The Caribbean

The Caribbean was the first place in the Americas that Europeans invaded and colonized, starting in the late 15th century. Over the next three centuries, Europeans claimed more islands, expelling and killing their native inhabitants and transforming their ecology. The climate of the islands made them ideally suited to growing valuable tropical crops such as indigo, coffee, and above all, sugar cane. By the 18th century, the colonized islands of the Caribbean were stripped of their forests, and the arable land was given over to these lucrative crops. The laborious work of harvesting was almost exclusively done by enslaved labor from Africa. In one of the most tragic eras in history, millions of lives were stolen to make enormous profits.

Violence was an unending part of life in the Caribbean. The daily cruelty of enslavement was exacerbated by war as Europeans targeted each other’s valuable colonies. On some islands, communities of Maroons, people who escaped enslavement, fought for space to live, and on others, natives fought back. Despite the violence, the islands were diverse, with Europeans, Americans, and Africans bringing together different cultures, food, and religions; the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere is in Curaçao.

The wealth to be made in the Caribbean far exceeded that of North America and shifted the strategic focus of the Revolutionary War as France, Spain, and the Netherlands joined the conflict. The Caribbean became the primary theater of this new global war. The French immediately struck out against the British islands of Dominica, Grenada, and Tobago in 1778 and 1779 and captured Saint Kitts in 1781. British troops were redeployed from New York to face the French, capturing Saint Lucia in 1778. Spain’s entry widened the scope of the war to Honduras and Nicaragua in Central America. In 1781, the British captured Dutch Sint Eustatius, the most prolific of the islands that acted as a conduit for European goods to America. It was retaken by the French later that year. The French and Spanish sought to attack Britain’s most important island, Jamaica, but coordination proved difficult. The naval Battle of the Saintes on April 12, 1782, ended the French threat to Jamaica and gave the British a great victory to end the global war.

Peace didn’t end the violence of life in the Caribbean, and most of the islands reverted to their prewar colonial status. In 1791, a new spark of freedom was ignited as thousands of enslaved people in the French colony of Saint-Domingue rose up and eventually won their independence, forming the new nation of Haiti. This was only the second successful war of independence in the hemisphere in the 18th century.

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The Caribbean was the first place in the Americas that Europeans invaded and colonized, starting in the late 15th century. Over the next three centuries, Europeans claimed more islands, expelling and killing their native inhabitants and transforming their ecology. The climate of the islands made them ideally suited to growing valuable tropical crops such as indigo, coffee, and above all, sugar cane. By the 18th century, the colonized islands of the Caribbean were stripped of their forests, and the arable land was given over to these lucrative crops. The laborious work of harvesting was almost exclusively done by enslaved labor from Africa. In one of the most tragic eras in history, millions of lives were stolen to make enormous profits.

Violence was an unending part of life in the Caribbean. The daily cruelty of enslavement was exacerbated by war as Europeans targeted each other’s valuable colonies. On some islands, communities of Maroons, people who escaped enslavement, fought for space to live, and on others, natives fought back. Despite the violence, the islands were diverse, with Europeans, Americans, and Africans bringing together different cultures, food, and religions; the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere is in Curaçao.

The wealth to be made in the Caribbean far exceeded that of North America and shifted the strategic focus of the Revolutionary War as France, Spain, and the Netherlands joined the conflict. The Caribbean became the primary theater of this new global war. The French immediately struck out against the British islands of Dominica, Grenada, and Tobago in 1778 and 1779 and captured Saint Kitts in 1781. British troops were redeployed from New York to face the French, capturing Saint Lucia in 1778. Spain’s entry widened the scope of the war to Honduras and Nicaragua in Central America. In 1781, the British captured Dutch Sint Eustatius, the most prolific of the islands that acted as a conduit for European goods to America. It was retaken by the French later that year. The French and Spanish sought to attack Britain’s most important island, Jamaica, but coordination proved difficult. The naval Battle of the Saintes on April 12, 1782, ended the French threat to Jamaica and gave the British a great victory to end the global war.

Peace didn’t end the violence of life in the Caribbean, and most of the islands reverted to their prewar colonial status. In 1791, a new spark of freedom was ignited as thousands of enslaved people in the French colony of Saint-Domingue rose up and eventually won their independence, forming the new nation of Haiti. This was only the second successful war of independence in the hemisphere in the 18th century.

Objects in the Caribbean case

Punch Bowl

George Brydges Rodney (1719-1792) was arguably the most famous British commander of the Revolutionary War, with victories on both sides of the Atlantic. On January 16, 1780, his squadron engaged a Spanish fleet at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, capturing a Spanish admiral. For the rest of the war he commanded the vital West Indies Station. He orchestrated the capture of Dutch Sint Eustatius on February 3, 1781, ending the traffic of war materiel that the island passed to the United States. In 1782 he achieved his greatest victory, smashing the French fleet at the Battle of the Saints between Guadeloupe and Dominica. He captured yet another enemy admiral, François Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse, and prevented an attack on Jamaica, allowing the war to end with a British victory against its oldest enemy rather than with the ignominy of defeat in America.

Britain’s industry ensured that Rodney’s fame was accompanied by a range of consumer goods. This punchbowl, in which one could literally toast to the health of Lord Rodney, was made by applying a copy of an engraved design directly to the body. The technique allowed for fast, detailed decorations and let manufacturers quickly respond to public interest.

[2022.2.49]

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George Brydges Rodney (1719-1792) was arguably the most famous British commander of the Revolutionary War, with victories on both sides of the Atlantic. On January 16, 1780, his squadron engaged a Spanish fleet at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, capturing a Spanish admiral. For the rest of the war he commanded the vital West Indies Station. He orchestrated the capture of Dutch Sint Eustatius on February 3, 1781, ending the traffic of war materiel that the island passed to the United States. In 1782 he achieved his greatest victory, smashing the French fleet at the Battle of the Saints between Guadeloupe and Dominica. He captured yet another enemy admiral, François Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse, and prevented an attack on Jamaica, allowing the war to end with a British victory against its oldest enemy rather than with the ignominy of defeat in America.

Britain’s industry ensured that Rodney’s fame was accompanied by a range of consumer goods. This punchbowl, in which one could literally toast to the health of Lord Rodney, was made by applying a copy of an engraved design directly to the body. The technique allowed for fast, detailed decorations and let manufacturers quickly respond to public interest.

Cutlass

While naval actions relied on cannon fire, battles were often decided by close quarter fighting once ships got close enough to touch. While firearms had their place, the heaving, tightly-packed space of a ship’s deck crowded with men favored rather archaic edged weapons like swords, pikes, and axes. This pattern of sword was the mainstay of the Royal Navy for much of the 18th century. The sword’s simple design made it easy to produce and issue in large quantities. Although primarily intended for naval action, such cutlasses were also occasionally issued to and used by land forces as well.

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While naval actions relied on cannon fire, battles were often decided by close quarter fighting once ships got close enough to touch. While firearms had their place, the heaving, tightly-packed space of a ship’s deck crowded with men favored rather archaic edged weapons like swords, pikes, and axes. This pattern of sword was the mainstay of the Royal Navy for much of the 18th century. The sword’s simple design made it easy to produce and issue in large quantities. Although primarily intended for naval action, such cutlasses were also occasionally issued to and used by land forces as well.

Dirk

The dirk, a type of large dagger, is often associated with Scottish Highlanders, but was not limited to Scots. While not commonly carried by soldiers at the time of the American Revolution, dirks continued to be used by the navy. Officers of a variety of ranks may have carried these short-bladed weapons, often made as elegantly as full-length swords. Only later in the 19th century did they become known solely as the sidearm of midshipmen, the lowest ranking officers on a ship. The relatively short length of dirks likely made them appealing amongst the tightly packed decks of warships while still showing the wearer’s rank and authority.

[2022.2.417.a]

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The dirk, a type of large dagger, is often associated with Scottish Highlanders, but was not limited to Scots. While not commonly carried by soldiers at the time of the American Revolution, dirks continued to be used by the navy. Officers of a variety of ranks may have carried these short-bladed weapons, often made as elegantly as full-length swords. Only later in the 19th century did they become known solely as the sidearm of midshipmen, the lowest ranking officers on a ship. The relatively short length of dirks likely made them appealing amongst the tightly packed decks of warships while still showing the wearer’s rank and authority.

Pistol and Sword

British officers had leeway to acquire arms beyond those issued by the Board of Ordnance, and this pistol and sword reflect what officers might have chosen to acquire for close action. The simple sword, a somewhat more genteel version of a cutlass or hanger, has an engraved anchor on the pommel, suggesting its owner was a naval officer. The brass, blunderbuss-barreled pistol would be useful only at close range, ideal for at least one shot on the deck of an enemy vessel. This pistol was made by the prolific firm of gunsmith Richard Wilson in London. In addition to pistols for naval officers, Wilson produced guns for the African slave trade, custom sporting arms, commercial muskets, and guns for trade with Native Americans.

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British officers had leeway to acquire arms beyond those issued by the Board of Ordnance, and this pistol and sword reflect what officers might have chosen to acquire for close action. The simple sword, a somewhat more genteel version of a cutlass or hanger, has an engraved anchor on the pommel, suggesting its owner was a naval officer. The brass, blunderbuss-barreled pistol would be useful only at close range, ideal for at least one shot on the deck of an enemy vessel. This pistol was made by the prolific firm of gunsmith Richard Wilson in London. In addition to pistols for naval officers, Wilson produced guns for the African slave trade, custom sporting arms, commercial muskets, and guns for trade with Native Americans.

Sea Service Musket

Muskets were useful weapons on ships: they could be used to pick off gun crews or officers on the enemy’s decks when fired from high in the rigging, used to arm sailors boarding an enemy ship, or issued to landing parties to give seamen the ability to operate as infantry. In none of these cases were small arms used daily or even regularly. As a consequence, by the mid-18th century the British Ordnance Department developed a musket produced more simply than those issued to the army, known as Sea Service rather than Land Service. Sea Service muskets were made more cheaply by omitting and streamlining many details. The combination of an older lock and an improved steel rammer on this particular musket may indicate it was made up quickly from parts on hand during wartime.

Despite being cheaper, these Sea Service muskets worked exactly like those issued to the foot soldiers and could even mount a bayonet. Even the smallest oceangoing sloops were expected to have 80 muskets and bayonets beyond those carried by the ship’s marines, while the largest warships carried up to 200 such muskets.

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Muskets were useful weapons on ships: they could be used to pick off gun crews or officers on the enemy’s decks when fired from high in the rigging, used to arm sailors boarding an enemy ship, or issued to landing parties to give seamen the ability to operate as infantry. In none of these cases were small arms used daily or even regularly. As a consequence, by the mid-18th century the British Ordnance Department developed a musket produced more simply than those issued to the army, known as Sea Service rather than Land Service. Sea Service muskets were made more cheaply by omitting and streamlining many details. The combination of an older lock and an improved steel rammer on this particular musket may indicate it was made up quickly from parts on hand during wartime.

Despite being cheaper, these Sea Service muskets worked exactly like those issued to the foot soldiers and could even mount a bayonet. Even the smallest oceangoing sloops were expected to have 80 muskets and bayonets beyond those carried by the ship’s marines, while the largest warships carried up to 200 such muskets.

Sea Service Pistol

Single-shot pistols were not the most effective weapons for most combat in the 18th century, being inaccurate except at very close range. However, they were useful in naval boarding actions, where fighting was close and reloading time was limited. Like muskets, special Sea Service pistols were developed by the British Ordnance Department for naval use. Generally distinguished by simplified components, a key feature of Sea Service pistols was a belt hook. This allowed seamen to hook a pistol or pistols to belts and waistbands so they could carry other weapons or have their hands free.

[2009.0098.009]

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Single-shot pistols were not the most effective weapons for most combat in the 18th century, being inaccurate except at very close range. However, they were useful in naval boarding actions, where fighting was close and reloading time was limited. Like muskets, special Sea Service pistols were developed by the British Ordnance Department for naval use. Generally distinguished by simplified components, a key feature of Sea Service pistols was a belt hook. This allowed seamen to hook a pistol or pistols to belts and waistbands so they could carry other weapons or have their hands free.

Recruiting Broadside

Like the British and the Americans, the French needed bodies to fill their ranks on land and crew their expanded navy at sea. This broadside informs readers of the King’s intention to increase the size of the French Navy in 1782. As the war dragged on, like the Americans and the British, the French offered more appealing enlistment terms and cash bonuses to meet the demand for men. By this time, young men between the ages of 18 and 26 and especially skilled tradesmen were sought to serve for just three years and were offered the lure of prize money, as well as enlistment bounties above and beyond their food and pay. The navy drew recruits from across the kingdom, as evidenced by this document, which was published in Lyon, over 150 miles from the nearest ocean port.

[MS.7345]

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Like the British and the Americans, the French needed bodies to fill their ranks on land and crew their expanded navy at sea. This broadside informs readers of the King’s intention to increase the size of the French Navy in 1782. As the war dragged on, like the Americans and the British, the French offered more appealing enlistment terms and cash bonuses to meet the demand for men. By this time, young men between the ages of 18 and 26 and especially skilled tradesmen were sought to serve for just three years and were offered the lure of prize money, as well as enlistment bounties above and beyond their food and pay. The navy drew recruits from across the kingdom, as evidenced by this document, which was published in Lyon, over 150 miles from the nearest ocean port.

Boarding Pistol

French arms, along with French ships, uniforms, and artillery, underwent radical changes in the 1770s. Following their catastrophic failures during the Seven Years’ War, known in North America as the French and Indian War, French ministers implemented military reforms to recover French greatness. This filtered all the way down to firearm design, giving birth to this new pattern of naval pistol in 1779.

This particular version was made between 1779 and 1782, one of 6,000 made during that period for French naval forces. It was produced in Tulle, France, which in 1777 had been awarded the status of a Royal Manufactory and was extensively used for naval arms.

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French arms, along with French ships, uniforms, and artillery, underwent radical changes in the 1770s. Following their catastrophic failures during the Seven Years’ War, known in North America as the French and Indian War, French ministers implemented military reforms to recover French greatness. This filtered all the way down to firearm design, giving birth to this new pattern of naval pistol in 1779.

This particular version was made between 1779 and 1782, one of 6,000 made during that period for French naval forces. It was produced in Tulle, France, which in 1777 had been awarded the status of a Royal Manufactory and was extensively used for naval arms.

Saber of the Fusiliers and Cannoniers of the Corps Royal de la Marine, 1772-1774

These distinctive sabers were developed in 1772 to arm marine soldiers and gunners. Like all navies, the French Royal Navy also contained foot soldiers to guard stores, ports, and coastal fortifications and to fight from warships. The exact organization of the marines changed over the 18th century, especially in France, which experienced several reforms over the 1760s and 1770s as it modernized and improved its forces. In 1772, a new regulation combined marines and naval artillerymen into a single unit, and a division of these soldiers was assigned to eight main French naval ports: Brest, Toulon, Rochefort, Marseille, Bayonne, Saint Malo, Bordeaux, and Le Havre. From here they could be assigned to ships leaving from those ports for service abroad. Some of these earlier sabers may have continued in service during the Revolution, even after another reform of the marine service in 1774 again separated marines and artillerymen.

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These distinctive sabers were developed in 1772 to arm marine soldiers and gunners. Like all navies, the French Royal Navy also contained foot soldiers to guard stores, ports, and coastal fortifications and to fight from warships. The exact organization of the marines changed over the 18th century, especially in France, which experienced several reforms over the 1760s and 1770s as it modernized and improved its forces. In 1772, a new regulation combined marines and naval artillerymen into a single unit, and a division of these soldiers was assigned to eight main French naval ports: Brest, Toulon, Rochefort, Marseille, Bayonne, Saint Malo, Bordeaux, and Le Havre. From here they could be assigned to ships leaving from those ports for service abroad. Some of these earlier sabers may have continued in service during the Revolution, even after another reform of the marine service in 1774 again separated marines and artillerymen.

French Naval or Marine Musket

Like British naval arms, French marine or naval muskets also differed from muskets designed for land service. Although generally similar in form to a French infantry musket, the biggest difference of French naval arms was their brass mountings. Although iron was cheaper, brass was probably chosen because it is less vulnerable to corrosion in the salty sea air. The only exceptions to this were the center band and sling swivel that ensured the shoulder sling and its associated stress was borne by sturdy iron. Naval arms like this were also supplied to the American rebels, who carried them on land like any typical musket.

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Like British naval arms, French marine or naval muskets also differed from muskets designed for land service. Although generally similar in form to a French infantry musket, the biggest difference of French naval arms was their brass mountings. Although iron was cheaper, brass was probably chosen because it is less vulnerable to corrosion in the salty sea air. The only exceptions to this were the center band and sling swivel that ensured the shoulder sling and its associated stress was borne by sturdy iron. Naval arms like this were also supplied to the American rebels, who carried them on land like any typical musket.

Satirical print titled Be Not Surprised/ne Soyez pas surprise

British Admiral George Rodney’s capture of Dutch Sint Eustatius in 1781 halted a stream of goods that supported the American Revolution. The Dutch colonies of the West Indies acted as clearing houses for goods from Europe that were shipped to America, including weapons and gunpowder. The British knew this but were unable to attack without violating Dutch neutrality. Sint Eustatius also raised the ire of Great Britain in late 1776 when the island’s governor became the first to salute the new flag of the United States.

The British easily took the immensely wealthy island after war was declared on the Netherlands at the end of 1780. Admiral Rodney made a fortune from the capture, but was accused of targeting the island for his personal gain. He was particularly cruel to the Jewish merchants of the island, whom he expelled, and he spent years settling lawsuits with merchants whose goods were captured.

The warning of this print to “Be not Surprized” refers to the French surprising and capturing Sint Eustatius on November 26, 1781. French troops are shown trailing captured British colors and leading away their captives, one still dressed in a nightshirt and nightcap to demonstrate the complete surprise.

[2018.5.191]

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British Admiral George Rodney’s capture of Dutch Sint Eustatius in 1781 halted a stream of goods that supported the American Revolution. The Dutch colonies of the West Indies acted as clearing houses for goods from Europe that were shipped to America, including weapons and gunpowder. The British knew this but were unable to attack without violating Dutch neutrality. Sint Eustatius also raised the ire of Great Britain in late 1776 when the island’s governor became the first to salute the new flag of the United States.

The British easily took the immensely wealthy island after war was declared on the Netherlands at the end of 1780. Admiral Rodney made a fortune from the capture, but was accused of targeting the island for his personal gain. He was particularly cruel to the Jewish merchants of the island, whom he expelled, and he spent years settling lawsuits with merchants whose goods were captured.

The warning of this print to “Be not Surprized” refers to the French surprising and capturing Sint Eustatius on November 26, 1781. French troops are shown trailing captured British colors and leading away their captives, one still dressed in a nightshirt and nightcap to demonstrate the complete surprise.

Letter from John Tyler to Jonathan Trumbull, August 25, 1779

The American Revolution was a war fought on a global scale. Ships came and went from across the Atlantic, with the Caribbean acting as a hub of travel and information. In this letter, Connecticut militia General John Tyler reports to the state’s governor on the news arriving from the Caribbean. Ships returning to Connecticut from allied French ports on Martinique and Saint Domingue (now Haiti) reported a range of information, some accurate, some not. Tyler reported accurately that Spain had entered the war, but incorrectly claimed that Ireland was in revolt.

[MS.7295]

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The American Revolution was a war fought on a global scale. Ships came and went from across the Atlantic, with the Caribbean acting as a hub of travel and information. In this letter, Connecticut militia General John Tyler reports to the state’s governor on the news arriving from the Caribbean. Ships returning to Connecticut from allied French ports on Martinique and Saint Domingue (now Haiti) reported a range of information, some accurate, some not. Tyler reported accurately that Spain had entered the war, but incorrectly claimed that Ireland was in revolt.

To view more information about the objects in this exhibit, visit the Ticonderoga Online Collections Database!