Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

was no longer capable of producing much effect. The Richard having received several heavy shot between wind and water, could now make no use whatever of her lower batteries, and two or three of her upper guns had burst, to the destruction of those who served them. Jones, at length, had only three left that could be worked, and he employed them against the masts of the hostile frigate. Seeing the little impression made by chain shot, he resorted to another mode of attack. He threw a vast quantity of grenades and fire works on board the British frigate. But his own now admitted the water on all sides, and threatened every moment to go to the bottom. Some of his officers having perceived it, asked him if he would surrender ‘No,” he answered them in a tremendous tone, and continued to push the grenades. The Serapis was already on fire in several places; the English could with difficulty, extinguish the flames. Finally, they caught a cartridge, which, in an instant, fired all the others with a horrible explosion. All who stood near the helm were killed, and all the cannon of that part were dismounted. Meanwhile, Pearson was not disheartened; he ordered his people to board. Paul Jones prepared himself to repulse them. The English in jumping on board him found the Americans ready to receive them on the point of their pikes; they made the best of their way back to their own vessel. But during this interval, the fire had communicated itself from the Serapis to the Bonhomme Richard, and both were a prey to the flames. No peril could shake these desperate men. The night was dark, the combatants could no longer see each other but by the blaze of the conflagration, and through dense volumes of smoke, while the sea was illuminated afar. At this moment, the American frigate Alliance came up. Amidst the confusion she discharged her broadside into the Richard, and killed a part of her remaining defenders. As soon as she discovered her mistake, she fell with augmented fury upon the Serapis. Then the valiant Englishman, seeing a great part of his crew either killed or disabled, his artillery dismounted, his vessel dismasted, and quite enveloped in flames, surrendered. All joined to extinguish the fire, and at length it was accomplished. The efforts made to stop the numerous leaks of the Richard proved less fortunate ; she sunk the next morning. Out of three hundred and seventy-five men that were aboard that vessel, three hundred were killed or wounded. The English had but forty-nine killed, and their wounded amounted to no more than sixty-eight. History, perhaps, offers no example of an action more fierce, obstinate and sanguinary. During this time the Pallas had attacked the Countess of Scarborough and had captured her, not however without a stubborn resistance. After a victory so hard earned, so deplorable, Jones wandered, with his shattered vessels for some days, at the mercy of the winds in the north sea. He finally made his way good, on the sixth of October, into the waters of the Texel.

The events which we have just related are all that claim notice in the latter months of 1779, after the accession of Spain to the alliance formed against England. But at the commencement of the following year, other powers manifested dispositions which menaced that state with new enemies, or at least with exceedingly dubious friends.

1780. Ever since the commencement of the war, the Dutch had carried on privately a very lucrative commerce; they conveyed into the ports of France, ship timber as well as all sorts of military, and especially naval, stores. The English were apprised of it, and the British government had often complained of it, in strong terms, to the States-General, not only as contrary to the rules which England was accustomed to observe in time of war, with respect to the commerce of neutrals, and which themselves either tacitly or expressly acknowledged, but also as a violation of the treaties of commerce and alliance existing between the two nations. The same government had also remonstrated against the protection granted in Holland to French and American privateers. The States-General answered only by disavowal, or evasive explanations. But about the beginning of January intelligence was received in England, that a numerous convoy of Dutch vessels, laden with naval stores for account of France, was already at sea, and that in order to escape the vigilance of the British cruisers, this fleet had placed itself under the protection of the count de Byland, who, with a squadron of ships of the line and srigates, convoyed another merchant fleet bound for the Mediterranean. The British admiralty despatched captain Fielding, with a sufficient number of ships, to examine the convoy, and to seize any vessels containing contraband articles. The British squadron having met that of Holland, captain Fielding requested permission to visit the merchant ships. It was refused him. This notwithstanding, he despatched his boats for that purpose, which were fired at, and prevented from executing their orders by the Dutch. Upon this, the Englishman fired a shot ahead of the Dutch admiral; it was answered by a broadside; and count Byland, having received Fielding's in return, and being in no condition of force to pursue the contest further, then struck his colors. Most of the Dutch vessels that were in the predicament which occasioned the contest, had already, by pushing close to the shore, escaped the danger, and proceeded without interruption to the French ports. The others were seized. The Englishman then informed the Dutch admiral that he was at liberty to hoist his colors and prosecute his voyage. He hoisted his colors indeed; but he refused to separate from any part of his convoy; and he accordingly, with the whole of the fleet, which was seized, accompanied the British squadron to Spithead. The ships and their cargoes were confiscated as contraband. This intelligence excited a violent clamor in Holland. The Dutch were at this time divided in two parties, one of which held for France, and the other for England. All those who belonged to the first were exceedingly indignant; they exclaimed that no consideration should induce them to endure patiently so daring an outrage. Even the partisans of the English could not venture to justify their conduct. It was easy to foresee that this incident was about to produce a rupture. Far from searing, the British government wished it; it preferred an open war to the clandestine assistance which Holland was lending to France. It had, besides, already fixed a hankering eye upon the Dutch riches, which, in the security of peace, were spread over the seas, or were amassed, without defence, in distant islands. Moreover, the StatesGeneral had made no preparation for war, and it was to be supposed that they could not very suddenly enter the field. This event, the instigations of France, the disposition to profit of the critical situation of Great Britain, at that time assailed by so many powerful enemies, and especially the desire to liberate the commerce of neutrals from British vexations, gave origin to that league of the states of the north, known by the name of the Armed Neutrality. It had, if not for author, at least for chief, the empress of Russia, Catharine II. who was immediately joined by the kings of Sweden and Denmark. The bases of this confederacy were, that neutral vessels might freely navigate from one port to another, even upon the coasts of belligerent powers; that all effects appertaining to one of these powers, become free so soon as they are on board a neutral vessel, except such articles as by a prior treaty should have been declared contraband ; that to determine what articles were to be considered contraband, the empress of Russia referred to the tenth and eleventh articles of her treaty with Great Britain, the obligations of which were to be extended to all the other belligerent powers; that to specify what ports were to be deemed blockaded, it was agreed that those only should be accounted as such before which there should be stationed a sufficient number of enemy ships to render their entrance perilous; finally, that the preceding principles should serve as rules in judicial proceedings, and in sentences to be pronounced respecting the legality of prizes. To command respect for this confederation, the three allied courts agreed, that each of them should keep a part of its naval force equipped, and stationed so as to form an uninterrupted chain of ships prepared to protect their common trade, and to afford each other mutual support and succour. They also agreed, that when any vessel whatever should have shown by its papers that it was not carrier of any contraband article, it might place itself under the escort of ships of war, which should prevent its being stopped, or diverted from its destination. This article, which ascribed to the state interested, or to its allies, the right of judging of the nature of cargoes with respect to contraband, appeared to exclude the right of visit, so strenuously claimed by England; against whom, notwithstanding the general terms that were employed, it was manifest that all this display of maritime force was directed. The allies accompanied the foregoing stipulations with professions of the most generous sentiments; they declared that they were armed for the defence of the rights of nature and of nations; for the liberty of the human race, and for the prosperity of Europe in particular. In effect, the European nations, with the exception of the English, manifested an extreme satisfaction with this new plan of the northern powers; the wisdom and magnanimity of Catharine II. became the object of universal encomium ; so universal was the hatred which the maritime vexations of England had excited against that power . The articles of the armed neutrality were communicated to all the European states, especially to France, Spain, Holland, England, and Portugal, with invitation to accede to them. The courts of Versailles and Madrid, eager to profit of the circumstance to sow the seeds of division between Great Britain and neutrals, hastened to address their felicitations to the empress of Russia, and to answer that they were ready not only to join the confederacy, but that they had long before given their admirals and sea officers such instructions that the principles of the armed neutrality were already in force as to them. They added, that equity had directed them to those very measures which were now proclaimed by the confederate powers of the north. The court of Lisbon, accustomed to an excessive condescension towards England, declined the alliance. The States-General of Holland deliberated upon the course they had to pursue. The British ministers, either hoping or fearing what was to happen, or in order to constrain them to declare themselves, had already required them to furnish to England the subsidies stipulated by the treaty of alliance. The Dutch alleged the inevitable tardiness of their deliberations; the truth was, they were determined to give nothing. The cabinet of St. James then took a resolution calculated to compel them to a decision, and to prevent their joining the northern confederacy. It gave them to understand, that, notwithstanding the number and power of its enemies, it was resolved to proceed to the last extremities with the Dutch nation, unless it adhered to the ancient system of neutrality. Accordingly the king of Great Britain issued a proclamation, purporting that the nonperformance of the States-General with respect to the succours, stipulated by the treaty of alliance, was to be considered as a violation of that treaty ; that they had thereby fallen from those privileges which they derived only from the alliance ; and that the subjects of the United Provinces were, therefore, henceforward to be considered upon the same footing with those of other neutral states not allied. By this step the British king, even before his demand had been expressly rejected, freed himself from the obligations of the treaty of alliance. He hoped by this vigorous procedure, so to intimidate the Dutch, that they would decline entering into the almost universal combination of Europe against the maritime pretensions of England. His expectations were much disappointed. The French party possessed a decided preponderance in the republic, particularly in the most influential provinces, such as Holland and West Friesland. The impression also produced by the insult offered Byland, was too recent; hence, after long and frequent debates, it was voted, with unanimity of provinces, that the subsidies to England should not be paid; moreover, that the escort of ships of war should be given to the merchantmen of the republic, with the exception only of those which according to the stipulations of former treaties might be deemed contraband. It was further decreed, that the invitation of the empress of Russia should be accepted with gratitude, and that a negotiation for that purpose should be opened with prince Gallitzin, her majesty's envoy extraordinary to the States-General. Already surrounded with enemies, and seeing Russia waver, whose power and alliance demanded a serious attention, England, without consenting to admit the principles of the armed neutrality, answered by vague generalities, which manifested, at least, a desire to preserve peace. Meanwhile, amidst the open or covert perils against which she had to defend herself, she not only betrayed no symptoms of discouragement, but even discovered a determination to prosecute the war with vigor upon the American continent. The only change which took place in her plans, as we have already seen, was to leave merely sufficient garrisons in New York, and to direct all her efforts against the southern provinces. Accordingly, to enable general Clinton to attack the Carolinas, admiral Arbuthnot had set sail for Aimerica, in the month of May, with a fleet of ships of war and upwards of four hundred transports. But soon after his departure from the coasts of England, he received intelligence that the French, under the conduct of the Prince of Nassau, had attacked the isle of Jersey, situated near the coasts of Normandy. Thinking it better to conform to the empire of circumstances, than to his instructions, he sent back his convoy into Torbay, and repaired with his squadron to the relief of Jersey. The attempt of the French miscarried. The admiral resumed his original route. But such were the obstacles that ensued this retardment that he lost much time in getting out of the channel, and gaining sea room to shape his course for America; so that it was late in August before he arrived at New York. The English at first, however, made no movement, because they were inhibited by the count d'Estaing, at that time engaged in the siege of Savannah. Finally, on intelligence of the issue of that enterprise, and the departure of the French admiral from the coasts of America, Clinton had embarked with seven thousand men, under convoy of Arbuthnot, upon the expedition of South Carolina. England intended not only to carry on the war with energy upon the American continent, and to defend her possessions in the West WOL. II. 32

« AnteriorContinuar »