- Historic Sites
Eleven Guns For The Grand Union
When American colonists sorely needed friends, a Dutch island governor risked political ruin by saluting the rebels’ flag
October 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 6
Such was the local situation when the Andrew Doria made her landfall three weeks after leaving the Delaware. Pausing long enough to snap up a couple of pri/es in the vicinity, the vessel swept past the Quill into the roadstead before Oranjestad, the Grand Union ensign waving proudly at her gaff. Captain Robinson was determined that his arrival should be observed, and he selected an anchorage directly before Fort Oranje. Rounding into the wind, topsails aback, the brigantine slowed to a stop and then began to gather sternway. At this moment her anchor was let go, lier saiIs clewed up and lulled, and up to her main truck went a Dutch standard. Another Grand Union was run up at the lore, and a stall bearing a navy jack was raised on her bowsprit cap. Then, all being in readiness, the first shot of a thirteen-gun national salute resounded through the anchorage.
As the American warship came to anchor, Abraham Ravené, commandant of Fort Oranje, caused the Dutch flag to be dipped, as was customary. The Andrew Doria ’s gun salute, however, created a problem he was not prepared to cope with. He realized that a return salute would signify oiRcial recognition of the sovereignty of the nation whose Hag was thus honored, and since the Hag in this case was that of Great Britain’s rebellious colonies, an answering salute would connote Dutch recognition of their independence. British ships were present in the roads, and news of the a Hair Avon Id speedily reach British officialdom.
Foreseeing serious consequences, Kavene prudently sought out Governor de Graaff to obtain instructions. The Governor was evidently aware of the arrival of the American vessel and of her salute, which would have been visible Trom his estate at Concordia. And he promptly replied, “Fire a return salute with two guns less than lor a national salute.” Hastening back to the lort, Ravené put this order into execution, rehoisted the Dutch Hag, and fired eleven “honor shots” in reply to the American thirteen.
Governor de Graaff could not have been ignorant of the Declaration of Independence. Samuel Curzon, local agent lor the Continental Congress, would have kept him informed of developments in Philadelphia. Possibly De Graaif suspected the formality of the Andrew Doria ’s arrival and, realizing that the official presentation of the Declaration would place him in an unequivocal position, arrived at a quick compromise. Beauthorizing a return with two guns less than the national salute, he made certain that an honor would lie rendered, thus pleasing the .Americans. On the other hand, should he be called to account lor his bold action, the nature of his return salute would allow him to call it a courtesy, not signifying recognition of American independence.
The exchange of salutes created an immediate and understandable stir in Oranjestad and aboard the ships in the roadstead, where the implications of the all air were well understood. Everywhere it was agreed that the British would soon hear of it and react emphatically. As chance had it, the vessel to starboard of the Andrew Doria was a sloop from the nearby British island of St. Christopher, or St. Kitts. .Aboard her were a gentleman named (âmes Fraser and two British captains, John Dean and John Spicer. The trio had been on deck preparing to go ashore as the Doria rounded the Quill. Catching sight of her, Fraser exclaimed, “There comes the tender of a man-o-war,” meaning a small vessel that frequently cruised in company with a frigate or larger ship. “No, by G—d!” Dean replied, “She’s an American privateer,—for do you not see the Hag of the Continental Congress with thirteen stripes?” They continued to watch as the Doria anchored and fired her salute, and immediately afterward they entered their boat and pulled for shore. They had not reached the landing place when the return salute was fired by the fort. Ashore, they louncl the exchange of salutes the main topic’ of conversation in the inns and grog shops and noted an air of elation among the Americans and their friends. When they completed the business that had brought them to Statia, Fraser and his two companions returned to their sloop and set sail for St. Kitts, where they related the saluting incident to the authorities.
It is quite possible that they were not the first to arrive with the news. This distinction may belong to young John Trottman, who reached St. Kitts at seven o’clock in the morning on November 17. On the evening of the preceding day, Captain Robinson, back aboard his brigantine after paying his official call on the Governor, had himself rowed to an American pilot boat anchored in the roads. Going aboard, he directed the crew of his gig to return to the Doria . The boat crew consisted of four men, of whom Trottman was one.
As they made their way back in the gathering darkness, Trottman perceived an opportunity to escape from his enforced service. Resting on his oar, he proposed that they head for St. Kitts, looming dimly eight miles away to the southeast. Persuaded by promises of reward or disenchanted with life in the Continental Navy, his companions agreed, and the boat was headed toward the British island. It took them all night to make it, but shortly after sunrise they landed at Sandy Point and were soon recounting their experiences aboard the Andrew Doria . the purpose of her visit to St. Eustatius, and the events of the preceding day.