Admiral Rodney Ousts the Jews from St. Eustatius

The War Years (1775-1783)

March 6, 2017
by Louis Arthur Norton Also by this Author


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An incongruous spectacle greeted a scorching Caribbean sun that shone upon a stone quay. Tall slim palms seemed to wave a mournful farewell while providing a much-needed cooling sea breeze. A crowd of darkly dressed Jewish men, their bearded faces hidden in the shadows of broad-brimmed dark hats, huddled on the pier. They were surrounded; prisoners of the British Marines, their menacing bayonets gleaming in the late morning light. On the nearby shore modestly dressed women, their heads covered in shawls, wailed and screamed out the names of their beloved fathers, husbands and sons. Children, confused and full of dread, added their refrain to the cacophony of the weeping chorus. This was the scene of a little-known anti-Semitic incident. It originated from a series of noteworthy incidents in the maritime history of the Revolutionary War ultimately presaging other far-reaching events.

A convoluted historical background is related to this scene. All Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. Upwards of one hundred thousand immigrated to Portugal where they joined a centuries-old Jewish community already there, but their security was not long lasting. In 1496 the Portuguese King Manuel I delivered an edict allowing them to stay only if they converted to Christianity. Under duress, some became “New Christians” or “Conversos,” or “Persons of the Nation” (La Nación), but approximately 20,000 Orthodox Jews sailed away from the country rather than convert. This Iberian Jewish subgroup became known as Sephardic Jews and spoke a Judeo-Spanish language known as Ladino.[1] In order to practice Judaism, some Sephardic congregations immigrated to the Protestant centers of Amsterdam to avoid the Catholic Inquisition at other European hubs.

The Dutch established the West India Company in 1621 that was largely an Atlantic trading Company. In 1658 the Dutch Parliament recognized the Jews as Dutch citizens and supported their endeavors, particularly in the Caribbean zone. There they could escape the harsh winters of Holland and practice their faith openly. Thus a vibrant Jewish society was established, mostly of Jews of Spanish or Portuguese descent. Under the encouragement and protection of the Dutch West India Company, Jews started agricultural plantations. This enterprise alone did not meet the needs of the large families so they took up other occupations. The region had its share of Jewish ship owners, navigators, and merchants who often traveled with their ships and cargo. Their kinship and common language helped in the bargaining process.

The Spanish-Portuguese Jews took synagogue and religious life very seriously.

The planter refrained from working his laborers on the Sabbath and the sailor took his prayer shawl and kosher meat for his voyage. The Jewish festivals and holy days were observed, the Jewish law court was respected, and Jewish schools held a place of importance in communal expenditures. Contact was maintained with the Holy Land so that earth from the land of Israel could be placed on the eyelids of the dead before burial.

Jews had arrived in Colonial America starting in 1654. By the time of the American Revolutionary War there were fewer than two thousand or less than one tenth of one percent of a total American population at the time.[2] In the colonies, economic and religious discrimination noticeably lessened. Anti-Semitism existed in some quarters, but it did not thrive. The American colonies needed population, particularly an educated and skilled populace.

In 1753 the British Parliament had passed a Jewish “Naturalization Bill” to promote economic development in Great Britain and its colonies.[3] Foreign-born Jews who were awarded British citizenship were granted limited rights, including land ownership. The public reacted with an enormous outburst of anti-Semitism and Parliament repealed the bill in 1754.[4] Thus on the eve of the American Revolution, Jews were considered second-class citizens by the general population in Britain. The provisions of the original act were mostly upheld in Colonial America in spite of the bill’s repeal in Britain, but they were dependent upon the domestic laws of each colonial legislature. In general, however, Jews were free to participate in colonial life, engage in commerce and practice their faith.

The Jewish American population was largely in support of the American Revolution.[5] They pledged their hearts and wealth for the possibility of even greater freedom and opportunity in an America that had thus far treated them fairly. Shortly after the Declaration of Independence was approved and signed in Philadelphia, a copy was sent to Amsterdam. Unfortunately the British intercepted the ship carrying the rebels’ Declaration and a letter accompanying the historic document. Both were sent to London. It was assumed that the letter was seditious, because it appeared to be written in some secret code. The letter that needed to be deciphered was written in the Hebrew script — American Jews were simply communicating with their Dutch brethren.[6]

In order to secure their foothold in the Caribbean Islands, the Dutch colonial powers built bases on the islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Tobago, and Barbados that would serve as resupply stations and centers for the purchase of military armament. Arguably the most important was at St. Eustatius (also known as Sint Eustatius, Statius and more commonly Statia), a small island lying about 250 miles east-south-east of Puerto Rico. It has an area of 11.8 square miles with a natural port and dominated by an inactive 600-meter volcano known as “the Quill.” In 1722, only 21 Jews lived on this small island. By 1750 the Jewish population had grown to more than 450 among the 802 free St. Eustatian citizens. They were mostly refugees of Recife-Brazil, Tobago, Surinam, North Africa, Curaçao, and Amsterdam. Several were Ashkenazi families from the community of Rotterdam. Although Jews had full civil rights, they were excused from serving in the Civil Guard to spare them from Sabbath military duty. In 1737 the community of Honen Dalim was found, and in 1738 permission was given to build a synagogue on the Island.[7]

St. Eustatius became a significant commercial entrepôt of the Caribbean region. Sugar was exported from the French and Spanish colonies in the Caribbean to North America, meat was imported from North America and Canada, corn from Venezuela, flour from Scandinavia, largely with ships owned by St. Eustatius’s Jews. By 1760, between 1,800 and 2,700 ships were recorded anchoring in St. Eustatius port each year.

Some American Jewish merchants had financial interests in small fleets of merchant vessels and established co-religious contacts especially in the Caribbean. Now that the United Colonies were at war, a few of these merchant traders converted their ships into privateers to harass the British at sea. Other Jewish merchant vessel owners engaged in the arms smuggling trade transporting weapons and powder from the West Indies, especially from the Dutch colonies; in May 1776 alone, eighteen ships from St. Eustatius reached the thirteen colonies. This dangerous venture was made easier because of ancestral and cultural ties between the Sephardic Jews of Dutch island colonies and those of the American colonies.

Holland had participated in several seventeenth and eighteenth century European wars, their navy was in decline and some in the government saw this as an opportunity to profit from being a nonaligned state. The Dutch set up free ports where all nations were welcome and St. Eustatius became the main North American conduit for trade with the nations of Continental Europe, principally France, and the New England maritime colonies.[8] Other countries that were forbidden by law from dealing directly with each other shipped their products to the neutral Dutch colonies of St. Eustatius.

In time many manifests appeared listing St. Eustatius as an intermediate port for goods produced elsewhere. At the time of the American Revolution the population of the island was an ethnic mosaic of about 8,000 Dutch, English and Jewish merchants. St. Eustatius became a vital port of call for American vessels where arms, although officially prohibited, could be purchased and smuggled into the northern climes of America. Several Dutch firms engaged in this clandestine traffic making St. Eustatius the cheapest source of European goods in the West Indies. Therefore this seemingly peaceful Caribbean island evolved into a serious economic and political threat to Britain.

Diplomatic relations had become strained between Holland and Great Britain, but the Dutch were members of the League of Armed Neutrality, an organization of nonaligned nations. The British prohibited the Royal Navy from search and seizure of the ships of non-belligerent countries. The Dutch took advantage of their neutrality and stockpiled arms on St. Eustatius for sale to any country with the funds to buy them. The colonial governor of the island, Johannes de Graaff, was personally sympathetic to the American rebel cause and at the same time profited from several island companies in which he had a financial interest.

On March 20, 1775 the Dutch parliament (the States General or Den Stadhouder), at the behest of the British, prohibited the export of munitions from all Dutch harbors, European and colonial, to any vessel that flew the English flag unless they had a special government issued license. This act was intended to prevent American ships, which were still technically British and thus allowed to fly the British flag, from purchasing arms for their rebellion. The six-month embargo was designed to cut America’s supply of arms and to mollify the British. De Graaff and local Dutch traders, however, were astute businessmen and interpreted the States General’s proclamation as an easily negotiated obstacle rather than a roadblock. American merchant ships sailed to and from St. Eustatius, frequently with Continental Navy vessels as escorts, but these ships were not effective against large enemy more formidable warships. They did however act as a buffer against ever-present privateers and occupied smaller British warships providing enough time for vulnerable merchantmen to escape. [9]

In a move to appease Great Britain, the Dutch government publically condemned the newly signed Declaration of Independence and expressed sympathy with Britain’s efforts to extinguish the insurrection. American warships nonetheless carried secret communications and/or special cargo to or from the West Indies. On October 23, 1776 the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress of the United Colonies ordered the Continental Navy brig Andrea Doria to the Dutch colony of St. Eustatius with a dispatch to be forwarded to William Bingham at Martinico (currently the Dominican Republic). In June 1776 Bingham had agreed to serve the Continental Congress in Martinique by gathering information about British naval and troop movements, arranging for weapons to be smuggled to the Continental Army, and recruiting privateers to prey on British shipping.

Flying the flag of Grand Union on its stern flagstaff, Andrea Doria arrived outside the harbor of St. Eustatius on November 16, 1776. Captain Isaac Robinson, the vessel’s commander, decided to make a conspicuous entry into port. Robinson ordered the Grand Union of the Republic flag, the recently adopted American banner, dipped and a cannon salute fired from the vessel’s deck. According to maritime custom, a return salute was the appropriate response of their host state.

Abraham Raven, the commander of the harbor’s Fort Orange, assumed the unfamiliar flag might be that of a rebel American warship and realized that returning a salute would offend the British. Raven sent a message for instructions to Governor de Graaff and was ordered to answer the salute. Some minutes passed, then nine puffs of gray-white gun smoke arose from the walls of the fort followed by a salute of muffled thumps in cadence.[10] A historic moment transpired: the American colors had for the first time been publicly recognized by a European power.[11] These brief cannon reports turned out to be an expression of diplomatic indiscretion. This seemingly minor acknowledgment was contrary to Dutch foreign policy.

When news of the incident reached the neighboring island of St. Christopher (St. Kitts), its British governor, Craister Greathead, sent a vehement protest to Governor de Graaff, complaining “That … Supplies of all Sorts of Provisions and warlike Stores are almost daily & publickly furnished by the Inhabitants of St Eustatius to His Majesty’s said rebellious Subjects,” citing specific examples of ships from that port taking British vessels, and objecting to a salute being returned “with the Solemnity due to the Flags of Independent Sovereign States.” A similar protest was made by Vice Admiral James Young, the senior British naval officer in the region. The governor responded to Young with justifications for some of the individual actions, but of the salute said only that “this Port always made and still makes distinction between Merchant or Private Vessells and the Ships of War belonging to Sovereign States: the latter receive constantly, when they honor its Fortress with a salute Gun for Gun, as a distinctive mark of Independancy.”[12]

Greathead officially reported the incident to the British Foreign Office, writing: “The Impartial World will Judge between us, whether a salute deliberately returned by a Dutch fort to the Rebel brigantine Andrew Doria, under Colours known to the Commandant of that Fort to be those of His Majesty’s rebellious Subjects, be, or be not, a Partiality in Favor of those Rebels and a flagrant Indignity offered to his Majesty’s Flag.”[13] This complaint was sent from the British Foreign Office to the States General of the Netherlands.

The Americans viewed the incident as important.[14] Baltimore’s Maryland Journal for January 22, 1777, commented that Governor de Graaff and the people of St. Eustatius had displayed their “partiality for the American States, now engaged in the Cause of all Mankind.”[15] On February 21 Britain’s Parliament sent a formal complaint to The Hague demanding that the Dutch government disavow the salute, dismiss Governor de Graaff and enforce the West Indies munitions embargo. If satisfaction was not received in a timely fashion, the British Parliament threatened to recall its ambassador to Holland.

The Dutch government called de Graaff home to answer the charges at a formal inquiry. In his defense, de Graaff claimed that he was unaware of the newly adopted American colors and had ordered Andrea Doria’s salute returned out of normal courtesy, enforcing Dutch laws on the colonial island as he understood them.[16] As a result the governor was neither dismissed nor punished.[17] De Graaff was officially admonished, but essentially exonerated. He returned to his post at St. Eustatius in 1779.[18]

During the next few years St. Eustatius became more of a thorn in the side of King George III as additional arms reached the hands of the beleaguered Americans. Ships running contraband for the rebels became an even more profitable business for Dutch merchants. The British increased their patrols of the North American shipping lanes and by chance captured the American diplomat Henry Laurens at sea. A dispatch from the Continental Congress requesting a loan to help finance the Revolutionary War together with a proposal for a treaty of commerce with the Dutch was found in Laurens’ possession. The evidence of subterfuge found in these seized documents became part of a pretext for the British to discontinue honoring Dutch neutrality. They would help themselves to the Dutch ships and cargo in the West Indies estimated at the time to be worth about five million pounds sterling. An Anglo-Dutch War was declared.

Admiral Rodney at the Battle of the Saintes, 1782 by Thomas Gainsborough.

As a result, Royal Navy Adm. Sir George Brydges Rodney was ordered to interdict the supply of arms coming to the Americans through the Dutch colonies in the West Indies. Rodney had been promoted to Vice-Admiral in 1763 and made a Baronet in 1764. His penchant for gambling, living well and his run for Parliament in 1768 cost him much of his fortune. In 1771 he was appointed Commander-In-Chief at Jamaica, as well as given the honorary office of Rear Admiral of Great Britain. He held the Jamaica position until 1774, but became so far in debt that he settled in Paris instead of returning to London. In 1778, his friend Marshal Biron loaned him money to clear his debts. Returning to London, Rodney repaid Biron and was shortly promoted to Admiral. Rodney, now a rising fixture in the British aristocracy, became obsessed with securing his financial future.

Rodney and his fleet of fifteen heavily armed ships-of-the-line, several frigates  and 3,000 land troops arrived at St. Eustatius on February 3, 1781. The garrison there numbered only fifty or sixty men.[19] The naval force in the harbor consisted of Dutch frigate of thirty-eight guns, and five smaller American vessels, of from twelve to twenty-six guns. The British naval force was an overwhelming threat. The port of St. Eustatius sheltered more than a hundred merchant vessels that flew the flags of many western countries including Britain’s Union Jack. Apparently word of the new British policy of belligerency had not reached Governor de Graaff, but it was clear that the Dutch were militarily overmatched. In order to save lives and property, de Graaff surrendered unconditionally. Rodney declared that he would not leave the island until “the Lower Town, that nest of vipers, which preyed upon the vitals of Great Britain, be destroyed.”[20]

The rich prizes of ships in the harbor and the value of the goods in the warehouse would likely ensure that Rodney would be debt-free for the rest of his life. He attempted to maximize his prizes still further by leaving the Dutch flag flying over the fort and town, perhaps to lure unsuspecting ship captains to sail their vessels into his trap and add to the admiral’s booty.

In his role of conqueror, Rodney now had to govern the citizens of a major foreign colony and many extraneously flagged prize vessels. His captives were citizens of many powerful European countries and it became diplomatically prudent to treat his prisoners with deference to avoid international repercussions. Nevertheless Rodney’s orders were clear. He had to subdue the island’s commerce, an active trade that had harmed the British effort to repress the American rebellion. Rodney seemed determined to make a show of Great Britain’s power by punishing some of the inhabitants as an example.[21]

The execution of these decrees caused much hardship and the Dutch secretary of the island declared that the English acted like robbers.[22] The warehouses were locked, the merchants denied permission to take inventories, and all books, papers and cash were seized.[23] There were searches of portmanteaus and pockets, digging in gardens for hidden specie, damaging of houses, seizing of negro slaves, appropriation of riding-horses by the officers, and the daily work of shipping goods and sending away the inhabitants in companies, nation by nation.[24] The protests of to the assembly of St. Christopher on St. Kitts, presented to Rodney by its solicitor-general, were treated with contempt. Accounts vary concerning the details of what occurred, but after troops confiscated the stores on ships and the goods stowed in the island’s warehouses, there was less cash and valuables than the admiral expected.[25] Rodney then asked for a register of all local merchants and their religious affiliations. The hardest measure of all was meted out to the Jews. He ordered all male Jews to report at the weigh house where they were promptly and roughly searched for valuables.

Not only were they deprived of their property, they were sentenced to banishment, given only a day’s notice for their departure, and were told that they were to go without their wives and children. The next day 101 men were confined in the weigh house and strictly guarded. They were then stripped, and the linings of their clothes ripped up in search of money. Approximately eight thousand pounds sterling was obtained in this way. Ironically one of these Jews had 900 johanneses (Dutch currency) sewn into his clothing.[26] Rodney suspected that the Jews may have concealed valuables in coffins to prevent them from becoming British conquest spoils, and directed his men to do some digging in fresh graves to see if what might be hidden there.

The British confiscated anything of worth in Jewish shops, offices, homes, and on their persons. On February 5, 1781 the majority of the Jewish male population of St. Eustatius was loaded upon transport vessels without family or property and scattered into exile, some to the nearby Island of St. Christopher and others farther afield.[27] No records exist concerning what became of deportees; where they finally went or whether they ever returned to their homes on St. Eustatius following the English occupation. Although the building was destroyed, the congregation Honen Daliem survived the ordeal, as related in a letter which Moses de Fonseca, a Statian Jew.[28]

Rodney was also hostile towards his countrymen who prospered from illicit wartime trade to the detriment of Great Britain. He was convinced that St. Eustatius was “an asylum for men guilty of every crime and a receptacle for outcasts of every nation.”[29] The island’s illegal trade allowed the rebellious Americans to extend the war and enabled the French to procure supplies for their own islands. This may explain why Rodney was so jubilant at the blow he had dealt to Holland. “It will teach them for the future not to supply the enemies of our country with the sinews of war: they suffer justly.”[30] He believed his intervention affected a “just revenge of Britain” against not only the Dutch but also all the nation’s enemies including France, America, and those English merchants who had put personal profit before the duty owed to their King and country. Rodney considered these British subjects guilty of treason that justly merited their own ruin.[31]

People of other nationalities were also harshly dealt with except for French agents and merchants. The Dutch governor of Martinique lodged a protest against the severity shown to his fellow countrymen, but Rodney felt that his treatment of Christian Dutch merchants was fair-minded and impartial, even though his personal opinion of Governor de Graaff was contemptuous.[32] He even showed reasonable deference to the sugar plantation owners whom he found were largely uninvolved in illegal practices. He treated the inhabitants of the other two Dutch islands captured in the operation, Saba and St. Maarten, well. Rodney felt that they would “prove to be loyal subjects.”[33]

Rodney remained on the island ostensibly for its protection, but more likely he wanted to assure he found every pence his conquest produced. He then auctioned off the personal valuables seized from all the inhabitants and seamen, thus netting Rodney and the officers and crews serving under him a small fortune. The island’s British subjects, most of whom lost property, later sued Rodney, questioning his behavior in Parliament.

The admiral stayed on St. Eustatius until the latter part of July 1781. During the intervening months he used part of his fleet to convey a substantial portion of the booty back to England. Ironically much of the spoils never arrived. A convoy laden with his treasures was intercepted in the English Channel by a French squadron and the cargoes, with an estimated value of more than three million pounds sterling, fell into French hands.[34]

There is evidence that Rodney spent time enriching himself on St. Eustatius rather than pursuing French Admiral François Joseph Paul compte de Grasse. On April 28, when de Grasse arrived off Martinique, Rodney was in St. Eustatius apparently concerned with his financial problems. He gave the command to Rear Admiral Samuel Hood who did not know these treacherous waters and sailed with an inferior fleet. Neither Rodney nor Hood had any premonition that de Grasse was about to sail for the Chesapeake. Still, the poor result of Hood’s foray was predictable. If Rodney had been in command of the fleet, perhaps the outcome of the Revolutionary War might have changed.[35] In September de Grasse sailed from the West Indies to arrive off Hampton Roads in early October 1781. The presence of de Grasse and his fleet of twenty-eight warships at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay prevented the British from providing support to Lord Charles Cornwallis’s troops at Yorktown, Virginia. Cornwallis was forced to surrender on October 19, and this defeat led directly to the war’s conclusion.[36]

News of Rodney’s singling out the Dutch Jews for the harshest punishment reached Great Britain. Edmund Burke, a Member of Parliament, was an eloquent sympathizer of the American cause. Although in later years he became known for uncharitable statements toward Jews,[37] in 1781 he reproved Rodney for his mistreatment of them on St. Eustatius. Burke commented, “If Britons were so injured, Britons have armies and laws to fly to for the protection and justice. But the Jews have no such power and no such friend to depend upon. Humanity then must become their protector.”[38] Recognizing Jewish vulnerability, Burke saw it as the responsibility of powerful nations like Great Britain to safeguard them. Burke may, however, have been more concerned with Rodney’s actions seeming like an ethical lapse on the part of Great Britain, than with the plight of the Jews.

Edmund Burke’s speech to Parliament in defense of the Jews of St. Eustatius was as partly follows:

This island was different from all others … a magazine for all the nations of the earth. It had no fortifications for its defence; no garrison … Its inhabitants were a mixed body of all nations and climates … The Dutch commander yielded up the dominion … A general confiscation of all the property found upon the Island … without regard to friend or foe … and a sentence of general beggary pronounced in one moment upon a whole people. A cruelty unheard of in Europe for many years … The persecution was begun with the people whom of all others it ought to be the care and the wish of human nations to protect, the Jews … the links of communication, the mercantile chain … the conductors by which credit was transmitted through the world … a resolution taken (by the British conquerors) to banish this unhappy people from the island. They suffered in common with the rest of the inhabitants, the loss of their merchandise, their bills, their houses, and their provisions; and after this they were ordered to quit the island, and only one day was given them for preparation; they petitioned, they remonstrated against so hard a sentence, but in vain; it was irrevocable. They asked to what part of the world they were to be transported: The answer was, that they should not be informed … they must prepare to depart the island the next day; and without their families … The next day they did appear to the number of 101, the whole that were upon the island. They were confined in a weigh-house … strongly guarded; and orders were given that they should be stripped, and all the linings of their clothes ripped up, that every shilling of money which they might attempt to conceal and carry off should be discovered and taken from them. This order was carried into rigid execution, and money, to the amount of 8,000 pounds was taken from these poor, miserable outcasts … thirty of them were embarked on board the Shrewsbury, and carried to St. Kitts. The rest, after being confined for three days unheard of, and unknown, were set at liberty to return to their families, that they might be melancholy spectators of the sale of their own property[39]

Rodney’s seizure of St. Eustatius, seemingly a footnote to the history of the American Revolution, had significant wide-ranging consequences. It interrupted the rebel’s supply of arms for the revolution, albeit rather late in the war. The opportunist admiral plundered the island’s assets and personal property, a distraction with unforeseen ramifications affecting the outcome of the siege at Yorktown, Virginia and the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. For the Jewish population of St. Eustatius, the seizure of their little island by Admiral Rodney had a much more immediate and disastrous impact.


[1] When the Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal they continued to speak Ladino in their communities to which they emigrated. Ladino therefore reflects the grammar and vocabulary of fourteenth and fifteenth century Spanish. Ladino’s origins are similar to those of Yiddish, a combination Hebrew and local languages, but Ladino was not as diverse as the various forms of Yiddish.

[2] Ashkenazi Jews outnumbered Sephardic Jews by 1720.

[3] Danby Pickering, The Statutes at Large from the 26th to the 30th Year of King George II (Cambridge, UK), Vol. XXI, 1766; also Carsten Schaprow, “Western Nations,” in Alan T. Levenson, The Wiley-Blackwell History of the Jews and Judaism (Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons, 2012), 327-342.

[4] Diana Muir Appelbaum, “Jacob’s Sons in the Bishop’s Palace.”  Jewish Ideas Daily, November 14, 2012.

[5] Jonathan D. Sarna, “The Impact of the American Revolution on American Jews,” Modern Judaism (Baltimore MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1981), 1:149-160.

[6] Laurence Busch, “July 4th: The Secret Code of the Declaration,” Jewish Currents, Activist Politics and Art, July 3, 2011.  The content of the letter, to whom it was intended or whether the letter was in Yiddish, a German-Hebrew linguistic mixture, or Ladino is not clear.

[7] Translation of Hebrew: He who is charitable (shows mercy) to the poor.

[8] Barbara W. Tuchman, The First Salute (New York: Knopf, 1988), 7-10, 12, 22; Friedrich Edler, The Dutch Republic and the American Revolution (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press), 1911; Nordholt Schulte, The Dutch Republic and American Independence (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1981).

[9] The British Prohibition Act of December 22, 1775 was established in an attempt to stifle the American economy. Royal Navy vessels were ordered to seize any colonial ship engaged in commerce and impress its sailors.

[10] Louis Arthur Norton, “The Continental Navy Brig Andrew (Andrea) Doria,” The American Neptune, 61, #1, 2001, 9-23.

[11] Tuchman, The First Salute.

[12] William B. Clark, et al. eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution (Washington, DC: Government printing Office, 1964), 7:486-487, 508, 525.

[13] Ibid. The British anglicized the Italian ship’s name Andrea to Andrew.

[14] President Franklin Roosevelt visited the island on February 27, 1939 onboard the USS Houston. The plaque was given to the island’s government that reads: “In commemoration to the salute to the flag of the United States, Fired in this fort November 16. 1776, By order of Johannes de Graaff, Governor of Saint Eustatius, In reply to a National Gun-Salute, Fired by the United States Brig of War Andrew Doria, Under Captain Isaiah Robinson of the Continental Navy, Here the sovereignty of the United States of America was first formally acknowledged to a national vessel by a foreign official. Presented by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States of America”

[15] Clark, Naval Documents, 7:1018-19.

[16] Louis Arthur Norton, Joshua Barney: Hero of the Revolution and 1812 (Annapolis, MD: The Naval Institute Press, 2000), 29.

[17] The Dutch government did however reaffirm their earlier embargo order in the West Indies against the export of military stores to the Americans and formally disclaimed acts of their officials that might be interpreted as recognizing American independence.

[18] On his return, de Graaff became somewhat of a hero of the American revolutionaries. Two American privateers were named for him and his wife, and a portrait of him hangs today in the New Hampshire Statehouse in gratitude for the salute he ordered and to honor the Dutch “armed neutrality” that gave one belligerent satisfaction and the other total discontent.

[19] Burke, in Hansard, XXII 221, 772.

[20] To the Governor of Barbados, in Godfrey Basil Mundy, The Life and Correspondence of the Late Admiral Lord Rodney (London: John Murray, 1830), 2:29. The “Lower Town”, as opposed to the “Upper Town”, consisted in a double row of houses and warehouses down in the bay at sea level which had come into existence from 1760. It was not in fact destroyed, largely because Rodney’s request to London for instructions never received a reply.

[21] American Historical Review, Vol. 8 No. 4 (Jul. 1903), 683‑708.

[22] Secretary A. Le Jeune to the greffier of the States General, June 27, in Corr. St. Gen., Sparks MSS., CIII. His arrival is noted in Gazette de Leyde, July 3, 4.

[23] Gazette de Leyde, April 17, 1, May 8, 4; Nederlandsche Jaerboeken, 1781, 1225‑1227, 1294; Hansard, XXII 221‑223.

[24] Gazette de Leyde, May 15, 5‑6; Nederlandsche Jaerboeken, 1781, 807‑813.

[25] Gazette de Leyde of May 8, 3; they are commented on by Burke in Hansard, XXII 227-228.

[26] Hansard, XXII 223‑226. The Gazette de Leyde, June 5, 3, gives the name of this man as Moloch, surely an unlikely name for a Hebrew. Lord George Germain asserted that the treatment of the Jews was unknown to the commanders-in‑chief, but St. John declared himself ready to prove the opposite (ibid., 244, 247), and indeed it seems to be proved by the petition of the Jews of St. Eustatius, dated February 16, printed in the Annual Register, 308‑310, and in Nederlandsche Jaerboeken, 1781, 817‑820.

[27] Ten months later the French, allies of the Dutch in this war conquered the island. The Dutch regained command over the island in 1784.

[28] John Hartog, “The Honen Daliem Congregation of St Eustatius,” American Jewish Archives, April 1967, 164-65.

[29] Major-General G. B. Mundy, The Life and Correspondence of the late Admiral Lord Rodney (London, Murray, 1830), 2:43.

[30] To Lady Rodney, February 12, 1781, in Mundy, Life and Correspondence, 2:25.

[31] To the Governor of Barbados, in Mundy, Life and Correspondence, February 17, 1781, 2:29.

[32] From the Marquis de Bouillé, February 27, 1781 in Mundy, Life and Correspondence, and Rodney’s reply, 2:31-32

[33] In Mundy, Life and Correspondence, 2:45.

[34] William Laird Clowes, et al., Royal Navy, A History from the Earliest Times to the Present (London: Chatham Publishing, 1901), 3:480.

[35] Lee Bienkowski, Admirals in the Age of Nelson (Annapolis, MD: The Naval Institute Press, 2003), 63-7.

[36] Ironically Rodney went on to decimate the French fleet and capture de Grasse at the “Battle of the Saints” in the West Indies on April 12, 1782. This historic British naval victory occurred a little over a year after Rodney’s seizure of St. Eustatius and perhaps allayed the British condemnation of Rodney.

[37] Edmund Burke became renowned as an anti-Semite. For example, in his “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” (1790) Burke deemed the Jews’ ‟ financial dealings and their presence in Britain as a threat to Britain’s national solidarity.”

[38] Records of Debate in the Parliament of Great Britain, November 30, 1781.

[39] “Debate on Mr. Burke’s Motion relating to the Seizure and Confiscation of Private Property in the Island of St. Eustatius,” May 14, 1781, in The Parliamentary History of England, 1754-1783, R.C. Simmons, and P. D. G. Thomas (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1983) vol. XXII, coll. 218-262.


  • Great article. In contrast, in Gibraltar, British General George Augustus Elliott punished a couple of British soldiers who owed money to Jews and beat them up instead of paying them.

    Also, French General François-Claude-Amour, the Marquis de Bouillé, complained to Rodney about his treatment of French nationals in St. Eustatius, and received an acid reply from Rodney. Bouillé wasn’t pleased by Rodney’s tone.“Your excellency, no doubt, forgot that you were writing to a French general, who, from the events of the war, has been for some time in the habit of despising insolence. … In the future, the interpreters of our sentiments shall be our cannon.”

    And, in fact, Bouillé took Eustatius back from the British by the end of 1782, much to Rodney’s consternation.

    In addition to Tuchman’s “The First Salute,” mentioned ion the comments by Will Monk, my own book, “After Yorktown,” devotes much attention to these events.

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