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St. Lucia, Captured By The British

ST. LUCIA, CAPTURED BY THE BRITISH. 12-28 December 1778. Following the declaration of war by France in 1778, Britain briefly subordinated military activities in North America for objectives in the Caribbean. Although almost paralyzed by divisions about how best to respond to the new threat, the cabinet agreed upon a plan for the conquest of St. Lucia on 14 March. With its view of Martinique's Fort Royal Harbor, it was strategically important to the British as the main gateway to French Martinique, the base of the French navy in the Americas. It possessed a fine harbor at Gros Islet Bay that was more spacious than the narrow anchorage at English Harbour in Antigua.

The plans were carried out in the utmost secrecy. Lord George Germain directed Sir Henry Clinton to send five thousand troops and most the ships of the line in America to participate in the conquest of St. Lucia. Rear Admiral Barrington, commanding the naval squadron in the Leeward Islands, was ordered to wait at Barbados to be joined by an expeditionary force, with the result that he was unable to sail to the defense of Dominica, which fell to the French on 7 September. The arrival of the troop convoys was long delayed owing to Clinton's need to evacuate Philadelphia and the delay of naval reinforcements from England, commanded by Byron, due to bad weather. The expedition under Major General James Grant did not leave New York until 4 November. It was fortunate not to have suffered capture by the French, since it sailed on a parallel course with the fleet of Admiral D'Estaing, who simultaneously left Boston for Martinique.

Grant, together with Admiral William Hotham commanding the troop transports, arrived in Barbados on 10 December. They landed at St. Lucia on 12 December and, with the arrival of the remaining troops, conquered the island on the 14th, only hours before the arrival of Admiral D'Estaing with a superior fleet and 9,000 troops from Martinique. Finding the British in possession of the island, D'Estaing was unable to dislodge Barrington's squadron at Cul de Sac. On the16th he landed his troops and attempted to storm the British lines at La Vigie in order to open the harbor to his fleet. His two attempts were successfully repulsed, with—after three hours of intense action—1,300 wounded and 400 dead, compared to 158 British wounded and 13 killed. After almost ten days of inaction, D'Estaing embarked his troops and on the 29th finally quit the island for Martinique.

The St. Lucia campaign seriously compromised the British war for America. The British withdrew from Philadelphia primarily to free five thousand troops for the conquest, despite the warning of Sir Henry Clinton that the loss of the troops, together with redeployments to Florida and Canada, might force him to abandon his headquarters in New York for Halifax. By forcing the abandonment of Philadelphia, the campaign also undermined the negotiating strength of the Carlisle Peace Commission.

SEE ALSO Naval Operations, British; Naval Operations, French; West Indies in the Revolution.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

O'Shaughnessy, Andrew Jackson. An Empire Divided. The American Revolution and the British Caribbean. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000.

Robson, Eric. The American Revolution in Its Political and Military Aspects, 1763–1783. New York: Norton, 1966.

              revised by Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy

St. Lucia, Captured by the British

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St. Lucia, Captured by the British