- 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
“The impartial world will judge between us, whether these honor shots, answered on purpose by a Dutch fort to a rebellious brigantine called the Andrew Doria , with a flag known to the commander of that fort as the Hag of His Majesty’s rebelling subjects, is or is not a partiality in favor of these rebels, and a public offense donc to His Majesty’s flag. Whether the rebel brigantine fired thirteen or eleven honor shots, and whether they arc answered with an equal or inferior number, will not alter, I think, the real ground of my complaint in this regard; nor do I mid anything in your letter that contains any denial or disavowal of that fact.
Having done his duty under the circumstances, and perceiving that any further exchange was quite unlikely to produce satisfaction from Governor de Giaalf, Greathead assembled copies of the correspondence, carefully enclosed sworn affidavits by all the witnesses, and forwarded them to London lor such action as His Majesty’s ministers might see fit to take.
While the exchange of letters between governors was going on, the Andrew Doria remained at Statia taking on her cargo. At last her hold was full, and early in the spring of 1777 Captain Robinson bade farewell to his friends and set sail for the Delaware. The British had maintained a close watch on the American warship and, aware of her impending departure, sent the sloop Racehorce , twelve guns, Lieutenant James Tones commander, to lie in wait along her probable course. The Doria had reached a point oit the western end of Puerto Rico, when the Rosehorse was sighted. Captain Robinson cleared for action. In the running fight that followed, the British sloop proved no match for the smartly served, doublereinforced four-pounders of the Continental brigantine, and after two hours of battering, with her commander mortally wounded and a large number of her crew also casualties, the Rosehorse struck her colors. A prize crew was put aboard and she was successfully brought into the Delaware, where she was soon joined by her captor, which had paused long enough en route to gather in a merchant snow [a square-rigged vessel similar to a brig]. The Doria made port without her first lieutenant, however. Barney had volunteered as prize master of the captured snow and sailed away to a series of adventures that rival fiction. Hc was never to set loot aboard the Andrew Doria again.
The British government, on receipt of President Greathcad s report, issued a menacing note to The Hague. After an exchange, the States General found it diplomatically expedient to recall De Graaff to Holland to give a firsthand account of affairs at Statia. A full year elapsed before he put in his appearance, but when he did so he defended himself and his administration so ably as to be cleared of all censure. Reinstated in his post at St. Eustatius, he served until February g, 1^81, when retribution finally appeared in the person of Admiral Sir George Rodney with a British fleet. England had finally gone to war with Holland, but Sir George came too late. Statia’s role as a vital supply point during the early, critical years of the Revolution had already passed. France had by now come to the aid of the rebels and had tipped the scales of war.
Governor Johannes de Graaff, firm friend of the United States when friends were scarce and sorely needed, is unknown to most Americans and virtually forgotten. Xo biographer has yet been moved to describe his life. But the tourist who visits Fort Oranjc and from its terraced rampart, still lined with ancient cannon, surveys the roadstead where several hundred vessels once rode at anchor, will find a bronze plague affixed to the wall of the old fort. It reads:
IN COMMEMORATION OF THE SALUTE TO THE FLAG OF THE UNITED STATES FIRED IN IHIS FORT ON 160 NOVEMBER 1776 BY ORDER OF JOHANNES DE GRAAFF GOVERNOR or ST. 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