- 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
While Christer Greathead, president of St. Christopher and Nevis, was digesting the inlonnation that Trottman, Fraser, Dean, Spicer, et al . had brought him, another event provided a second painful jolt to British sensibilities. Un November 21 the Baltimore Hero , an American privateer alleged to have been outfitted at St. Eustatius and owned, in part, by Maryland’s enterprising agent, Abraham van Bibber, sailed out of the anchorage at Statia and waylaid a British brigantine which had left St. Kitts shortly before. Attacking the Britisher within sight of both islands, but beyond range of the Dutch batteries and thus outside neutral waters, the Hero effected an easy capture. A prize crew was placed aboard her with orders to make for the Delaware, whereupon the privateer sailed in triumph back to her former anchorage, the Grand Union proudly spanking the breeze.
The victim of this affair was the May William Taylor master, and the vessel and her cargo were the property of one Fosta M. Connell, a British resident of Dominica. The latter promptly let out a howl that hit the sensitive ear of President Greathead more painlully because “the act of piracy” had taken place under his very nose.
After studying these two episodes as described for him by witnesses and victims, Greathead addressed an emphatic protest to the governor of the neighboring Dutch island. His letter, dated December 17, 1776, couched in the studied and dignified style of the period, is quite lengthy, beginning with a reminder of the prolonged friendship, based on treaties, that had hitherto existed between the British and Dutch, he expressed regret at the disagreeable duty of having, now, to protest the partiality and support afforded Great Britain’s rebellious American subjects by the inhabitants of St. Eustatius. Hc made broad charges regarding Dutch connivance in the traffic in military supplies and outfitting of privateers, quoting the Baltimore Hero as an example. Of the Andrew Doria he had this to say:
“Also, that an armed vessel called the Andrew Doria , commanded by a Captain Robinson, belonging to and in the service of the before-mentioned rebels, dropped anchor in the roads of St. Eustatius, and with hoisted Hag, known to be that of the rebels culled Continental Congress, did, about the middle of November last, salute with thirteen shots the fortress of her high and mighty the Dutch government, called the Orange fort; and that this salute was afterward answered by that fort with the same solemnity due to the flags of independent sovereign states; and to that ship it was then permitted to take aboard a cargo of gunpowder, other ammunition, and provisions, at St. Eustatius, for the use of the American army.”
After further expressions of indignation lie added a final presumptuous demand:
“I therefore exact from you, sir … a sufficient reason for the offense done to His Majesty’s fag by the honor rendered his rebellious subjects by Fort Orange; and I require, also, sir … you will not only use your authority to prevent a repetition of such violation of faith, but will employ at the same time immediate means to give complete restitution to the sufferers by the piracy committed by the sloop Baltimore Hero , and that the fellow-helpers and abettors in that act may be discovered, apprehended, and have the merited punishment that will be a terror to others.”
To insure prompt attention to his letter, Greathead directed his solicitor general, John Stanley, and a committee to lay the matter before the Dutch governor in person. No doubt President Greathead hoped that Stanley would return with De Graaff’s abject apologies and his assurance that the people of Statia would forthwith mend their ways. It so, he was to be sadly disappointed.
Governor de Graaff received Stanley and accepted the letter, but he flatly refused to discuss its contents with the delegation, instead, he composed a reply, dated December 2g, in which he dismissed with commendable brevity the allegations of aid to the American rebels and outfitting of privateers. He pointed out that he could not proceed against alleged offenders except upon “circumstantial proofs founded upon the most authentic information; and that the facts shall be set forth in good order, and ratified with witnesses.” Referring to the salute to the Dona he said, “I Hatter myself that, if my masters exact it, I shall be able to give such an account as will be satisfactory.” As to Grcathead’s presuming to take him to task, he announced that the President s request “seems to bear the appearance of exacting account of actions … that no one in the world is entitled to excepting my gentlemen and masters.”
On receipt of this, President Greathcad undertook a second letter to De Graalf, dated December 26, and couched in considerably milder terms: