The Adams Papers Digital Edition is undergoing active maintenance while we work on improvements to the system. You may experience slow performance or the inability to access content. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. We will endeavor to return to full capabilities as soon as possible.
. 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,”
, 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
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
, 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).
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014.