4° (28 x 23.5 cm / 11 x 9 inches): Collation Complete – [1, Title], iv (Preface), [6, List of Subscirbers], 149 pp.(p. 18 blnak as issued), with 2 aquatint vingnettes within text, 62 pp. (Appendix), plus 2 maps, proteced by tissue guards, interleaved through text, bound in contemporary half-calf over boards, elaborate gilt tooling to spine (Very Good, internally very bright and crisp, binding a little battered with some chipping and surface loss to spine and extremeities, hinges a little cracked, but still holding firm).
This excellent work is the most readable and pleasing published account of the British mission to invade and conquer the wealthy French West Indian islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Lucia, which occurred in 1794, during the French Revolutionary War. Extraordinarily, the endeavour was carried out as joint project between Britain and local French Royalists, who mutually considered the French Jacobin regime to be a global terror without equal. While the mission succeeded in taking all three islands, Guadeloupe and St. Lucia were soon thereafter re-conquered by the French Revolutionaries.
The account was written by Reverend Cooper Williams, a military chaplain, who was a participant in the mission. Willyams was a talented writer, whose fluid prose captures all of the excitement of a dramatic adventure in exotic, tropical lands. A skilled artist and draftsman, Willyams also had a hand in drafting the work’s two maps, as well as the pair of magnificent vignettes that appear within the text.
The Map of the Island of Martinique for an Account of the Expedition against the French West India Islands, by the Revd. Copper Willyams A.M. (located between pp. 18 & 19), while based on Thomas Jefferys’ popular template, is custom adapted to the present work, featuring much added military information, such as the locations of numerous French batteries and forts, plus notes on the movements of the British invasion force. Additionally, it depicts the locations of roads, anchorages, sugar mills, watermills and great estates.
The finely executed and highly detailed Plan of Fort Bourbon now Fort George in the Island of Martinique (located between pp. 70 & 71) depicts the main French fortress on Martinique. The British secured the surrender of the fort, and, with it, the entire island on March 24, 1794. Fort Bourbon, perched atop a high precipice above Martinique’s capital, Fort-Royal, was a formidable bastion, well designed in the model of Vauban. The map, custom adapted for the present work, features an ‘Explanation’ labelling 14 aspects of the fort (A,B, 1-12). Fort Bourbon had resisted numerous sieges in the past, and it was surrendered on this occasion only because the French defenders had run out of ammunition and supplies, as opposed to being due a defect in fort’s construction.
Additionally, the work is embellished with two unusually fine aquatint profile views, inserted within the text, of scenes along the coasts of Guadeloupe, based on Willyam’s own sketches. They are the Entrance of the Harbour of Pointe a Pitre (on p. 110) and a prospect of the Fleur d’Epée (on p. 127).
Britain & the French Revolution in the West Indies
The French Revolution created strange circumstances in France’s colonies in the West Indies. The island colonies, especially Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia and Saint–Domingue (Haiti) were long sources of immense wealth to France due to revenue from sugar, the 19th Century’s ultimate cash crop. However, the Jacobins who had taken over France by 1792-3, pledged to outlaw slavery, the lifeblood of the Caribbean plantation economy. The planters believed that the Revolutionaries would not only destroy their businesses, but would cause them to be run off of the islands altogether. Their fears proved to be well-founded, as freed slaves temporarily took over St. Lucia and later permanently took over Saint-Domingue, evicting all of the white plantation owners. Needless to saw, the planters were completely alienated from the Revolutionary regime, with almost all remaining staunch Royalists. At the same time, the French Revolutionary government sent loyal soldiers and civil servants to the Caribbean colonies to enforce their rule, and in some cases, to punish (and even guillotine) the plantation owners.
Meanwhile, the British observed the happenings on the French islands with horror. Britain had long contested France’s presence in the West Indies, and both France and Britain had attacked each other’s Leeward Island colonies on numerous occasions over the previous 150 years. While Saint–Domingue was considered too large to conquer, the British interest in Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Lucia was nothing new.
What were new were the circumstances created by the Revolution. The last thing Britain wanted was for France to free her slaves in the Caribbean, which they feared would spark slave revolts throughout the region, including on Britain Crown jewel of Jamaica. Moreover, the British Crown despised the French Revolutionaries, which they saw as an existential threat to the established global order. While the British had ancient grievances against the French planters and privateers of the Leeward Islands, and they vice versa, these grudges paled in comparison to their mutual fear of slave revolts, a ruined sugar economy and anti-Royalist mobs (i.e. ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’).
In an unlikely partnership, the British joined forces with the Royalist planters and privateers of Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Lucia to overthrow the Revolutionary regimes on these islands. The plan was for Britain to invade the islands and then hold them in trusteeship until an effective French Royalist regime could be re-established. This arrangement was formally codified by the Whitehall Accord (February 14, 1794), forged between the British government and Royalist colonial leaders.
Towards the end of 1793, Britain assembled a large joint naval-army force to conquer Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Lucia. The force was commanded overall by the famous Admiral Sir John Jervis, while the army side was led by his friend and political ally General Sir Charles Grey. The mission’s first target was Martinique, whereupon they landed on February 5, 1794. After difficult siege operations, on March 24, the British finally took Fort Bourbon, the island’s main bastion, so gaining the surrender of the entire island.
Next, Jervis and Grey mounted an operation to take over the Saint Lucia, which was very easily accomplished. They left a skeleton force of marines to preserve the British administration of the island.
Following that, the British moved on to take Guadeloupe. On April 11, 1794, Jervis landed Grey’s troops near the island’s capital Basse-Terre. After a siege, the island’s governor surrendered Guadeloupe to the British on April 24.
Shortly thereafter, Jervis’ flotilla returned to Britain, considering their endeavour an unqualified success, as Martinique and Guadalupe and Saint Lucia were all in British-French Royalist hands.
However, before Jervis’ fleet arrived back home, Victor Hughes, the French Revolutionary commander in the Caribbean, descended upon Guadeloupe, landing on the island on June 4, 1794. Heavy fighting ensued for months, with the British regulars falling to yellow fever. Hughes eventually conquered the entire island on December 10 of that year. Hughes promptly outlawed slavery, collapsing the economy and forcing the planters to leave the island.
Next, Hughes moved on to take S. Lucia. On February 21, 1795, he landed a force that easily defeated a battalion of British troops. Hughes, backed by an army of freed slaves known as ‘Les Brigands’, then mounted a fierce guerrilla war against the British-planter forces. They took over the entire island on June 19, 1795, forcing the complete eviction of all white settlers and their British allies. In what was known as the “l’Année de la Liberté”, for the next year, the island enjoyed a period without slavery. However, this was cut short in the spring of 1796, when the British, once again, conquered St. Lucia.
Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Lucia were fought over for the next 15 years, changing hands several times each. Finally, in 1814, Martinique and Guadeloupe were returned to French Royalist (and slavery permitting) rule, while Saint Lucia was permanently ceded to Britain.
Reverend Cooper Willyams: World Traveller & Perceptive Observer
The Reverend Cooper Willyams (1762 – 1816), while professionally an Anglican minister, was best known as a topographical artist and writer. Hailing from a distinguished naval family, he attended Cambridge before being ordained. He contributed toward various “Topographical Miscellanies” before joining Admiral Jervis’ 1794 expedition to the Leeward Islands, as the naval chaplain aboard the Boyne, the mission’s flagship. In addition to the present work, Willyams’ sketches from the West Indies were made into six ultra-large aquatint views.
Willyams’ next great adventure was to join Admiral Nelson’s famous expedition to Egypt, against the Napoleonic forces. This resulted in his great work, A Voyage up the Mediterranean in His Majesty’s Ship the Swiftsure: With a Description of the Battle of the Nile on the First of August 1798 (London, 1802). He also produced several separate works of art during this mission, plus a sea chart, A general chart of the Mediteranean [sic], with the tracks of the British fleet commanded by Rear Admiral Sr. Horatio Nelson, KB and of the French fleet commanded by Admiral Bruyes (London, 1802). Upon his return to England, he produced a fine work on local history, The History of Sudeley Castle, near Winchcomb, Gloucestershire (Cheltenham, 1803). It is also worth noting the that present work on the West Indies expedition was translated and reissued in German as Geschichte des Krieges in Westindien in d. J. 1794 (Leipzig, 1800).
A Note on Rarity
The present work is rare on the market; we can trace only a single sales record of another example from the last 30 years. Importantly, Willyams also produced a special elephant folio edition of the account work that is illustrated with six additional large-format colored aquatint views. This very rare and pricy work has the same title as the present quarto publication; however, the two works should not be confused.
References: Beineke, Lesser Antilles, no. 486; Ragatz, no. 780; Sabin, no.104563.