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Sunday, July 4, 2010

St. Eustatius and the Revolution

I know, it is the 4th of July, an American holiday, yet I have decided to post about this small, Caribbean island. There will be several blog articles posted throughout the internet today regarding our American holiday and may reference Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Hancock, Franklin, Valley Forge, Betsy Ross, The Declaration of Independence, all the freedoms we have, . . . I could go on and on. And, it is important to remember those who fought to make our country free. Yet, this could not have been accomplished without assistance of a few foreign governments, which brings me to St. Eustatius, affectionately known as Statia.

I knew nothing about this island until I began research for my very first novel. It was an historical romance which took place during the American Revolution. It is also collecting dust at the back of my hard drive and in storage. Did I mention this was my first novel, 200,000 words long and it would be easier to rewrite it than fix all the numerous newbie errors? But, I digress. When I first came across the island of St. Eustatius I had to stop and pause. I don’t remember this being referenced in any of my history lessons. Of course, I could have been sick that day, but I am pretty sure it never made it into lesson plans. Thus, the digging began, and became the home of my heroine, and the hero, a privateer, but that is another story entirely. This blog isn’t about the molding manuscript but about what I learned through research.

Statia was a rich island with storehouses upon storehouses of goods being shipped in and out on a daily bases, from all parts of the globe. The First Salute by Barbara W. Tuchman states that “Geography favored Statia with a splendid roadstead that could shelter 200 ships at a time and an invaluable position at the center of a multinational cluster of territories—English (Jamaica, St. Kitts, Antigua and Barbados), French (Ste. Lucie, Martinique and Guadeloupe), Spanish (Cuba, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, the divided between Haiti and Santo Domingo), and Danish (Virgin Islands). . . these nations, as well as British merchants of the area who were actually sharing in the trade with the enemy, made Statia’s shores the principal depot for transshipment of goods to and from America. . . The American Colonies sent rich cargoes of their products – tobacco, indigo, timber, horses—to exchange for naval and military supplies and for molasses, sugar, . . . Vessels loaded with 1,000 to 4,000 pounds of gunpowder per ship, and in one case a total of 49,000 pounds, made their way to Philadelphia and Charleston. . . . To the rebels with empty muskets, St. Eustatius made the difference.”

Statia could have remained overlooked by England had it not been for the Navigation Acts which required that all American imports/exports either be sold in England or bought from England. If you know anything about history, this did not set well with the Colonies. And, St. Eustatius became a thorn in the side of England because they refused to enforce the British navigation laws. The Golden Rock by Ronald Hurst describes it as "At the height of its fame in the last thirty years of the eighteenth century. . . was the richest trading centre of the Caribbean: hence it became know too as ‘The Golden Rock’”. Owned by the Dutch and a prosperous free port.

Britain was unhappy as was Holland. Though they did not want to be caught up in the middle of the war, Statia was also aware of how susceptible they were. It is a very small island, with only a fort to defend them and they knew if the British decided to invade, they would not stand a chance.

It was bad enough they shipped cargo to America but Statia added further insult on November 16, 1776. As the American brig-of-war. Andrew Doria, came around the island it dipped its colours to the fort, the commander, who did not recognize the flag, returned the customary 9 gun salute. Thus, the American flag was recognized for the very first time by a foreign country

Less than a week following the salute, on November 21,1776, the Baltimore Hero, a privateer not yet part of the Continental Navy, captured the British-owned cargo ship, the May, three miles off the coast of St. Eustatius after it sailed out of St. Kitts. The capture took place within site of both islands and, some insist, within range of St. Eustatius guns with no action taken. It further outraged Britain when Statia allowed the ship to return to the island afterwards.

Following these events, Statia did initiate a decree prohibiting the exportation of war material in an effort to placate the British government. However, it did not stop merchant ships and it was through Statia that guns, munitions and other necessary goods were smuggled to America. I have also read that Benjamin Franklin sent his letters to France through the ports of Statia because he knew they would not fall into the hands of the British.

There was much complaining by the British to the Netherlands, yet very little changed. Tuchman states in The First Salute: “In the thirteen months of 1778-79, according to the careful records of the Dutch admiral in command of convoys for merchant vessels, 3,182 vessels sailed from the island, amounting to the astonishing figure of seven or eight a day. One vessel, stopped and searched by the British, was found to be carrying 1,750 barrels of gunpowder and 750 stands of arms, complete with bayonets and cartridge cases in egregious violation of contraband. Supplies like these sustained the almost empty American war cupboards. In the same year, the Americans shipped to St. Eustatius 12,000 hogshead of tobacco and 1.5 million ounces of indigo in exchange for naval supplies.”

I am not saying Statia took these actions because of their strong desire to help America. However, I have read they were sympathetic to the colonies. But, they were also an island that became very rich off of the merchants and profited from the war. On the other hand, they also took a great risk in angering Britain with their action. In a letter Sir Joseph Yorke wrote to a colleague he stated, “. . . the Americans would have had to abandon their revolution if they had not been aided by Dutch greed.”

Unfortunately, it all came to a head. On December 20, 1780, Britain declared war on the Netherlands and on February 3, 1781, the British surrounded the island and the governor surrendered.

More rich history about St. Eustatius and how they assisted America during the revolution can be found in the three books shown in this blog.

I am curious. Am I the only one who missed the history lesson about St. Eustatius or was this news to you as well?

Have a safe and happy 4th of July.


  1. I missed that lesson too! Interesting how supportive other countries were to the colonies. I hope someday you re-explore your first novel. This is a fascinating time and place and it would be a wonderful setting for you to write around.

  2. Thanks for digging out these little-known facts. Sometimes it seems like we just keep hearing the same Revolutionary War stories over and over again. It's nice to have a new tidbit to get our imaginations spinning.

  3. Wow, I knew there were countries who'd helped the U.S. but I did not know about Statia. What a wonderful post, Amy. And a good lesson learned. We didn't get where we are today with out a little help. Although, in return I think we've more than paid back our dues as well. Wonderful history lesson. It's the tiny, hidden stories of history that are so fascinating sometimes. It's the reason why I'm not sure I could write in any other genre, history has plenty of stories to tell all on its own.

  4. Mary, I will revisit my fitst novel because it is near and dear to my heart.

    Clarissa, it are these lesser or known facts that I just love to discover.

    Melissa, I hop genres too. I never know if I want to write about Am Rev, French Rev, Regency. It is funny that the time frame for all three is about 50 years, but a lot happened. However, my hero is the only Privateer I've ever put in a novel.

  5. Amy, this is fascinating. Thanks for sharing it with us. I've been watching the History Channel almost non-stop the last couple of days. Yesterday they showed episode after episode of a documentary about the American Revolution, but no matter how much I learned during that, there is always something else to learn. Like about Statia. LOL. Nothing that I saw had anything to do with any of these islands and the part they played in the formation of our country.

  6. Catherine,

    I love the History Channel, but I've never seen anything on Statia either. I came across the place by accident in research. I am now itching to return to that WIP (as if I need another one to work on right now)

  7. This was fascinating! Count me as one who hadn't heard of it, and I've been studying history for a long time -- mainly because of the historical romances I love to write.

    Thanks for sharing the info. Now I'm inspired to do some research of my own!


  8. Thanks, Donna. The more I read that they were unaware of the small island the more I want to return to that original WIP. The story needs to be told, even if it is in a romance novel. It does have all the makings of a romance: Caribbean isalnd, war, handsome and dangerous privateer, mysterious and strong heroine. . . yep, I think it needs another look :).

  9. Amy, what a cool post! I've never even heard of Statia, so obviously I missed that lesson too! I totally think you should dig out that old ms and start the rewrite. I think it would be a fascinating read :)

    Happy 4th...a day late. LOL!

  10. Jerrica, if I do dig it out, you will be critting it. We will see how "fascinated" you are then - LOL. Actually, this is the one I found myself giving history lessons in - so to speak - and I need to curb that.

  11. Oh my gosh, Amy, I could have written this post. It was actually kind of scary reading it :) because I read those books and have the photocopied pages tucked away somewhere. They were research for my very first book - also an Am Rev book. My heroine lived in VA but the hero was a privateer out of Statia. How weird - but fun - to know there is someone else out there who shares my passion for the topic.

    Just last weekend, in a frenzy of cleaning, I uncovered the old mss and fell in love again so I decided to revisit it. I know Am Rev isn't a popular topic with the print publishers, but maybe I'll be able to find it a home with one of the epubs.

    Like yours, mine is going to take some major revising because it was the book I wrote when I loved writing the history more than the romance, but it's definitely the book of my heart. It was also my first GH final so it couldn't have been all that bad. I hope.

  12. Mary, How cool that you you picked this island also. I am so glad someone else knew the history of Statia. After I posted, I pulled out the manuscript again began revising. I've got two chaps done, but a whole slew to go, not to mention 60,000 words to cut. My heroine lives in Statia and my Privateer is from Mass.

    Also, congrats on it being a GH final. Good luck on editing and finding a publisher. Hopefully be will both see our Am Rev books in print someday :).

  13. Thanks, Amy. To put it in perspective - the first time it was a GH finalist was against Christina Dodd. She won. Obviously I've let a lot of life interfere with my writing but I'm back at it.

  14. Very little American History is taught here in Australia so your blog was fascinating. Great read.