavlier de Villebresme (Translation is my own).

9. Shea, ibid; R. de Kerallain (1928). Bougainville à l’Armée du Cte de Grasse. Journal de la Société des Américanistes de Paris, 20, 1-70; Attaque et prise de Saint-Christophe dit le «Gibraltar» des Antilles (janvier-février 1782), in Revue Historique des Armées, Vol. 1, 1974. This article includes extracts from «Mémoires Secrets» de Bouillé. René Chartrand and Francis Back (1991). The French Army in the American War of Independence.

10. George Basil Mundy (1830). The life and correspondence of the late Admiral Lord Rodney, Volume 2.

11. Shea, ibid; Mundy, ibid.

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