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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 4


This foot note contained in document ADMS-04-04-02-0066
3. Three small and more or less adjacent islands in the Lesser Antilles, St. Eustatius, St. Martin, and Saba, all Dutch possessions except St. Martin, which was divided with France. St. Eustatius, a free port, had served as an important depot for the transshipment of supplies from Europe to America throughout the war. In the winter of 1780–1781 its harbor and warehouses were crammed with ships and goods vital to the American war effort and to the welfare of Dutch merchants and capitalists. Even before the British declaration of war on the Dutch in December 1780, secret orders had been prepared for Admiral Rodney and his fleet in the West Indies to attack St. Eustatius in case of war, and on 3 Feb. 1781 Rodney fell upon the virtually unfortified island and received its absolute surrender. When the news of this devastating loss reached the Netherlands in March, it had a profound effect, dampening what little popular enthusiasm remained for war with England and cutting off all prospects of a loan to the United States. See the classic study by J. Franklin Jameson. “St. Eustatius in the American Revolution,” AHR , 8:683–708 (July 1903); and, for the calamitous effect of the loss on the Dutch business community, see the letters of Jean de Neufville & Son to JA in March and April, esp. 21, 27 March (Adams Papers).
Much of the enormous booty which was taken and which Rodney had counted on to make himself rich, was before long retaken by a French fleet that intercepted a British convoy off the Scilly Islands; see JA to AA , 16 May, below. Nor was this the final irony that sprang from the capture of St. Eustatius. Jameson pointed out, as did contemporary critics and later naval historians, that Rodney's lingering for more than three months at St. Eustatius had disastrous consequences for Great Britain in the war. While Rodney gathered his treasure, “De Grasse, watched only by Hood, had slipped around the shoulder of Martinique and joined the other French ships in the roadstead of Fort Royal. Yorktown itself might never have happened if this juncture of the French had not been effected, and in all probability it would not have been effected if Rodney, with his whole fleet, had been where Hood wished him to be, to windward of Martinique” (Jameson, p. 706–707).