The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America - Walter R. Borneman (2006)

BOOK THREE. Prelude to Revolution (1760–1763)


Since so many of Europe’s rivalries had been born of the issue of royal succession, it should have come as no surprise that the passing of Ferdinand VI of Spain in 1759 sparked another. Ferdinand had stoutly and repeatedly refused to engage Spain on the side of France. To be sure, he had his disagreements with Great Britain—among them its blatant harvesting of timber from Spanish Honduras while denying Spain fishing rights in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland—but these paled beside the prospect of all-out war. Ferdinand’s successor, his half brother Charles, son of Philip V by Philip’s second marriage and yet another great-grandson of Louis XIV, felt quite differently. Having ruled Naples as Charles III since 1735, he was determined to support his Bourbon kin in France and revitalize Spain’s role in world affairs.

It didn’t help Charles’s clarity of thought that he despised Great Britain because of a situation stemming more from personal ego than geopolitics. As king of Naples, he had suffered humiliation when a British squadron suddenly appeared in the Bay of Naples during the War of the Austrian Succession and its commodore allowed him but one hour to withdraw his Neapolitan troops from acting in concert with those of Spain. Now, even before Charles reached Madrid to assume the Spanish throne, he was sending missives throughout Europe. On the one hand, he offered to serve as a neutral mediator between Great Britain and France; but on the other, he sought British concessions on the issues of logging and fishing, as well as the seizure of certain Spanish ships.

Charles’s personal diplomacy culminated in August 1761, when the ruling Bourbons of Spain, France, Naples, and Parma signed the Bourbon Family Compact, essentially pledging that the enemy of one of its members automatically became the enemy of the others. Specifically, the compact provided that should France and Great Britain not make peace by May 1, 1762, on terms that also resolved Spain’s grievances, Spain would declare war on Great Britain. Charles III had taken the long neutrality of Ferdinand VI—which had actually been an aid to Great Britain in the early years of the war as Pitt built up its navy—and pushed Spain toward France until Spain now irrevocably cast its lot with Louis XV. It would prove too little, too late for France and would show why some in Spain had called Charles III’s predecessor, Ferdinand, “the Sage.”1

Such machinations, of course, did not escape the eyes and ears of William Pitt. War with Spain? Bring it on! Far from being cowed by the prospect, Pitt relished it and unrolled maps of the Caribbean and far Pacific. While the Royal Navy was busy gathering the plums of France’s colonial empire for Britannia, it might just as well also gather some of Spain’s. Not all in Great Britain felt this way, of course, in part because in Britain, too, there had been a change of monarchs. George II died on October 25, 1760, struck down suddenly by an apparent heart attack at the age of seventy-seven. The old king had come to revel in the victories that Pitt’s vision had wrought, and there was no early indication that his successor, his grandson, would do otherwise.

But George III was different. “Born and educated in this country, I glory in the name of Briton,” declared the twenty-two-year-old in his first address to Parliament, in a clear attempt to disassociate himself from his ancestors’ fixations with Hanover. But young George III exasperated Pitt and raised even Newcastle’s eyebrows when he sought to characterize the war that was winning so much empire as “bloody and expensive.” The new monarch urged a speedy termination, albeit with “an honorable and lasting peace.”

Pitt looked around for the puppeteer holding the royal strings and found him in John Stuart, the earl of Bute. Having lost his own father at thirteen, George III seems to have idealized this older Scot, who whispered in the royal ear all the appropriate reassurances, while pushing his own plans. Clearly, those included stripping Pitt of his powers as de facto prime minister.

Interestingly, at the moment of his ascension to the throne, George III was also in the process of choosing a wife. Had he truly meant to make good on his promise of glorying “in the name of Briton,” he might have chosen Lady Sarah Lennox. She was the daughter of the duke of Richmond, as charming, as blue-blooded, and as English as anyone might desire, and her family ties ran throughout the upper echelons of Pitt’s Whig party. By all accounts, the king was smitten by her and she with him, but he bungled the courtship with sophomoric prattle.

The king’s mother, the dowager princess Augusta, and Lord Bute took advantage of these stumbles to intervene and quash a union that no doubt would have strengthened Pitt’s hand and brought George III out of his shell. On July 8, 1761, the young ruler, who had said that henceforth he would look to Britain, announced with apparent unease to Pitt and the cabinet that he would marry Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. His mother and Bute had won, and had assured themselves that the king would continue to be under their influence to the detriment of Pitt.2

The pending war with Spain was the paramount issue that brought about Pitt’s downfall. Confident that he alone was the architect of the expanding empire, Pitt pushed for an immediate declaration of war against Spain at a cabinet meeting on September 18, 1761. With Lord Bute no doubt keeping score, only Pitt’s brother-in-law, Lord Temple, supported him. Having relied so long on Newcastle’s power in the House of Commons to bolster his aims, Pitt was now very much adrift.

At a subsequent cabinet meeting on October 2, he held firm to his position that war must be declared immediately against Spain or he would resign. Still, he could change no minds; and two days later, William Pitt, the man who had once boasted that “I can save England” and indeed had done so, tendered his seals of office to George III. Significantly, the king made no attempt to dissuade him.3

Two centuries later, after another but far more deadly global war, it became popular to compare William Pitt to another English bulldog, Winston Churchill. Both had seen the global picture, and each had led Great Britain back from a brink. Both, too, were repudiated by their fellow countrymen at the moment of victory.

A month later, a reshuffled British cabinet “asked Spain to disavow its suspected alliance with France.” When Charles III refused, Great Britain declared war on Spain on January 4, 1762. Perhaps Pitt had been right after all, especially after Spain showed its true colors and quickly moved to conquer its neighbor, Portugal, heretofore a neutral country friendly to Great Britain. Should Portugal fall, its great colony of Brazil and all of its lucrative trade would come to Spain.

Who should the British dispatch to Portugal’s aid but Lord Loudoun and Brigadier General John Burgoyne? The former had already come to grief in North America, though the latter’s day of reckoning at Saratoga was still fifteen years away. With 6,000 troops outside Lisbon in the summer of 1762, Loudoun and Burgoyne stymied Charles III’s drive on the Portuguese capital. Spain’s failure to conquer Portugal should have given Charles pause as to where his warrior policies were leading Spain.4

Even with Pitt out of office, his reach continued to be felt by expeditions already under way. Some battles had been fought and won. India was a case in point. In January 1757, Robert Clive had led a force to recover Calcutta from the nawab of Bengal and crush French influence there. Then, learning of the official declaration of war between Great Britain and France long after the fact, Clive led 3,000 men, mostly trained sepoys from Madras, against the nawab’s forces at the battle of Plassey on June 23, 1757. After Clive’s victory at Plassey, both the British and the French dispatched reinforcements and determined to fight for the subcontinent and its lucrative trade.

For a time, the British dominated around Clive’s movements in Bengal in the north and the French extended their influence from Hyderabad along the Coromandel Coast to the south. Here too, however, the ultimate disposition was determined by Great Britain’s mounting naval superiority. In the spring of 1758, the French Admiral Anne Antoine, comte d’Aché, arrived at Pondicherry with a squadron numbering about eight ships of the line. Aided by this fleet, French land forces captured Fort Saint David south of Pondicherry and laid siege to the British base at Madras. Then, a comparable English squadron under the command of Rear Admiral Sir George Pocock not only lifted the siege of Madras but also blockaded the French at Pondicherry.

In time, it didn’t matter how strong the French were on land, because they couldn’t obtain fresh troops and supplies via the sea. What’s more, the British controlled an ever-increasing portion of trade in the Indian subcontinent, which was the reason to have these colonies in the first place. D’Aché’s and Pocock’s squadrons fought skirmishes and three major engagements—the final one on September 10, 1759, in the Bay of Bengal south of Pondicherry—but the British routinely got reinforcements and the French did not.

After the French were defeated in Quiberon Bay, no reinforcements of any kind reached India. On January 20, 1760, British land forces decisively defeated the French at Wandiwash north of Pondicherry and proceeded to capture French trading stations up and down the Coromandel Coast. By April 16, 1760, only Pondicherry remained in French hands in eastern India. It endured a grisly siege before finally surrendering the following January. The French surrendered their last stronghold, Mahé on the west coast, a month later; and, for better or for worse, India began almost two centuries of servitude as a British colony.5

Pitt’s further plans for the West Indies were also well under way by the time he left office. Hopson had attempted to seize Martinique in 1759 and had settled for Guadeloupe, but Martinique still remained a prize to be sought. As the key base for French privateers in the Caribbean, it was much more than just another sugar island. France recognized this and, despite dwindling resources, managed to reinforce the garrison at Fort Royal with 250 additional troops in 1760 and another 500 the following year. The newly arrived governor general of the French West Indies, Le Vasser de la Touche, boasted that Martinique’s militia numbered 20,000; but most of this force seems to have existed in name only, and indeed the new governor assembled the militia but once before the British invasion.

Pitt had delayed the sailing of the Martinique expedition until after the hurricane season, but in the meantime had ordered Amherst to send 2,000 men from North America to attack Dominica just to the south of Guadeloupe. Dominica was, of course, one of the so-called neutral islands, but such characterizations were long past anyone’s consideration. Interestingly, though, Dominica was one of the few refuges of the indigenous Caribs who had been extirpated from most of the other islands of the Lesser Antilles. By 1761, some 2,000 French settlers were living on the island along with the Caribs, but it was not garrisoned by French troops.

A tiny flotilla of four warships and four transports carrying about 700 regulars, including some of Montgomery’s Highlanders, anchored off the principal town of Roseau on June 6, 1761, and moved ashore to occupy the town. When militiamen on the surrounding hillsides began a steady small-arms fire, the grenadiers advanced rapidly up the slopes and dispersed them. By nightfall, in a rapid about-face, the French inhabitants were streaming into Roseau delivering up their arms and begging to be given the same favorable terms as the inhabitants of Guadeloupe.

If the force thrown against Dominica seemed small, Pitt was determined to have more than enough troops and ships to complete the task at hand on Martinique. To command the Martinique expeditionary force, Amherst chose Robert Monckton, who was now recovered from his wounds on the Plains of Abraham and had been rewarded for his role there with both a major generalship and an appointment as governor of New York. Monckton would command 14,000 troops drawn from North America, Europe, and the Caribbean.

The naval force was to be equally stout. Its commander was Rear Admiral George Rodney who had served under Boscawen against Louisbourg and had frustrated Amherst by interrupting the general’s Atlantic passage in 1758 to engage a French ship. Rodney sailed from England in early October 1761 and rendezvoused in Barbados with the transports from America bearing Monckton’s force. In all, his fleet consisted of eighteen ships of the line, fourteen frigates, nine sloops and bomb ketches, and some 11,000 men. It was another example of the vast resources of the Royal Navy.

On January 5, 1762, Monckton and Rodney with an invasion fleet of 173 vessels weighed anchor in Carlisle Bay in Barbados and sailed for Martinique. With Monckton as his brigadiers were two veterans of the campaigns against Canada: William Haviland and James Grant. Their troops made three attempts to force a landing in and around Fort Royal Bay and then on January 16, 1762, finally landed west of the fort where Hopson had come ashore two years before.

Once again, French defenders fired on the beachhead from the surrounding hillsides; but unlike Hopson, Monckton simply pushed more troops and artillery onto the beaches, and a week later Grant’s grenadiers stormed these heights and others to the east above Fort Royal. This was enough for de la Touche’s vaunted militiamen and they dispersed into the hills while his regulars crowded into the fort’s citadel. Monckton hauled artillery to heights overlooking the fort and began a bombardment that lasted until the garrison of 800 surrendered on February 3, 1762.

Governor General de la Touche escaped the siege and retreated north to Saint Pierre in an attempt to rally resistance. What he found was similar to the situation confronting the French army when it had counterattacked in the final days of the Guadeloupe campaign two years before. The French planters simply had no stomach to oppose the British and suffer losses to their property, when by capitulating they could very likely broker the same favorable terms extended to Guadeloupe. De la Touche recognized the inevitable and surrendered the entire island. Monckton’s troops peacefully entered Saint Pierre on February 16, 1762.

With the fall of Martinique, the resolve of the French in the West Indies evaporated. Rodney sent squadrons to the islands of Saint Lucia, Grenada, and Saint Vincent, and all surrendered without firing a shot. Representatives from these islands met with Monckton shortly thereafter and procured favorable terms. By all accounts, most French inhabitants of the islands were delighted. Having watched their produce sit bottled up on wharves or seized by English or American privateers, they were now accorded the security and profits that came from trading with the world’s greatest economic force.6

Meanwhile, Great Britain looked around the Caribbean for the treasures of its new enemy, Spain. There was none greater than Havana, Cuba. For two centuries, Havana had been the military and commercial hub of Spain’s Caribbean colonies and the gateway to its conquests on the mainland from Saint Augustine to Cartagena. Havana, commanding city of 35,000, boasted a fine deepwater harbor, guarded on the east by Morro Castle and on the west by the Punta. Great Britain had tried to capture it during the War of Jenkins’ Ear, and now Charles III seemed to be foolishly offering it up.

In Pitt’s absence, First Lord of the Admiralty Anson and Lord Ligonier issued orders against Havana only three days after the declaration of war, and an expeditionary force sailed from Portsmouth on March 6, 1762. These forces rendezvoused with those of Monckton and Rodney recently released by the fall of Martinique.

But France and Spain had one last chance. A French admiral, the comte de Blénac, broke loose of the Brest blockade and arrived in the West Indies with what was arguably the last French squadron of any size still at sea—about eight ships of the line. Blénac was too late to save Martinique; but by joining forces with a Spanish fleet from Havana, he might be able to surprise a British squadron or threaten British Jamaica.

The governor of Jamaica was in fact so alarmed at the threat that he insisted on having British ships remain in the harbor at Kingston rather than letting them move to intercept Blénac as the British commodore proposed. But cooperation between the French and the Spanish, which seemed so easily mandated by the Bourbon Family Compact, broke down. The Spanish fleet of twelve ships of the line never sortied from Havana. Blénac was forced to seek refuge at Cap François on Santa Domingo, the last French-held island in the Caribbean, and ended up blockaded there.

That left Havana wide open. On June 7, 1762, British troops landed about six miles east of town and proceeded to lay siege to Morro Castle. A similar force landed west of the city under the command of Colonel William Howe, still adding to his colonial military experience. But as the British siege line extended and artillery began to bomb the town, Havana’s most formidable defense showed itself. It was midsummer, and a host of tropical diseases—yellow fever, malaria, and gastrointestinal disorders known and unknown—ravaged the British troops. Havana might fall, but would there be any British troops left standing to march through its gates?

Relief came in the form of the arrival of fresh troops from North America, half of them provincials from New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. On July 30, a mine was tunneled under Morro Castle. It was exploded and then the fort was stormed. The Punta was taken out of action on August 11; and two days later—just in the nick of time from the British perspective—the city surrendered.

At the cost of an estimated 7,000 dead—most from disease—Great Britain had secured the cornerstone of Spain’s empire in the New World. It had also captured 3 million pounds in gold and silver, twelve ships of the line, and several frigates—one-quarter of the entire Spanish navy. Henceforth, whatever treasure ships dared to try to reach Spain from Mexico would be forced to assemble far to the south at Cartagena. When Charles III heard of this, his youthful indignation at the British fleet off Naples must have paled by comparison.7

With the Caribbean almost an English lake and the subcontinent coming to heel, a spin of the globe revealed one more tempting target. As First Lord of the Admiralty Anson and Lord Ligonier listened, Lieutenant Colonel William Draper, a veteran of the victory at Wandiwash, described a plan to attack Manila, the commercial and political hub of the Spanish Philippines. Manila was six to eight months by sea from England, but Draper assured Anson and Ligonier that all the necessary forces for the expedition were already in India, only six to eight weeks away. In fact, given the lengthy delays in communications between Madrid and Manila via Mexico, if it moved quickly, a British force might just be able to appear off Manila before the garrison there even learned of the declaration of war.

Anson and Ligonier agreed to the plan, and Draper left England in February 1762 with a temporary commission as a brigadier general and authority to organize an expeditionary force in Madras. Field commanders in India were less enthusiastic, however, and reluctant to part with troops. Draper managed to augment his own Seventy-ninth Foot Regiment and a company of royal artillery—almost 1,000 regulars—with 600 sepoys, two companies of French deserters, and several hundred assorted locals. “Such a banditti never assembled since the time of Spartacus,” Draper grumbled as his little flotilla of fifteen ships finally departed Madras at the end of July.

As the British ships sailed into Manila Bay on September 22, 1762, the silence of the guns at its guardian fortress of Cavite proved that Draper had indeed caught the Spanish unawares. Lacking the troops to encircle the town in a protracted siege, Draper subjected Manila to a heavy artillery barrage and then stormed a portion of its walls before its garrison capitulated on October 6. By the end of the month, Spain formally surrendered all of the Philippines to Great Britain.

At first glance, Great Britain’s capture of Manila was the ultimate global grab, a triumph that demonstrated the might of the British army and the Royal Navy halfway around the world from London. There was, however, one element of this military operation quite different from those against Canada, India, and the sugar islands of the West Indies. Draper may have captured Manila, but he had hardly conquered the Philippines. These islands and their inhabitants did not join the trading frenzy of the British Empire. Instead, certain Spanish colonial officials mustered a Filipino guerrilla army of 10,000 natives—three-quarters of them armed only with bows and arrows—and limited British control to Manila and Cavite. It was a situation destined to be repeated 136 years later after an American naval squadron under Admiral George Dewey steamed into Manila Bay at the height of the short-lived Spanish-American War. This global reach of a rising American imperialism forced Spain to surrender the islands again, but spawned a similar guerrilla insurgency that went on for decades.

When the Philippines were finally returned to Spain on May 31, 1764, under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, the British appeared to be surrendering Manila far more than merely withdrawing from it. The lesson, according to the historian Fred Anderson, was that “only the voluntary allegiance, or at least the acquiescence,” of colonists could maintain an empire and that “when colonial populations that refused their allegiance also declined to trade, the empire’s dominion extended not a yard beyond the range of its cannons.” This lesson of the Philippines went unheeded, however, both by the United States more than a century later and by Great Britain itself in regard to its North American colonies barely a few years hence. There definitely were limitations to empire.8