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ates, under the command of the Count d'Estaing,1 sailed from Toulon for the American coast. It was destined to Delaware Bay, hoping to intercept Howe's squadron. D'Estaing was directed to begin hostilities when forty leagues west of Gibraltar.
The British ministry was not insensible of the danger, the imminence of which had been felt during the previous year; but it had not got ready betimes, owing possibly to confident expectations of success from the campaign of 1777. The ships, in point of numbers and equipment, were not as far forward as the Admiralty had represented; and difficulty, amounting for the moment to impossibility, was experienced in manning them. The vessels of the Channel fleet had to be robbed of both crews and stores to compose a proper reinforcement for America. Moreover, the destination of the Toulon squadron was unknown, the French government having given out that it was bound to Brest, where over twenty other ships of the line were in an advanced state of preparation. Not until the 5th of June, when d'Estaing was already eight weeks out, was certain news brought by a frigate, which had watched his fleet after it had passed Gibraltar, and which had accompanied it into the Atlantic ninety leagues west of the Straits. The reinforcement for America was then permitted to depart. On the 9th of June, thirteen ships of the line sailed for New York under the command of Vice-Admiral John Byron.2
These delays occasioned a singular and striking illustration of the ill effects upon commerce of inadequate preparation for manning the fleet. A considerable number of West
1 Charles H., Comte d'Estaing. Born, 1729. Served in India under Lally Tollendal, 1758. After having been taken prisoner at Madras in 1759, exchanged into the navy. Commanded in North America, 1778-80. Guillotined, 1794. W. L. C.
2 Grandfather of the poet.
India ships, with stores absolutely necessary for the preservation of the islands, waited at Portsmouth for convoy for upwards of three months, while the whole fleet, of eighty sail, was detained for five weeks after it had assembled; "and, although the wind came fair on the 19th of May, it did not sail till the 26th, owing to the convoying ships, the Boyne and the Ruby, not being ready." Forty-five owners and masters signed a letter to the Admiralty, stating these facts. "The convoy," they said, "was appointed to sail April 10th." Many ships had been ready as early as February. "Is not this shameful usage, my Lords, thus to deceive the public in general? There are two hundred ships loaded with provisions, etc., waiting at Spithead these three months. The average expense of each ship amounts to £150 monthly, so that the expense of the whole West India fleet since February amounts to £90,000."
The West Indies before the war had depended chiefly upon their fellow colonies on the American continent for provisions, as well as for other prime necessaries. Not only were these cut off as an incident of the war, entailing great embarrassment and suffering, which elicited vehement appeals from the planter community to the home government, but the American privateers preyed heavily upon the commerce of the islands, whose industries were thus smitten root and branch, import and export. In 1776, salt food for whites and negroes had risen from 50 to 100 per cent, and corn, the chief support of the slaves, — the laboring class, — by 400 per cent. At the same time sugar had fallen from 25 to 40 per cent in price, rum over 37 per cent. The words "starvation" and "famine" were freely used in these representations, which were repeated in 1778. Insurance rose to 23 per cent; and this, with actual losses by capture,1 and by
1 The Secretary of Lloyd's, for the purposes of this work, has been so good as to cause to be specially compiled a summary of the losses cessation of American trade, with consequent fall of prices, was estimated to give a total loss of £66 upon every £100 earned before the war. Yet, with all this, the outward West India fleet in 1778 waited six weeks, April lOth-May 26th, for convoy. Immediately after it got away, a rigorous embargo was laid upon all shipping in British ports, that their crews might be impressed to man the Channel fleet. Marketboats, even, were not allowed to pass between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. ment followed between her and the British ship, the Arethnsa, 32. The King of France subsequently declared that this occurrence fixed the date of the war's beginning. Although both Keppel's and d'Estaing's orders prescribed acts of hostility, no formal war yet existed.
Three days after Byron had sailed, Admiral Augustus Keppel also put to sea with twenty-one ships of the line, to cruise off Brest. His instructions were to prevent the junction of the Toulon and Brest divisions, attacking either that he might meet. On the 17th of June, two French frigates were sighted. In order that they might not report his force or his movements, the British Admiral sent two of his own frigates, with the request that they would speak him. One, the Belle Poule, 36, refused; and an engage
and captures during the period 1775-1783. This, so far as it deals with merchantmen and privateers, gives the following results.
Byron had a very tempestuous passage, with adverse winds, by which his vessels were scattered and damaged. On the 18th of August, sixty-seven days from Plymouth, the flagship arrived off the south coast of Long Island, ninety miles east of New York, without one of the fleet in company. There twelve ships were seen at anchor to leeward (north), nine or ten miles distant, having jury masts, and showing other signs of disability. The British vessel approached near enough to recognise them as French. They were d'Estaing's squadron, crippled by a very heavy gale, in which Howe's force had also suffered, though to a less extent. Being alone, and ignorant of existing conditions, Byron thought it inexpedient to continue on for either New York or Narragansett Bay. The wind being southerly, he steered for Halifax, which he reached August 26th. Some of his ships also entered there. A very few had already succeeded in joining Howe in New York, being fortunate enough to escape the enemy.
So far as help from England went, Lord Howe would have been crushed long before this. He owed his safety partly to his own celerity, partly to the delays of his opponent. Early in May he received advices from home, which convinced him that a sudden and rapid abandonment of Philadelphia and of Delaware Bay might become necessary. He therefore withdrew his ships of the line from New York and Narragansett, concentrating them at the mouth of Delaware Bay, while the transports embarked all stores, except those needed for a fortnight's supply of the army in a hostile country. The threatening contingency of a superior enemy's appearing off the coast might, and did, make it imperative not to risk the troops at sea, but to choose instead the alternative of a ninety-mile march through New Jersey, which a year before had been rejected as too hazardous for an even larger force. Thus prepared, no time was lost when the evacuation became necessary. Sir William Howe, who had been relieved on the 24th of May by Sir Henry Clinton, and had returned to England, escaped the humiliation of giving up his dearly bought conquest. On the 18th of June the British troops, twelve thousand in number, were ferried across the Delaware, under the supervision of the Navy, and began their hazardous march to New York. The next day the transports began to move down the river; but, owing to the intricate navigation, head winds, and calms, they did not get to sea until the 28th of June. On the 8th of July, ten days too late, d'Estaing anchored in the mouth of the Delaware. "Had a passage of even ordinary length taken place," wrote Washington, "Lord Howe with the British ships of war and all the transports in the river Delaware must inevitably have fallen; and Sir Henry Clinton must have had better luck than is commonly dispensed to men of his profession under such circumstances, if he and his troops had not shared at least the fate of Burgoyne."
Had Howe's fleet been intercepted, there would have been no naval defence for New York; the French fleet would have surmounted the difficulties of the harbour bar at its ease; and Clinton, caught between it and the American army, must have surrendered. Howe's arrival obviated this immediate danger; but much still needed to be done, or the end would be postponed only, not averted. A fair wind carried the fleet and the whole convoy from the Delaware to Sandy Hook in forty-eight hours. On the morning of the 29th, as Howe was approaching his port, he spoke a packet from England, which not only brought definite news