George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Jay, 10 August 1779

From John Jay

Philadelphia 10 Augt 1779


Herewith enclosed your Excellency will recieve Extracts from a Letter which arrived this Morning from Mr Bingham. The Intelligence contained in them is important as well as agreable1—I have the Honor to be with perfect Esteem & Regard Your Excellencys most obedt Servt

John Jay

ALS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 14.

1At this time William Bingham was serving as the Continental agent to Martinique.

The extract copy of a letter from Bingham to Jay, dated 20–22 July at Martinique, reads: “The french forces that sailed on the Expedition to Grenada arrived there the 2nd Inst., when 1300 Troops were immediately disembarked, & the Country reconnoitered—A Flag was sent in the next day to the Governor requiring him to surrender, & informing him at the same time that the forces employed in the reduction of that Island were so far superior in Number to those engaged in its defence, as to render all resistance useless & presumptuous—Lord Macartney expecting the Approach of Admiral Byron to releive him returned for answer that he was ignorant of the Strenght of the Enemy, but had great confidence in his own, & was determined to make a vigourous defence—In consequence of which Count D’Estaing prepared for an Attack, & marched his troops in three Columns at Midnight of the same day stormed the principal Fort & Retrenchments & carried them sword in hand—As this fort commanded the Citadel, the Governor, too late convinced of his Temerity, sent out a Flag, & offered to capitulate, but this being now refused him, he was forced to receive the terms imposed on him, which were to surrender at discretion—As no capitulation was entered into, by the Laws of war the troops were allowed to pillage—This important Conquest fell into the hands of the french the 4th Inst., without any other Misfortune than the loss of 35 Officers & Men killed, & 71 wounded—Seven hundred Troops were found in the fort, of which 168 were Regulars of the 48th Regt the Remainder Volunteers & Militia—The succeeding days were employed in establishing the civil & military Government of the Island—1500 troops were left to garrison it, & the rest were embarked on an Expedition against St Christopher, when Admiral Byron made his appearance—The Count D’Estaing did not hesitate a moment to weigh Anchor, advance & give him battle—Admiral Byron had received an Accession of Strength of three Ships of the line in addition to the Eighteen he had sailed with from St Lucie—The Sea was smooth & the Ports of the lower Batteries were all opened—The Execution was accordingly great in a short time—The engagement lasted five hours, in which seven of the British Ships were so disabled, as to be towed out of the line—Admiral Byron had the advantage of being to windward which prevented many of the Count D’Estaings Squadron from engaging—Night separated the two Fleets, & put an end to the Combat—The French were prepared in the morning to renew it with redoubled vigour, but no Enemy appeared—The English had taken the Advantage of the friendly protection of the Evening & made their Retreat—The victory was decisive—Count D’Estaing remained Master of the Field of Battle & the boasted veteran fleet of the Enemy found no Security but in flight—The French fleet sustained in the action the loss of 176 killed, & 773 wounded; After having disembarked the latter at Grenada, Count D’Estaing immediately took his departure from thence & arrived at this place the 18th Inst.—he continued his route to Guadeloupe where his Intention was to take in a few more troops to form an attack against the Island of St Kitts, whose resistance would be more feeble than that of Grenada if it was not for the unlucky arrival of the English fleet & Transports there, the former in a most shattered condition, one of them was under the necessity of bearing away for Jamaica.

“The Island of Tobago, which is an appendage to the Government of Grenada, must fall of course & some troops were dispatched to take Possession of it—It is greatly to be regretted that circumstances will not admit of an attack upon St Kitts—The acquisition of that Island from its local situation must be an event of the greatest Importance, it being the Rendezvous of all the English fleets from the Windward Islands to take the Benefit of Convoy.

“Positive Orders have been given to the Commander in Chief of the forces at St Lucie, to embark for America all the troops in the West Indies after leaving a feeble garrison in that Island, credulously beleiving, that the supposed superiority of Admiral Byron in these Seas would be a sufficient Protection for their Islands, & that the internal divisions which appear to prevail in some of the states of America would give them great Advantages in the Operations of the present campaign—Three thousand Troops were accordingly embarked with all their baggage, & were intended to make a Descent, en passant, at St Vincents to endeavour to retake it, but the determined appearance of the Cara⟨cks⟩ & the imminent danger which threatened Grenada inclined them to lead all their force to the succour, & Assistance of that Island—Unfortunately the Transports with the troops were placed during the Engagement that ensued, seven leagues to Windward which prevented their being taken—But one was captured which had 170 troops on board. They have arrived at St Kitts with the fleet, & will in all probability be kept for the defence of that Island & Antigua which must inevitably be reduced if these troops should continue their route to America.

“July 22nd—It gives me additional Satisfaction to inform You that a Packet has this day arrived from France in 31 days passage with dispatches for the General & Count D’Estaing—The former has done me the honor of communicating to me a Letter from the Minister announcing to him the speedy declaration of Spain, & desiring him to take his measures accordingly—he informs him that the Count D’orvilliers had sailed with thirty two Ships of the line, towards Corunna, where he was to be joined with 20 Spanish Ships—G: Britain has absolutely refused the Mediation of Spain.

“Twenty five thousand French troops are now lying on the coast of France ready to embark on an expedition against Ireland.

“Six thousand additional troops have taken their departure for America against which G. Britain means to make her last, & I hope fruitless Efforts this campaign—The authenticity of this news may be depended on” (DLC:GW).

GW had been anxious to receive some official report of the fighting between the British and French fleets in the West Indies (see GW to Jay, 5 Aug., first letter; to Robert Howe, 9 Aug., second letter; to John Armstrong, this date; and to Stirling, 12 Aug., second letter). This letter, containing Bingham’s report, which GW acknowledged on 16 Aug., was the first official word he had received. After an ineffectual attempt in December 1778 to recapture the island of St. Lucia, Vice Admiral d’Estaing, commanding the French fleet and army in the West Indies, had in June and July launched expeditions against the islands of St. Vincent and Grenada. St. Vincent fell to the French on 18 June and Grenada on 4 July. British vice admiral Byron, sailing to relieve Grenada, met d’Estaing’s fleet off the island on 6 July. In the ensuing naval battle, the French managed to disable six British ships and prevent the relief of Grenada, but Bryon was able to get his crippled ships into St. Kitts to refit. For a detailed modern account of the battle, see Mahan, Operations of the Navies, 106–112.

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