Sailor's rations were usually hardtack, cheese, and dried beans, which they could fix themselves. In 1795, it became manditory for British sailors to have a daily ration of lemon or lime juice as well, citrus being discovered to ward off Scurvy. Hence their nickname, Limies.
It is not clear why the butter was on board in this case. Perhaps they were not many days out of port when the incident happend. It is possible that it was part of the Captain's private store of food, hence his great distress at the accident.
Santo Domingo, later to become the Dominican Republic, was soon to become a pawn in Napoleon's struggle for world supremecy. Inspired by the French Revolution, the slaves in the colony of Santo Domingo rose in a bloody rebellion. To avert the spread of the massacre, the royalist planters offered to cede the colony to the British, in exchange for protection.
William Pitt, Prime Minister at the time, declined, feeling that action was incompatable with Britain's neutral stance at the time. However, on January 12, 1793, Dundas (Secretary of State), took a serious interest in this offer, and sent instructions to the Governor of Jamaica, to extend to them the protection of His Majesty's arms, in the event of war. A French expedition to subdue the revolt
The British force succeeded in in occupying several coastal points, including Mole St. Nicolas, referred to as the Gibralter of the Caribbean. Other islands were quickly taken. This success was not universally acclaimed by the general public. In addition, disease swept the islands in the fall of 1795, reducing the British force from 9,000 to 1,600. The garrisons of other islands fell proportionately. In all,
some 40,000 troops died in the islands between 1794 and 1796. (There was another twist to this situation. Spain objected to the British presence so close to some of her colonies, leading to an increased anti-British policy.)
Within a few years, the drain in manpower and treasury prompted the British to consider returning the French part of Santo Domingo and other colonies. France preferred to keep her gains in Europe.
In 1797 General Abercromby had begun raising a dozen negro regiments. The following year, Thomas Maitland (commanding Mole St. Nicolas), negotiated with the rebel leader for a British evacutation of the island. He could see that the rebels were as anti-French, as anything else. The withdraw in October 1798 raised loud objections from the planters, but saved thousands of lives.
Though France had gained control of the island (Hispaniola) from Spain in 1795, under the treaty of Basel, the natives (rebels) were able to live in relative peace. They had their own government and were able to abolish slavery and establish a constitution. When the Peace of Amiens was declared in 1802, the French used the lifting of the blockade to sent 22 warships and 25,000 troops
on an expedition to subdue them. Britain could only make verbal protests. They did not even strengthen the West Indian squadron. The French army was victorious in battle, capturing the rebel leader and inflicting atrocities on the locals. However, yellow fever was as deadly to the French as it had been to the British. By the New Year, 25,000 French troops were dead.
In 1804, Napoleon recalled his warships from the island, leaving the smaller islands open to conquest. The Rebels continued to fight against the French, driving most of them from the island. The remnants of the French force surrendered to the British in the spring of 1804 to avoid slaughter from the native rebels.
The French repeatedly tried and failed to regain control over thier East Indian colonies.
In 1808, Spanish forces in Santo Domingo drove back Hatian forces and retook the eastern portion of the island. In 1814 Spain re-established control over the entire island. In 1822, Haitian forces took it from the Spanish, and in 1844, Santo Domingo finally won its independence from Haiti.
The East/West Indian colonies were extremely profitable for both governments and merchants. Having a tropical climate, they were perfect for the many sugar plantations that rapidly sprang up over the islands. The sugar was shipped in both cone and molassas form. Today, you can still buy molassas from plants in Barbados.
At the time if the American War of Independence, Britain;s navy ruled the waves (Rule Brittania...). While merchant vessels were well armed against pirates and such, they were no match against a British Man-of-War, which could have up to three decks of cannon on each side.
To give you some idea of the size of these ships, in 1805, at the Battle of Trafalgar, Lord Horatio Nelson, Grand Admiral over the entire fleet led the attack from his flagship, the Victory. At that time, his crew was numbered at about 800 men, including sailors, officers and marines. They were woefully understaffed.
Imagine all this, under sail power, compared to a merchant crew of, say 20. I'd run too!
One other reason the ship may have fled in the night, beyond that of saving the cargo, is the fact that, with a heightened British Naval force in the area, the threat of the crew being pressed into service was increased. Pressing was a popular method the Navy used to conscript seasoned sailors to man their understaffed ships. Those coming home after serving on merchant ships were particularly valuable because they already knew the ropes. The downside to this was that after serving a few months on a ship, and preparing to go home to friends and family, sailors were often forced into another voyage, against their will, and at a very low salary. After their term they were uncerimoniously dumped back ashore to find work, with no pension, whatsoever. At the beginning of the Napoleonic wars, the ratio of conscripted sailors to enlisted was about 50/50. By the time the war was over, it was 75/25!
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