Half Title
 Title Page
 List of Illustrations
 List of Tables
 The environmental setting and development...
 The Garrison Community
 Conflict, death, and hardship as...
 The West Indian experience

Group Title: British Army in the West Indies
Title: The British Army in the West Indies
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00103008/00001
 Material Information
Title: The British Army in the West Indies society and the military in the revolutionary age
Physical Description: xx, 441 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Buckley, Roger Norman, 1937-
Publisher: University Press of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla
Gainesville, Fla
Publication Date: c1998
Copyright Date: 1998
Subject: Garrisons, British -- History -- West Indies   ( lcsh )
Sociology, Military -- History -- West Indies, British   ( lcsh )
Sociología militar -- Historia -- Antillas británicas
Zeemacht   ( gtt )
Garnisons britanniques -- Histoire -- Antilles britanniques   ( rvm )
Sociologie militaire -- Histoire -- Antilles britanniques   ( rvm )
Heer   ( swd )
Geschichte 1792-1825   ( swd )
Napoleonische Kriege   ( swd )
Geschichte 1792-1815   ( swd )
Social conditions -- West Indies, British   ( lcsh )
History, Military -- West Indies, British   ( lcsh )
Condiciones sociales -- Antillas británicas
Conditions sociales -- Antilles britanniques   ( rvm )
Histoire militaire -- Antilles britanniques   ( rvm )
Großbritannien   ( swd )
Westindien   ( swd )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Review: "This Social and Political history depicts a military community being shaped and defined in an era of revolutionary change: the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars at the end of the eighteenth century. Within the framework of war and society, Roger Buckley gives us a detailed picture of the British West Indies army in the Caribbean theater, especially the manner in which the garrison affected, and was itself affected by, the Caribbean social, political, and economic landscape."--BOOK JACKET.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (p. 405-426) and index.
Statement of Responsibility: Roger Norman Buckley.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00103008
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 38527865
lccn - 98013516
isbn - 0813016045 (cloth : alk. paper)

Table of Contents
    Half Title
        Page iii
    Title Page
        Page iv
        Page v
        Page vi
        Page vii
        Page viii
    List of Illustrations
        Page ix
        Page x
    List of Tables
        Page xi
        Page xii
        Page xiii
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        Page xix
        Page xx
    The environmental setting and development of the West Indian Garrison
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    The Garrison Community
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    Conflict, death, and hardship as inevitable experiences
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    The West Indian experience
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Full Text

The British Army in the West Indies

Roger Norman Buckley

Thle lirithis Airmy

University Press of Florida
Gainesville Tallahassee Tampa Boca Raton
Pensacola Orlando Miami Jacksonville
The Press University of the West Indies
Barbados Jamaica Trinidad and Tobago

in lMe Wes{ In dies

Society and the Military
in the Revolutionary Age


Copyright 1998 by the Board of Regents of the State of Florida
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper

Published by the University Press of Florida (ISBN 0-8130-1604-5)
Published simultaneously in the Caribbean by
The Press University of the West Indies (ISBN 976-640-063-6)

03 02 01 00 99 98 6 5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data (UPF)
Buckley, Roger Norman, 1937-
The British Army in the West Indies: society and the military in the revolu-
tionary age / Roger Norman Buckley.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-8130-1604-5 (cloth: alk. paper)
1. Garrisons, British-West Indies-History. 2. Great Britain, Army-Military
life. Sociology, Military-West Indies, British-History. 4. West Indies,
British-Social conditions. 5. West Indies, British-History, Military. I. Title.
UA649.32.W47B83 1998
306.2'7'09729-dc21 98-13516

03 02 01 00 99 98 6 5 4 3 2 1

Cataloguing in Publication Data (UWI)
Buckley, Roger Norman.
The British Army in the West Indies: society and the military in
the revolutionary age.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 976-640-063-6
1. Garrisons, British-West Indies-History. 2. Great Britain,
Army-Military life. 3. Sociology, Military-West Indies,
British-History. 4. West Indies, British-Social conditions. 5.
West Indies, British-History, Military. I. Title.
UA649.32.W47B83 1998 306.2'7'-9729-dc20

To the special memory of my mother,
Elaine Buckley


1.1. Roseau, Dominica, 1837 6
1.2. Fort Royal, Martinique and Environs, 1809 8
1.3. Offshore view of Basseterre, Guadeloupe 10
1.4. Nosier Bridge Pass 13
1.5. Newcastle mountain station, c. 1883 20
1.7. Detail from "JOHNNY NEW-COME in the ISLAND of JAMAICA," 1800 37
2.1. "MARTIAL LAW in JAMAICA," 1803 54
2.2. A Negro market in the Antigua, 1806 70
2.3. Fort New Amsterdam, Suriname, 1794 73
2.4. General view of Brimstone Hill from the north 76
2.5. Crest of Brimstone Hill from the southwest 77
2.6. Sketch of Post Armina, c. 1790 81
3.1. Officer, 16th Regiment, 1804 109
3.2. Private, 5th West India Regiment, 1814 121
4.1. Dr. Robert Jackson, Royal Army Medical Corps 131
4.2. Two Gun Battery, St. Lucia, 1784 134
4.3. British troops on the march, 1798 149
4.4. Beau Soleil British army barracks, Guadeloupe 152
4.5. Rachel Pringle of Barbados, 1792 168
5.1. "A WEST INDIA SPORTSMAN" 1807 178
5.2. "A GRAND JAMAICA BALL!" 1803 182
5.3. Major General Hugh Carmichael, c. 1809 198
6.1. Military execution, La Prairie, Quebec, 1812 204
6.2. "British Soldiers Drowning Care," 1794 241
7.1. Attack of the 3rd West India Regiment, 1810 266
7.2. General Sir George Beckwith, c. 1810 267
8.1. British officer with the island of Martinique in the background 296
8.2. Wounds received at the Battle of Waterloo, 1815 307

8.3. Man in the hemorrhagic stage of yellow fever 309
9.1. Frontal view, blockhouse officers' barracks, Shirley Heights,
Antigua 327
9.2. Colonnade, blockhouse officers' barracks, Shirley Heights,
Antigua 328
9.3. Suriname Amerindians, 1839 337
9.4. "Adventures of Johnny Newcome," 1812 (plate 1) 340
9.5. "Adventures of Johnny Newcome," 1812 (plate 2) 341


2.1. Estimated maximum annual strength of the West Indian
garrison, 1792-1815 86
3.1. Criminals, culprits, and deserters serving in European regiments
of the regular British army in the Windward and Leeward
Islands command, January 1799-October 1802 102
3.2. Sergeants, drummers, and rank and file serving in European
units of the regular British army in the Windward and Leeward
Islands command, 1 December 1802 103
3.3. Average annual strength of the European contingent of the
regular British army in the Windward and Leeward Islands
command, 1799-1802 104
4.1. Gender distribution of the Windward and Leeward Islands
command, July 1804 158
6.1. Estimated maximum annual strength of the West Indian
garrison compared with the whole of the regular army, and
the annual percentage of general courts martial cases in the
garrison, 1796-1825 211
6.2. Desertion as a percentage of all British army crimes: the West
Indian garrison compared with the rest of the army, 1796-1825 217
6.3. General courts martial for desertion, 1796-1825 219
6.4. Approximate percentages of desertion by island (black and white
troops combined), 1796-1825 224
6.5. Sodomy and bestiality cases adjudicated by general courts
martial, 1796-1825 232
6.6. Acquittal rates by rank, 1796-1825: The West Indian garrison
compared with the rest of the British army 238
9.1.Approximate weekly ration, Windward and Leeward Islands
command, 1804 (in pounds and ounces) 350


6.1. West Indian garrison desertions by month, 1796-1825 221
6.2. Cases of desertion by garrison, 1796-1825 222
6.3. Annual lash average, 1796-1825: The West Indian garrison
compared with the rest of the British army 228
6.4. Lash totals by garrison, 1796-1825 237


The first experience of regular British soldiers in the West Indies came in
1652, when a fleet under the command of Sir George Ayscue put into
Carlisle Bay, Barbados, to compel the local governor to heel to the will of
the Puritan commonwealth government in England. We can picture their
open-mouthed wonder and great excitement at all they saw of the island.
It was a fruitful land: nearly all of the usable land of Barbados had been
cleared of trees and was in prosperous use. It was also pleasant-looking,
the dazzling colors made bolder by a sun that always shone brightly. These
troops soon departed the island, but their arrival marked the beginning of
a long and melancholy history. The rapid establishment of a lucrative
economy based on plantations and the quantity production of tropical
staples by African slave labor, combined with the need to protect this valu-
able commerce against foreign invasion and slave revolt, led to small but
permanent garrisons of British regulars in Jamaica and the Leeward Is-
lands by 1678. In 1962, 284 years later, the last British soldiers left the
West Indies.
Although the abandoned parade grounds no longer ring with the stac-
cato sounds of commands and the steady crunch of soldiers' boots, the
numerous crumbling cemeteries, regimental service and battle monuments,
and imposing fortifications are mute but still visceral reminders of the long
and historic service of the British soldier in the West Indies. These monu-
ments, which dot the old imperial landscape, are also dramatic proof of the
vast treasure Britain lavished on its West Indian colonies, particularly dur-
ing the turbulent eighteenth century.
The British army's military operations in the region are well documented
in Sir John Fortescue's unrivaled multivolume History of the British Army
(1899-1930). Michael Duffy's Soldiers, Sugar and Seapower: The British Expe-

xiv Preface

editions to the West Indies and the War against Revolutionary France (1987) is a
welcome addition to the literature on the British army's campaigns in the
West Indies. Additional fragments of information lie scattered in regimen-
tal histories and the occasional monograph. Until now, the British garri-
son in the West Indies has never been studied, a signal fact to which Wil-
liam Foote alluded some twenty years ago in an essay in Robin Higham's
important Guide to the Sources of British Military History (1971). In contrast to
Britain's renowned Indian army, precious little is known of the culture,
traditions, achievements, significance, and peculiarities of the West Indian
army. Unlike the Indian army, the West Indian garrison fails to conjure up
any old romantic notions. Lacking, therefore, a reputation, image, and
identity of its own, it holds no particular fascination for the general public
and students of war and society. It is a phantom army lurking subliminally
in British imperial history.
If largely unknown, the British garrison in the West Indies had a criti-
cally important function: the protection of the region's once profitable plan-
tation-slave economies. The imposing fortifications atop Brimstone Hill,
St. Kitts, and the sprawling complexes of crumbling ruins at Prince Rupert's
Neck, Dominica, and Shirley Heights, Antigua, are but three examples that
testify mightily to the central position of the West Indian colonies in the
eighteenth-century British mercantilist empire and the evident need to
guard them well. Why, then, has this once vital part of Britain's imperial
military network been ignored by scholars and lay people alike? In 1979,
in the preface to my study of the history of the British West Indian regi-
ments during the 1792-1815 war between Britain and France, I suggested
three primary reasons for this historic lack of interest in the military his-
tory of the region.
The first was a traditional disinterest in the West Indies among British
military historians. Although the West Indian garrison played an impor-
tant role in imperial defense, several generations of major British military
intellectuals were instead preoccupied with European and North Ameri-
can experiences. Second, social scientists have limited their attention to
the economic and social aspects of plantation slavery. They have tended to
concentrate (and not without advantage) on the slave trade, the relation-
ship between slavery and the development of European capitalism, the
lives of the slaves, abolition of the slave trade and slavery, and the after-
math of slavery. The third reason cited was a general lack of interest in
military history among academics and their failure to recognize the signifi-
cance of the military as a "heavy institution"-that is, an integrated, cohe-
sive, and unavoidably intrusive institution. This predicament stems from

Preface xv

what Donald Gordon calls an urbane liberal-humanistic tradition which
tended to belittle serious interest in military history as crude and unso-
phisticated. "To write military history," bemoaned Gordon in his contribu-
tion to A Guide to the Sources of British Military History, was "to pay tribute to
the power of brute force in controlling the destinies of men, and thus to
perpetuate the authority of that force in men's mind; and this opens the
military historian to the charge of being militaristic." That was written in
1971, during the controversial Vietnam War. Since that time, the study of
military history, with its retreat from "battle history" and its new emphasis
on "war and society," has continued to emerge (albeit very slowly) from
the back benches of academe, where it was once relegated by somewhat
self-righteous academics. Nonetheless, some in the academy remain skep-
tical of the "new" military history. It may be instructive to draw their at-
tention to comments by Andre Corvisier, considered by many to be the
dean of historians who view the military as a component of social history.
"Without claiming greater importance for military events than they war-
rant," he wrote in the preface to the 1979 American edition of his Armies
and Societies in Europe, 1494-1789, "we must recognize that they have a
strong influence not only on national activity and the growth of the State
but equally on the economic, social, and mental structures of the whole of
society. ... These disparate elements," he continued, "are closely bound
together, and the role of the military event in the nation and in the State
constitutes an essential element in the study of its role in society, however
diverse the actual relationships between army and society may be accord-
ing to period or country."
My own subsequent investigations into the fertile field of British impe-
rial and colonial military history make it necessary to suggest two addi-
tional reasons why historians have neglected the genre. First, unlike In-
dia-with its ancient culture and civilization, its romantic terrain, its
legendary peoples and their heroic warrior traditions, and its magnificent
architectural patrimony-there was little to recommend the West Indies.
Indeed, it was a place to be suffered. Allied to a deadly climate, the
plantocracy was neither urban nor urbane. As Edward Brathwaite has com-
mented perceptively in his important work The Development of Creole Society
in Jamaica, 1770-1820 (1971), the colonies were characterized by a unique
yet crude subtropical frontier slave society, with a functional and practical,
not an aesthetic, focus. The single purpose, therefore, of those in power
was simply to manage the colonial economies. The specter of almost cer-
tain death in a cultural wasteland was a powerful motive that induced
West Indian proprietors to absent themselves from the region. This need

xvi Preface

to escape what some view as a completely miserable landscape unfortu-
nately has survived to the present. In 1962, V. S. Naipaul, the Trinidadian
expatriate novelist, wrote invidiously and incorrectly in The Middle Passage
that "History is built around achievement and creation, and nothing was
created in the West Indies." A deadly prison to African slaves and their
white overlords, without charm, and, to some, lacking a history worthy of
study, the West Indies never really captured the public's imagination or,
until quite recently, uninterrupted scrutiny by the scholarly community.
Second, beginning in the nineteenth century, the British army's central
administration in London treated the West Indian garrison as a military
backwater. It was, for example, the War Office's policy to assign those
cadets who passed lowest out of the Royal Military College at Sandhurst to
the West Indian regiments. The relative obscurity of the West Indian gar-
rison is undoubtedly linked in no small way to its demonstrably inferior
status within the hierarchical structure of the British imperial army.
This book is the first in-depth study of Britain's West Indian army. It is
a social and political history of a military community that is shaped and
defined in an era of revolutionary change: the period of the French revo-
lutionary and Napoleonic wars that shook the entire Atlantic world at the
end of the eighteenth century. The general theme of the military and soci-
ety provides the foundation for this study. The book shows that in order
for the British army to carry out its mission of defense of the British West
Indies, it had to adapt to the distinctive ecological, social, cultural, and
economic conditions of the region. It is a story of conflict. At the heart of
the struggle was the deadly environment of the region. Conflict was simi-
larly at the core of all civil-military relations. In fact, a kind of cold war
existed between the imperial army and white creole society. Perhaps the
most compelling feature of the book is its notion that the military, or more
precisely the West Indian garrison, was a community-that is, a complex
social organism containing representatives of many social groups all with
systematic linkages to the surrounding plantation societies. In many ways,
the garrison was a product of the interaction between British society on
the one hand and the colonial British West Indian plantation societies on
the other.
The book is structured thematically. Part One begins with the question
of background: chapter 1 describes the West Indian physical environment
and how it helped dramatically to shape warfare and military service in
the region, and chapter 2 focuses on the origins and development of a
permanent imperial military presence in the West Indies. Part Two exam-
ines the diverse demographic composition of the West Indian garrison:

Preface xvii

chapter 3 deals with the various soldier groups-British and continental,
white and black, men and young boys-who constitute the garrison, and
chapter 4 sheds light on the several noncombatant groups whose activities
and services were vital to the success of the mission of the British army in
the West Indies. Chapter 4 also discusses the garrison's women and chil-
dren, black and white, whose presence helped to create a more congenial
social situation. Part Three marks the book's internal transition to the cen-
tral question of inevitable conflict: chapter 5 explores the cold war that
existed between the army and the local Creole political establishments,
chapter 6 examines the brutal nature of the British military justice system
in the region, and chapters 7 and 8 treat the wars-one against a political
enemy, the other against an epidemiological one. Finally, Part Four en-
deavors to take a more intimate look at soldiering in the West Indies: chapter
9 attempts to re-create a day in the life of the garrison, while chapter 10
briefly looks at how survivors of soldiering in the West Indies were marked
by their hard service in the islands.
This book has several aims. The first is to examine, by means of recon-
struction, the inner life of the British West Indian garrison: namely, its
organization and the conditions under which its members-black and white,
male and female-lived, served, and usually died. The book's second aim
is to examine the relationship between the royal garrison, governed by its
own law which it took overseas, and the dominant Creole society, which
was marked at the time by a long tradition of local political autonomy,
solidarity of a tiny ruling class composed of whites with vested interests in
slaveholding, and by a determined opposition to external interference
and direction from the metropolitan government. The third purpose in
writing this book is to demonstrate that the British West Indian garrison
was a vital institution of Creole society and an important instrument of
social change. A fourth goal is to re-create the sense of dramatic journey
and adventure experienced by the tens of thousands of British soldiers and
their dependents who served in the West Indian garrison. A considerable
part of the book examines their existence in and responses to an unknown
universe. My final reason for undertaking this study is to begin the long
scholarly process that will one day encourage someone to write a full his-
tory of the British army in the West Indies.
This book is built on a great body of largely unused manuscript mate-
rial, mined over the years in numerous public and private archives in Eu-
rope, North America, and the West Indies. It is also based on an analysis of
hundreds of printed sources.
This book encompasses the period of the wars of the French Revolution

xviii Preface

and Napoleon, 1792-1815. To concentrate on Great Britain's West Indian
garrison during the 1792-1815 war is to focus on perhaps the most critical
period in the history of the imperial army in the region. The rebellions of
free persons of color and of slaves in the French West Indies, which fol-
lowed the spread of the French Revolution's egalitarian principles of lib-
erty, equality, and fraternity, plunged Britain into war in 1793 to seize
these colonies. In March 1795, revolution and race war spread in the Brit-
ish islands of Grenada and St. Vincent. Disturbances erupted in Jamaica in
July of the same year, when French agents provocateurs probably helped
to foment war among the Trelawney Maroons, "transfrontier" Africans
who had successfully escaped from slavery to seek their freedom in the
rugged interior of the island. Altogether, Britain's efforts to capture the
French islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, and St. Domingue,
and to avert a full-scale revolution in England's own colonies, resulted in
the unprecedented imposition of large numbers of British troops into the
region. More importantly, a new imperial policy of legislative interference
in the government of the West Indian colonies began to emerge, one that
eventually would lead to the introduction of crown colony government
for those islands conquered from Britain's enemies and a reconstruction of
that in the old British islands. Prominent in the development of this new
system of colonial government was the British West Indian garrison.
I would have liked to examine, in depth, the numerous British military
operations that occurred throughout the region. This, however, is a vast
separate subject. Fortunately, this story has been well told by John W.
Fortescue and Michael Duffy. Nonetheless, I have given some attention to
these campaigns as well as to the relationship between them and garrison
life. Of necessity, then, this book is essentially a study of what Reginald
Hargreaves calls the "waiting about time," that period of inaction which
filled up more of the soldier's life than the actual business of killing on the
In an effort to keep the project within manageable limits, I have di-
rected my attention to those military camps that comprised the Jamaica
command and the Windward and Leeward Islands command, the princi-
pal administrative units of the British West Indian army. The former, which
reported separately to London on the state of the command, included bases
at Jamaica, the Bahamas, Bermuda, and the Honduras Settlement (as Belize
was then known). The latter command, with its headquarters at Barbados,
comprised camps at Antigua, Barbados, Demerara-Berbice-Essequibo (as
Guyana was then called), Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent,
Tobago, and Trinidad. Much less attention is given to those camps installed

Preface xix

in colonies conquered during the long war and ultimately returned to
Denmark, the Netherlands, France, and Sweden with the establishment of
a definitive peace in 1815. These included posts at Curacao, Guadeloupe,
Martinique, St. Bartholomew, St. Croix, St. Domingue, St. Eustatius, St.
Martin, St. Thomas, the Saints, and Suriname.
Although this is a study of the British West Indian garrison, some at-
tempt has been made to look at the similar and dissimilar experiences of
the Danish, Dutch, and French garrisons in the region. This effort is un-
derscored by my archive work in Denmark, France, and the Netherlands.

Many years ago my wonderful and wise Trinidad-born mother solemnly
advised me always to "give credit where credit is due." The occasion which
prompted that counsel is long forgotten, but not the judicious advice which
obviously stuck in my memory. Because numerous individuals and insti-
tutions assisted me mightily in every phase of the production of this book,
it is now time to heed that guidance and give credit where it is justly due.
Without financial assistance I could not have undertaken the consider-
able travel that was necessary in the preparation of this study. To the So-
cial Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the American
Council of Learned Societies, the University of Hartford, the Osler Medical
Library Fellowship Program at McGill University, the John Carter Brown
Library at Brown University, and the Research Foundation of the Univer-
sity of Connecticut, I am profoundly grateful. I owe my heaviest debt of all
to the National Endowment for Humanities in Washington, D.C., for its
generous support over the years-particularly a Basic Research Award.
I also wish to identify certain individuals, in the Old World and the
New, who rendered signal services: some invaluable for their technical
assistance, others for their liberality in lending me materials, and still oth-
ers for their intellectual and literary criticism, which has made this study
more readable and my arguments more convincing. All, however, are dis-
tinguished by their invariable willingness to be helpful. I thank them most
sincerely. They are: J. C. Andrews, Chief Librarian, Ministry of Defence,
U.K.; Michael Barthorp, Jersey Channel Islands, U.K.; Riva Berleant-
Schiller, University of Connecticut; the late Ursula Betts Bower, Hamp-
shire, U.K.; Peter F. Campbell, St. Michael, Barbados; Betty Carrillo, Bar-
bados Museum and Historical Society, St. Ann's Garrison, Barbados; Philippa
Casimir, National Army Museum, London; Marcel Chatillon, Les Abymes,
Guadeloupe; E. Condil, Rigsarkivet, Copenhagen; Edward Cox, Rice Uni-
versity; W. D. Cribbs, Waterlooville, U.K.; Alissandra Cummins, Barbados
Museum and Historical Society; J. M. Fewster, University of Durham, U.K.;

xx Preface

David Fieldhouse, Oxford University; John Garland, Norfolk, U.K.; Philippe
Grandjean, Odense University, Denmark; William Hare, University of Con-
necticut; Peter Harrington, Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, Brown
University; Mike Hartland, Barbados Defense Force; Lennox Honychurch,
Dominica; Felicia Home, Buckinghamshire, U.K.; Heather Nancy Wills
Jesserun, Sydney, Australia; G.J. Kerkhoven, Koninklijk Nederlands Leger-
en Wapenmuseum, Leiden, The Netherlands; W. Wayne Lautt, University
of Saskatchewan; D. Lloyd Matheson, St. Kitts; Desmond Nicholson,
Antigua; S. F. M. Plantinga, Algemeen Rijksarchief, The Hague; J. P. Puype,
Scheepvaart Museum, Amsterdam; Inga Rasmussen, Tojhusmuseet,
Copenhagen; S. M. Riley, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, U.K.;
John Shaw, Scottish Record Office, Edinburgh; Jill Sheppard, Barbados;
Joan Sussler, Lewis Walpole Library, Farmington, Connecticut; Gerard J.
Telkamp, University of Leiden, The Netherlands; Karen Thogersen, Niva,
Denmark; E. H. Wade, Jamaica Defense Force; and Faith Wallis, McGill
University. Naturally, those who have helped me bear no responsibility
for any omissions or errors in the book; they are entirely my own.


The Environmental Setting
and Development
of the West Indian Garrison

Chapter 1

Adjusting to the

West Indian Physical Environment

When called upon to describe the West Indian islands, the objects of so
much ambition and desire, informed observers often forgo the typical and,
instead, seek the authority of their imagination. There are any number of
these literary embellishments of the topographic landscape. To a scientist,
for example, the islands of the Lesser Antilles stretch across the entrance
to the Caribbean Sea "like the piers of a bridge"; a historian likened them
to an "inclined backbone"; a seasoned traveler observed that they resemble
the serrated dorsal fin of some prehistoric sea creature-largely below,
partially above the deep blue-green waters.' But Bryan Edwards, the eigh-
teenth-century Jamaican settler/historian who possessed considerable geo-
graphic knowledge of the region and a capacity for comparison, waxed
the warmest about the basic physical features of the West Indies. In his
History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies, we have
an intoxicated view. Edwards had gone figuratively and (perhaps) literally
to the mountaintop where "To an unaccustomed spectator, looking down
from those heights, the whole scene appears like enchantment." The West
Indies lay at his feet in all their serene and grand substantialities of natural
beauty. "The first object which catches the eye at the dawn of day," he
continued, "is a vast expanse of vapor, covering the whole face of the
vallies. Its boundaries being perfectly distinct, and visibly circumscribed, it
has exact resemblance of an immense body of water, while the mountains
appear like so many islands in the midst of a beautiful lake." All the em-
pirical evidence that Edwards had garnered while exploring the landscape,
vegetation, and atmosphere of the West Indies suggested to him that many
of the islands were young, still in the process of "beginning to emerge
from the bosom of the deep."2
Lowell Joseph Ragatz's assessment of Edwards's History is important. In
his classic study of the British West Indies, Ragatz dismissed it, despite its

4 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

evident literary qualities, as essentially a cleverly deceptive defense of British
planters and their economic interests, which, during the 1790s, had come
under mounting criticism from abolitionists in their campaign against
Britain's slave trade and the deplorable conditions under which slaves ex-
isted in the West Indies. The main importance of Edwards's History, ac-
cording to Ragatz, is that it represents the most articulate voice raised on
behalf of the planters and their interests.3
Ragatz's conclusion is harsh but, nonetheless, correct. Edwards's apolo-
getic history of the British West Indies results from his membership squarely
within Jamaica's old planter class. As a Jamaican planter, Edwards's per-
sonal fortune depended on the continued domination of the West Indian
planters and merchants in the expanding British economy. In addition to
his large properties in Jamaica, Edwards served in that island's assembly
and council. He also held a seat in the House of Commons in London from
1796 until his death in 1800.4
All this notwithstanding, the language Edwards employed in his History
suggests that he also was influenced by the growing empirical method of
the study of nature. Toward the close of the eighteenth century, this move-
ment was beginning to supplant the neoclassical approach, which held
that one should come to an understanding of nature by studying closely
the masterpieces of the artists of antiquity and their Renaissance disciples.5
Edwards also may have been one of a growing number of naturalists who
believed that nature in its noblest form was to be found only in the torrid
zone, where the keen observer could study at successive altitudes all veg-
etal forms as well as the stars of the northern and southern nighttime
heavens. With his evident feelings for impressions and scenes of mist and
mountains, one could certainly say that Edwards was something of a ro-
mantic. Thus, in his description of the West Indian islands, the romantic
vision of the land as the tops of lofty mountains in a lake of mist is grafted
onto an astute suggestion of what geologists now recognize as the volca-
nic genesis of much of the region.
The physical geography of the West Indies has been one of the domi-
nant forces in shaping the life and society of the region. The islands are an
archipelago. Stretching in a great green crescent curving eastward some
2,500 miles from the Florida Peninsula in the north to the mouth of the
Orinoco River in the south, they number in the thousands. They divide
the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico to the north and form a jagged
breakwater against the onrushing Atlantic to the east. To the west, across
the circulating expanse of the Caribbean Sea, is the mainland, that curve
of the South and Central American coastline that sweeps southward from

Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 5

the Yucatan Peninsula to the Orinoco River and embraces what are now
the shores of southern Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica,
Panama, Colombia, and Venezuela.
The islands of the West Indies fall into two great links. The main link is
to the west, the Greater Antilles, and comprises Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica,
and Puerto Rico. The total area of these islands is slightly more than 91,000
square miles, of which Cuba is somewhat more than 44,000. The smaller
link forms the Lesser Antilles. With an aggregate area of less than 10,000
square miles, these islands stretch from the Virgin Islands in the north to
Grenada in the south. The naming of these islands has caused some con-
fusion. Today, the Leeward Islands are the northern portion of the chain
and include the Virgin Islands, Anguilla, St. Martin, St. Bartholomew, Saba,
St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, Nevis, Barbudo, Antigua, Montserrat, and Guade-
loupe and its neighboring islands. The southern tier-the Windward group
of islands-comprises Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia, Barbados, St. Vin-
cent, the Grenadines, and Grenada. During Spain's hegemony in the re-
gion, the whole of the Lesser Antilles, from the Virgin Islands southward
to Trinidad, were known as the Windward Islands (Isla de Barlovento). Fi-
nally, on the continental fringes of these island chains lie the Bahamas,
Trinidad and Tobago, and the numerous islands off the Central and South
American coasts.6
Perhaps, as Bruce B. Solnick observes, a more meaningful division of
the West Indies would acknowledge the major geologic differences within
the long chain of dark green islands. The Greater Antilles are the eastern
extension of the Central American protaxis, one branch of which passes
from Honduras and northern Nicaragua across the submerged Honduran
plateau to Jamaica and from there into the southern area of Haiti and the
Dominican Republic, while another branch, the ranges of Guatemala and
Belize, appear to pass through the Cayman Islands and continue through
eastern Cuba and across the northern region of Haiti and the Dominican
Republic. At Hispaniola, the Antillean protaxis also joins with the acces-
sory ranges from Cuba, and from there they continue eastward together
as a single system, passing through Puerto Rico and thence to the Virgin
Islands. The Bahamas belong to this region since they are sections of the
foreland in front of the Greater Antilles.
The Lesser Antilles are islands of almost wholly volcanic construction,
yet they may be divided into two distinct groups. An older series of is-
lands, located in the northeastern portion of the archipelago, originated
from submarine volcanic growths which subsequently rose into islands, as
Bryan Edwards suggested, and then subsided deeply enough to accumu-

Br MH J.

4 ^ 1 -

Roseau, Dominica 1837. Lieutenant Caddy, Author's Collection.


.~LBIP- .

Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 7

late eventually a thick limestone cap. This group includes, for example, St.
Martin, Anguilla, and Antigua, all of which characteristically are low-stand-
ing islands that now have no volcanic activity. A second arc of geologically
younger islands constitutes an active volcanic province. Many of these
islands contain knots of volcanic mountains, or mornes or pitons. This chain
begins with Saba, in the northern Leewards, and continues southward
through St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica,
Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and the Grenadines before terminating
in Grenada. These islands have towering peaks, several well in excess of
4,500 feet. Steep verdant slopes and narrow coastal ledges and river val-
leys are additional characteristics. Dominica is perhaps typical, and Lieu-
tenant Caddy, a British army artillery officer, accurately captured the physi-
cal construction of the imposing island as well as the sense of nature's
dominion over all. It is high, lush, rugged and wet, and its central ridge
rises to nearly 5,000 feet into the air, with a sheer drop to sea on all sides.
Roseau, the capital, is located on the lee side of the island and is perched
tentatively on a narrow shelf which then plunges steeply downward be-
neath the surface of the Caribbean to a depth of more than 2,000 feet.
A number of these islands also have well preserved and still more or
less active volcanoes. The most notable is Mount Pelee on Martinique,
which erupted on 8 May 1902, destroying the city of St. Pierre and killing
about 40,000 people. About one-fifth of Martinique lay under the im-
mense wreckage of blazing debris and molten lava. Fine ash blasted into
the skies by the fury of the eruption fell 1,000 miles from the fuming vol-
cano. The exceptionally violent nature of the explosion qualifies this di-
saster as the worst natural calamity in the recorded history of the West
Finally, an outer arc of relatively flat islands is located at the southern
terminus of the West Indian archipelago. This region includes Aruba,
Curacao, Bonaire, Margarita, and Trinidad (which are detached fragments
of mainland South America) and the offshore island horsts of Tobago and
In various archives in Britain are preserved army officers' sketches of
the coastal profiles (as well as other topographical views) of West Indian
islands.9 The drawing of coastal profiles was part of the growing empiri-
cism of the eighteenth century, when professional artists and nautical and
scientific draftsmen took a keen interest in off-shore views of coasts and
harbors as well as atmospheric phenomena. It was considered essential for
sailors to possess coastal profiles and harbor views as a practical guide to
the identification of coasts.'0 Soldiers en route to or stationed in the West

8 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

Fort Royal, Martinique and Environs, 1809. Public Record Office, Kew Gardens,

Indies also caught the contagion and readily took to the naval practice,
producing curiously interesting coastal profiles that may not have quite
equaled Royal Navy standards." Such drawings of West Indian land forms
were often intended for publication in sketchbooks and as illustrations to
supplement written accounts of journals and diaries kept by officers and a
few other ranks. A more immediate reason for the soldiers' interest, how-
ever, was undoubtedly their emotional response to what may have ap-
peared to newcomers to the West Indies as the extraordinary whimsy of
nature. Since the West Indian islands are, in the main, the summits of
lofty mountains and jagged volcanic heaps, many have singularly remark-
able shapes.12
Noticeably missing from Edwards's description of West Indian moun-
tains is any sign of traditional European fears of mountainous regions as
habitats of dread or dark otherworlds. Like the English poet William
Wordsworth, Edwards felt the romantic force of the mountains. Even al-
lowing for some exaggeration (Edwards's idyllic view of mountains may
have been refracted by politics and the marketplace, he may have been

Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 9

moved by the enchanting majesty of the landscape, 3 or he may have been
influenced by both), the mountains of the West Indies are the quintes-
sence of the physical environment.
If Edwards did not tremble in the presence of mountains as his English
ancestors certainly did,'" these awesome formations, clothed in dark green
old-growth tropical forests, were still daunting. It is not enough to de-
scribe them as merely rugged, steep, or tall-which, of course, they are.
They are more: a composite of cross-ridges and fertile valleys running at
times in different directions with no apparent pattern, like a tide-ripped
sea abruptly solidified. A topographical study of the environs of Fort Royal,
Martinique," prepared in 1809 by Charles Shipley, the commanding of-
ficer of the Royal Engineers, provides a glimpse of this. A jumble of volca-
nic mornes lap around the sides of the town in their seaward thrust.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that sharp-eyed newcomers to the West
Indies, like Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Whalley Light, the commander
of the 25th Regiment, were struck by the physical appearance of the is-
lands. What he and other newcomers experienced was an oppositional
world: little was familiar to them. Light's response to the landscape was
pallid, however: he used the word "mountainous" again and again.
Grenada, for example, was "mountainous." St. Vincent was intersected
with numerous streams and rivers, and it was "mountainous." Martinique
was heavily wooded and also "mountainous." Dominica likewise was
"mountainous." Antigua, on the other hand, was not "mountainous"; nor
was Barbados. And when he attempted to wax warmly about a particu-
larly wondrous sight, his language remained lifeless. Thus, the dark green
flat table of Marie-Galante, a dependency of Guadeloupe, was "very moun-
Light lacked the descriptive gifts of a Bryan Edwards. Perhaps he also
lacked an eye for beauty and, as a result, was unable to see the dramatic
grandeur of the West Indies. Because of this shortcoming, no literary color
graced his prose. But however limited his vocabulary may have been, he
demonstrated an interest in the delineation of the geographical features of
the West Indian landscape. The Geological Society had been established in
England in 1807, and geology was a fashionable enthusiasm at the time-
which may help to explain Light's interests in topography. His interest in
the West Indian environmental setting found expression in a number of
remarkable pen-and-ink drawings of the coasts and interiors of several
islands. Light's evident fondness for drawing extended primarily, how-
ever, to sketches of West Indian garrison life, which, along with a com-
panion "Treatise," provide a great wealth of evidence regarding topogra-

10 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

-J. .

5-- :
-'-. x_5---..z.-^ -*-

Offshore View of Basseterre, Guadeloupe. Views in the West Indies, 1811-1814.
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Whalley Light, Public Record Office, Kew Gardens,

phy, geology, military medicine and engineering, race relations, women
and children, military strategy, demography, local economic conditions,
and other aspects. The scenes, which are essentially documentary panora-
mas, were drawn on the spot with a kind of primitive insistence on preci-
sion and detail. Several include people: soldiers, their wives and children,
and slaves. Numbering more than thirty, Light's drawings were published
around 1820 under the title Views in the West Indies, 1811-1814.16
Mountains are the most dramatic of landscapes. Thus, during the Ro-
mantic revolution in the arts, those writers who were caught under the
spell of the mountains and nature tended to express themselves in ex-
travagant displays of literary color. Edwards did. But the power of the
mountains did more than inspire romantic sentiments. The West Indian
mountains were put to practical use. In war, action always must be adapted
to circumstances. Thus, in West Indian warfare, the mountains were mili-
tarized. No part of what remained of this terrestrial paradise was to be
An important concomitant to the wealth of the West Indian colonies
was the need for each island to have a secured waterway where its mer-
chant shipping could lie safe. By the middle of the eighteenth century,
virtually every island had one or more fortified coastal area, where the
trade collected. Coastal (that is, sea-level) strongholds ranged from mas-

Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 11

sive central fortresses like Fort St. Louis, Martinique, to a cluster of smaller
forts that protected Carlisle Bay, Barbados. This policy, however, was not
sufficient to adequately protect commerce, which was the raison d'etre of
the West Indian colonies. Hardy and determined enemies had only to wrest
control of the heights that invariably commanded West Indian coastal towns
in order to threaten the security of convoy collection points and thus drive
the shipping out into dangerous open waters. Lieutenant Colonel Light's
contemporary off-shore drawing of the harbor of Basseterre, Guadeloupe,
dramatically demonstrates the strategic importance of the mountainous
interior of West Indian islands and its relationship to commerce protec-
tion. Fort Charles, the large fortress off to the right of the town, is com-
pletely commanded by several successive lines of hills, each of which is
higher than the previous one as they collectively recede from the coast
and gain in elevation until they terminate in a fuming Mount Soufriere.
An enterprising enemy in possession of these heights makes the defense
of the fortress and, concomitantly, the town and the trade, utterly unten-
able. Thus it was necessary to provide better security for merchant ship-
ping by fortifying strategically important hills and mornes.
Two options were available to those with responsibility for their islands.
Typically, rearward approaches to strategic coastal areas through adjacent
high ground were protected by a string of tactically important batteries
and redoubts. Fort Charles and, in turn, Basseterre were protected in this
manner. Because Fort Royal (now Fort de France), Martinique, was the
principal French naval base in the West Indies, its defenses were greatly
strengthened by the addition of a massive citadel, Fort Desaix, reputedly
the most powerful fortress in the West Indies. Constructed on a spur a
little more than a half-mile to the north of Fort Royal, it commanded both
Fort Royal and the stronghold that defended it at sea level, Fort St. Louis."
But even Fort Desaix was not immune from attack. The spur on which
it sat was itself commanded by a higher one, about a quarter-mile to the
northeast. The French, therefore, found it necessary to establish a strong
redoubt on this higher elevation as a protective measure. As all this sug-
gests, an essential feature of West Indian warfare-particularly during the
1792-1815 war, when there was considerable fighting in the interior of
many of the islands-was the necessity of taking the hill that commanded
another. This raises the question of the value of mountain fortifications,
which invariably were built in the shadows of hills that commanded them.
Why were they constructed, often at great cost, if their value was immedi-
ately doubtful? Did those charged with the responsibility of protecting their
islands from war and the rumor of war stop to ask themselves this ques-

12 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

tion? They did. In explaining their construction, they expressed the belief
that these fortifications, despite their weaknesses, would delay attack for
some weeks until enemy personnel began to sicken and die from the oc-
cupational diseases of typhus, dysentery, and relapsing fever in concert
with the ravages of malaria and yellow fever. It was all a gamble; but be-
cause of the invincible belief in the value of the commerce of the West
Indian islands, the rival European powers were prepared to fight and die
in what can be described as the roof of the West Indies.
Waging war in the interior of West Indian islands was made arduous by
the immense natural barriers of the landscape. Burdened with their weap-
ons and equipment, troops had to move cautiously along narrow tracks
cut into the sides of precipitous mountain ravines. The only way across
these deep clefts in the rock was over narrow bridges, the approaches to
which could be easily defended. Along the same route, tons of artillery,
ammunition, food, and engineer stores had to be hauled. Few draft ani-
mals were available for use in these expeditions; therefore, heavy equip-
ment had to be heaved by men in an immense labor under the blazing
heat of an unremitting sun. We can imagine long columns of grim, sweaty,
cursing, lurching men as they hoisted their burdens up steep slopes, labor-
ing under the added hardship of thirst. Francis Parkman's vivid descrip-
tion of the appalling difficulties of military transport in the interior wastes
of Canada during the Seven Years' War (1756-63) aptly sums up the ex-
traordinary challenge of mountain warfare in the West Indies. "Canada,"
noted the famous historian, "was fortified with vast outworks of defences
in the savage forests, marshes, and mountains that encompassed her, where
the thoroughfares were streams choked with fallen trees and obstructed
by cataracts. Never was the problem of moving troops encumbered by ar-
tillery and baggage a more difficult one. The question was less how to
fight an enemy than how to get at him."8
There are numerous instances of troops called upon to wage war on
the slopes of razor-edged West Indian ridges. Take, for example, the affair
at the Nosier Bridge during British operations against the French island of
Martinique from 30 January to 24 February 1809. The chief center of
French resistance was Fort Desaix. The British plan was for one wing of
their expeditionary force to land on the southeast coast and secure the
anchorage of Fort Royal Bay for the use of the Royal Navy. A second wing
was to land on Martinique's east coast and by a swift movement overland
seize the important heights which commanded Fort Desaix to the north
and northwest. Thereafter, both wings were to join and bombard the for-
midable fortress into submission. As invariably happens in war, plans failed

Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 13

Nosier Bridge Pass. Views in the West Indies, 1811-1814, Lieutenant Colonel
Alexander Whalley Light, Public Record Office Kew Gardens, U.K.

to proceed according to schedule. One column was prevented from cross-
ing the tactically important Nosier Bridge by a force positioned on the
opposite end of the bridge and by flanking fire from a battery high up on a
nearby hill. Light's drawing of the "Nosier Bridge Pass," with the threat-
ening, fuming cone of Mount Soufriere in the top background, accurately
conveys the power of the mountains. The land grips the imagination. There
is the feeling of envelopment and isolation. The column was motionless,
unable to move forward to its objective, when, according to Light, a Brit-
ish scouting party discovered an "unfrequented" trail which "it was thought

: iBC*

14 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

only a monkey could traverse." This opportune discovery enabled the stalled
column eventually to outflank and thus carry the battery and brush aside
the enemy troops covering the bridge. With the French defenses forced,
the British column pushed forward over the bridge to assist in the siege of
Fort Desaix, which surrendered on 24 February. With that, the entire colony
capitulated on the same day."9
In the bottom foreground of the "Nosier Bridge Pass" appears a senior
British officer in full military dress. Attended by a dutiful slave, he stands,
sketchbook in hand, amid the primeval wilderness in the act of discover-
ing the environment. This figure is undoubtedly Light. It might be a mis-
take to view Light's insertion of a pictorial representation of himself into
the scene as anything more than an innocent act inspired by an overactive
ego. But there might be another way to consider this matter. During the
early years of the nineteenth century, when Light was serving in the West
Indies, Europeans were still coming to grips with nature, particularly un-
restrained nature-its cataclysms, storms, pestilence, its peculiarities, its
harsh climates. To the European mind, nature, despite its romantic beauty
and nobility, represented a wild, oppositional world. Nowhere, perhaps,
was nature more antagonistic than in exotic aboriginal landscapes like the
West Indies. Thus, when Europeans considered nature it was with a goal
of subjugation born of ignorance and fear. To this mysterious, boundless,
uncultivated unknown, Europeans offered up the tranquillity of the gar-
den. Nature was to be tamed. Light's depiction of himself in the scene can
be viewed as an expression of European estrangement from nature; it was
meant to symbolize civilized progress over wild nature, with the slave placed
in it by way of sharp contrast.20
The mountains of the West Indies were also pitted with other fortifica-
tions, whose location and development had little to do with commerce
protection or the need to protect strategic points. As David Buisseret has
theorized, these strongholds were deodands, or fortified final refuges for
troops and civilians along with their movable property.21 Their origin had
much to do with how the early colonists responded to the need to provide
their islands with the ultimate in military protection. Because their islands
were both large and populous, the inhabitants of the Greater Antilles re-
lied on powerful fortified coastal cities like Port Royal (Jamaica), Havana
(Cuba), Port-au-Prince (Haiti), and San Juan (Puerto Rico). The first set-
tlers in the Lesser Antilles came to a very different conclusion when they
reflected on the essential characteristics of their island homes: small and
compact in size, generally mountainous, and not nearly as populous as
the larger islands to the north. Faced with these hard facts, it is not sur-

Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 15

prising that the colonists sought inaccessibility in impregnable fortresses
built on mountain ridges as their final defense.22 In the course of time, the
principal refuges in the Leeward Islands were Brimstone Hill (St. Kitts),
Saddle Hill (Nevis), Monks Hill (Antigua), St. George's (Montserrat), Dos
d'Ane (Guadeloupe), and Morne Bruce (Dominica). Away to the south,
in the Windwards, the chief retreats were Morne Fortune (St. Lucia), Fort
Charlotte (St. Vincent), St. Ann's Castle (Barbados), Fort George (Grenada),
and Fort George (Tobago).23
The history of West Indian warfare reveals that fortified refuges were
neither impregnable nor inaccessible. When defended in battle, even by
resolute troops, they were usually captured. Nonetheless, they were strik-
ing, formidable structures, as exemplified by the main retreat of St. Lucia.
Morne Fortune towers over the deep, well-sheltered harbor of Castries,
which from the summit appears like a blue lagoon backed on its northern
land rim by a green hill called La Vigie, "The Lookout." It would be a
mistake to conclude that Morne Fortune was intended largely to protect
Castries harbor because of its proximity to it. As Buisseret points out, the
mountain lies about a mile from the principal anchorage.24 At that dis-
tance, it would be impossible for gunners perched on the Morne to fire
down accurately on an enemy attacking the town. The fortress must be
viewed, therefore, as a retreat.
An 1801 drawing prepared by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Shipley of
the Royal Engineers shows the current state of and proposed alterations to
the citadel, Fort Charlotte. The fortress has the generous dimensions and
massive parapets one associates with fortifications of the period. It appears
large enough to house a sizable garrison in permanent shelters as well as
to accommodate a few hundred noncombatants and sufficient livestock.
Being high and mountainous, St. Lucia is a wet island, which provided the
citadel with an excellent freshwater supply to permit the defenders to with-
stand a protracted siege.25 However, the design of the fortress did not re-
flect the most elemental theory of fortification. The ideal fortress achieved,
among other things, a wall of defensive fire created by tightly interlacing
firelanes from bastions protruding from the fortress walls at regular inter-
vals in the distinctive shape of triangular heads. The ability to decimate an
assaulting enemy with enfilading fire is one of the most important assets
of a fortress. In the case of Fort Charlotte, the trace or outline of the for-
tress closely followed the contours of the mountain's crest. This resulted
in an asymmetrical trace, which may help to explain why the fortress was
not protected by bastions along much of its perimeter, particularly its west-
ern face. It was impossible, therefore, to subject an attacking force to flank-

16 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

ing fire along major portions of the trace, and this undoubtedly explains
why during the 1792-1815 war the fortress was repeatedly captured with-
out the need for prolonged and costly sieges.26
It is clear that mountain strongholds offered certain advantages over
coastal fortifications. But it is equally evident that mountain fortresses were
not impregnable. If attacked with sufficient force, intensity, and resolve,
the defenders usually capitulated. Military planners were not blind to this
fact. But the view that mountains naturally lent themselves as places for
efficient fortifications was firmly entrenched in the minds of the military
authorities in London and the West Indies. Fortresses constructed in the
islands may have been, in some cases, only indifferently strong; neverthe-
less, mountain defenses inspired an important sense of civic security and,
for that reason at least, all concerned put their trust in them.
The mountains of the West Indies were militarized in yet another way,
one that had indisputable benefits. During much of its recorded history,
the West Indies were a perfect environment for deadly and crippling dis-
eases. Constantly warm sea-level temperatures and abundant water, which
was vital, were the two principal interrelated factors which contributed to
the lethality of the region. From the seventeenth to the eighteenth centu-
ries, this lethality increased dramatically.27 Consequently, when newcom-
ers entered the area, they encountered a powerful battery of deadly, mys-
terious, and inexorable diseases: yellow fever, malaria, dengue, dysentery,
dropsy, anemia, and encephalopathy, to cite but a few of the leading crip-
plers and killers. The inhabitants of the islands were almost defenseless
against these disorders, not realizing that they were caused by bacteria,
viruses, parasites, and toxic metallic pollutants; that the fragile mosquito
was the deadly vector in yellow fever, malaria, and dengue; that nutri-
tional and hygienic diseases caused dysentery and dropsy; or that lead, a
persistent pollutant in their environment, produced anemia and encepha-
lopathy.28 It was believed, for example, that exhalations of noxious atmo-
sphere from marshes and putrid matter caused malaria. To medical au-
thorities and, of course, to the ordinary person, the menace of miasmas
drifting ghostlike over West Indian wetlands seemed obvious. Moreover,
ignorance of the causes of various fevers among the best medical minds in
the eighteenth century made cures more difficult when diseases struck.
This was evident in their often conflicting and confusing clinical descrip-
tions of intermittent, remittent, quotian, tertian, "double tertian," and
quartan fevers.29
Yet even when the most prominent medical authorities stumbled, there
was still a shining light in this otherwise grim tale. Some hopeful, vital

Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 17

facts were commonly known: that malaria miasmas were found near
swamps; that malaria flourishes particularly in spring, late summer, and
fall; that yellow fever was an urban disease; that nonimmune Europeans
were the most vulnerable to deadly diseases; and that on the ridges of the
high mountains, where the air was cool and tart, Europeans thrived.30
A completely different world existed in the high West Indian moun-
tains. A model statistical study of the sanitary history of the West Indian
garrison from 1817 to 1836, by two reforming army officers, Dr. Henry
Marshall and Lieutenant Alexander Murray Tulloch, described this Shangri-
La high above the heat, stench, and pestilence at low ground. First, the
high mountains had the feel of another world. For example, in Jamaica, at
an elevation of 4,200 feet above sea level, the temperature fluctuated from
a low of 55F to a high of 65"F during the spring, summer, and autumn
months. In winter, the thermometer plunged to a chilly 44'F. By contrast,
the average temperature for Kingston for the six years from 1823 to 1828,
was a sticky 80.5'F, with an average high of 85F and an average low of
76.5F. A gentle, misting rain fell almost throughout the year but never
with the intensity and volume with which rain soaked the low ground.
Thus, the air was cool and humid, creating a clinging dank mist. Second,
the high mountains had the look of a different world. Due to the low
temperatures and the steady but light rainfall, tropical vegetation gave way
to that of the temperate region.31
Marshall and Tulloch's remarks regarding those who dwelled in
Jamaica's uplands were as exuberant as they were emphatic: "The inhab-
itants are said to enjoy a degree of longevity rarely attained in other coun-
tries, and to exhibit that ruddy glow of health which marks the counte-
nance in northern climes, and forms a striking contrast to the pallid, sickly
residents of the less elevated districts." However, Marshall and Tulloch
declined to extend these claims to the West Indies as a whole, deducing
that "The diseases of the tropics seem, like the vegetable productions of
the same regions, to be restricted to certain altitudes and particular de-
grees of temperature." Drawing upon the work of Alexander von Humboldt,
the famous German naturalist and explorer, they added that "yellow fever
is never known beyond the height of 2,500 feet, so that the nearer this
boundary can be approached the more likely is the health of the troops to
be secured."32
To determine whether there a was specific altitude below which the
tropics resumed and pestilences returned, Marshall and Tulloch compared
the medical returns of twenty-seven British army posts in Jamaica. These
ranged from seacoast stations to those in the foothills of the Blue Moun-

18 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

tains, a long serrated backbone of mountains with ridges sweeping up to
peaks of 5,000 to 6,000 feet jumbled around the 7,402 feet of the great
Blue Mountain Peak. Their landmark study revealed that garrisons close
to the sea were generally the most harmful to health (e.g., the fort at
Montego Bay with a death rate of 178 per 1,000), compared to the rela-
tive salubrity among the troops at Maroon Town, which was located at an
altitude of 2,000 feet and which had a mortality rate of 32.7 per 1,000. It
was clear to the researchers that a reciprocal relationship existed between
a post's altitude and the health of the troops quartered there. With specific
regard to yellow fever, they deduced that "beyond a doubt ... at an eleva-
tion of from 2,000 to 2,500 feet, they are likely to be either wholly exempt
from that disease or to encounter it in so modified a form, that the mortal-
ity from all causes will not on the average of a series of years, materially
exceed that to which an equal number of European troops would be sub-
ject in the capital of their native country." They added that healthy condi-
tions improved dramatically at even higher elevations: "While the pesti-
lence of yellow fever rages in low grounds, .. the elevated regions enjoy
a complete immunity from its effects for that bane of European life has
never been known, in any climate, to extend beyond the height of 2500
feet." Marshall and Tulloch concluded their study in military medical sta-
tistics by recommending (among other things) the construction of bigger
and better ventilated permanent barracks in the high mountains."
Marshall and Tulloch were unable to give proof to their deductions con-
cerning the evident link between altitude and health. Nonetheless, mod-
ern medicine has established that such local climatic and environmental
conditions as, for instance, seasonal variations of temperature, are among
the important interrelated factors that contribute to the level of transmis-
sion of yellow fever and malaria.34 For example, the swamp-dwelling
Anopheles mosquito, the vector that carries the malaria pathogen from
one host to another, will neither bite nor lay her eggs in temperatures
lower than 60.8"F. As we have seen, the temperature in the mountains
drops frequently enough into the lower ranges to interrupt the breeding
cycle of the malaria pathogen, thus helping to account for the salubrious
reputation of the region. It should also be noted that the optimal environ-
mental conditions for malaria transmission occurs at temperatures of 68F
to 86F. Malaria is thus profoundly affected by the heat or cold of an envi-
Marshall and Tulloch's call for permanent mountain barracks came to
the attention of British officialdom in 1838 with the publication of their
Statistical Report on the Sickness, Mortality, and Invaliding among the Troops in

Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 19

the West Indies. The report included an invaluable statistical classification of
disease, providing detailed information about the relative insalubrity of
every British army post in the West Indies. A more thorough, comprehen-
sive, prudent, and scholarly study of the vital health statistics of the Brit-
ish army would have been impossible to find at the time. Nonetheless, the
British government was still reluctant to authorize the construction of a
permanent mountain station. It would further require the efforts of some-
one at the scene of the inexorable destruction of the British army. That
person proved to be Sir William Gomm, a veteran of the wars against revo-
lutionary France and Napoleon, and lieutenant governor of Jamaica from
1840 to 1841. Appalled at the dangerous ignorance displayed by military
authorities in London and Jamaica in insisting on sending British soldiers
and their families to certain death in posts that were hotbeds of disease,
Gomm began relentlessly to badger the War Office in London to establish
a mountain station a few miles to the north of fever-ridden Kingston soon
after taking up his post. His determination quickly bore fruit. In May 1841,
London finally sanctioned his efforts to build what is thought to be the
first permanent mountain station in the British West Indies, at Newcastle
in the southern parish of Saint Andrew.36
The site selected was a coffee plantation that rambled along a long, slop-
ing ridge protruding from the southern face of the grand ridge of the Blue
Mountains. By 1845 Newcastle station was fully operational. The various
buildings of the camp sat on a series of steplike terraces cut into the spine
of the ridge between 3,500 and 4,500 feet above sea level. On the bottom
step stood the station church and the burial ground. Soldiers' barracks,
principally, and the spacious void of the parade ground occupied the middle
steps of the camp. Here, too, was the largest building, the hospital, which
overlooked the parade. And tucked away to one side of the hospital on a
little spur, discreetly out of sight of the sick, was the "Dead House." The
place where British soldiers slept was defined by rank. Unlike the officers
of the French Army of the period, who had considerable social contact
with their rank and file, British officers, who were for the most part prod-
ucts of an elitist and rigid social order, were out of touch with and out of
sympathy with the men they led. Thus, it is not surprising that the upper
levels of the station were the reserve of the officers. Here the landscape
was dotted with their "cottages," quarters for their personal servants, horse
stables, their mess and kitchens, privies, and buildings housing various
other support services.7
A photograph of the camp, taken around 1883, reveals the steep and
rugged relief of this upland region. It also discloses the changed landscape

20 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

Newcastle Mountain Station, c. 1883. Rare Books and Special Collections,
McLennan Library, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.

of much of the Blue Mountains. In former times, the thin soil and abun-
dant rainfall of the region supported a dense woodland of tree ferns and
other long-established vegetation. As the photograph reveals, however,
the high slopes of the Blue Mountains have been largely denuded of their
original native vegetation. Some of the clearing was undoubtedly done for
growing of provisions. Land clearing was also the result of efforts to con-
vert the original multispecies ecosystem into one favoring a single culti-
vated plant-coffee. However, the nearby city of Kingston's insatiable de-
mand for firewood and charcoal was no doubt the principal reason for
destroying the forest. What remains are widely scattered groves of tree
and scrubby bush in a largely barren landscape.38
Lord Olivier, governor of Jamaica from 1907 to 1913, lamented the
destruction of the old high mountain woodlands in his compassionate study
Jamaica: The Blessed Islands. "The general impression of the surviving wood-
land," he wrote after revisiting the island after a long absence, "was cheaper
and less richly beautiful than it had been."39 But that was then. At the
time the Newcastle mountain station was established, the rocky ridges were
still largely wrapped in the native verdure. Of course, wildlife teemed among
the low trees and on the ground, which was coated with shrubs, rotting
leaves, and old leaf mold. This beautiful and harmonious face of the up-

Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 21

land made its inevitable and predictable impressions on strangers like
Godfrey Rhodes, a young officer in the 60th (Royal American) Regiment
after he arrived at Newcastle in the spring of 1842. What he saw enthralled
him: "Humming birds built their nests in coffee trees. Rock-Pidgeons were
abundant, also ground grouse rank about the roads and ravines, whilst
strawberries grew on the higher hills called St. Catherine. The coffee trees
were cropped twice a year, in April and October. The flowers were white
and fragrant. Orange trees were on the hills and produced fruit in abun-
The decision to establish a high-altitude station at Newcastle quickly
and dramatically paid off in lives saved. Two random examples will dem-
onstrate the splendid results that confirmed Marshall and Tulloch's find-
ings. In 1842, the 2nd Battalion/60th Regiment reported 24 deaths out of
a total strength of at least 600, which included women and children. Among
the fortunate men of the 60th was Godfrey Rhodes, who, as we have al-
ready seen, delighted in his scenic mountain perch, despite the fact that
he and other brother officers had to live "for a long period" under canvas
until permanent shingle-roofed houses were constructed for them. Five
years later, the 38th Regiment experienced the same pure, sustaining air
of Newcastle as did the Royal Americans before them. As they labored up
the narrow, zigzagging road and away from the fatal environment below,
they too felt the air become cooler and sensibly moister due to the con-
densation of the atmosphere forced up into the mountains by strong breezes
coming off the sea below. In the whole of 1847 a mere seven deaths oc-
curred in the 38th Regiment.41
Arguing in defense of the costs to build and maintain the barracks at
Newcastle, an official in the British government boasted in 1857 that the
station had by then saved the lives of 1,230 British soldiers since its origi-
nal occupation. He offered no explanation as to how he had arrived at
that figure. No matter what calculations he used, Newcastle station un-
doubtedly saved the lives of many men, women, and particularly chil-
dren, who seemingly were more susceptible to disease. Amidst the im-
pressive scenic beauty of the Blue Mountains, the soldiers and their families
avoided the deadly crisis that periodically engulfed their less-fortunate
comrades at lower altitudes.42
Of course, death was not entirely averted at Newcastle. Soldiers died
there, yet nothing like the murderous effects of yellow fever and malaria
epidemics at and near sea level occurred at the station. But it is a sad fact,
nonetheless, that it took the authorities so long to establish the camp de-
spite the repeated calls during the war to house soldiers in the high moun-

22 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

tains. Lieutenant Colonel Light, as we have seen, was attracted to the full
arrogant abundance of nature in the West Indies. Because of the obvious
healthiness of the higher altitudes, which he experienced from the soldier's
viewpoint, Light recommended the construction of troops barracks in the
"mountains." The occasion for this advice may well have been an epi-
demic, presumably of yellow fever, which ravaged his regiment beginning
in February 1812, while it was in garrison on Brimstone Hill, St. Kitts. In
May, the 25th Regiment was sent off the island to barracks at Beau Soleil,
Guadeloupe, which Light sketched and included among his Views in the
West Indies.43 Before Light, Dr. Robert Jackson, one of the foremost medi-
cal figures of the period, held the same opinion but was rather more prolix
when it came to stating his medical views. Jackson wrote in 1798: "on the
coasts of the sea, the form of disease is fever,-often of the most concen-
trated kind; on the first mountains, it is often fever, but it is mild, remit-
ting, intermitting; sometimes it is diarrhorea, sometimes ulcer of legs; in
advancing into the interior, the shades become still milder; and, upon the
central ridge of extensive islands, sickness, in any form, is seldom known.
This fact has been clearly proved, in the Island of St. Domingo: it deserves
to be attended to, in the distribution of military forces, in others."4
These and other appeals and their supporting evidence, bore fruit.
Jackson's mention of the "Island of St. Domingo" was a reference to the
siting of troops in hill camps there toward the end of Britain's military
occupation of 1792-98. The annual death rate was lower in these hill out-
posts than in lowland camps. The same was true of Jamaica, where troops
were moved into healthier situations on high ridges. However, the war
against France was long over before the military authorities in London
and the West Indies reluctantly agreed to build Newcastle mountain sta-
That it took so long to construct a camp at Newcastle was not the only
flaw in the establishment of a permanent, high-altitude health station. In
a decision devoid of sense, the military authorities saw fit to limit con-
struction to the Newcastle prototype. More than fifty years were to elapse
before the discovery of the mosquito as the carrier of yellow fever and
malaria. During that time, an as-yet-unknown number of British soldiers
and their dependents died for want of additional mountain stations, the
only effective prophylactic measure against the deadly and crippling dis-
eases of the region.
As famous British military theorist B. H. Liddell Hart observed, resis-
tance to the truth is inevitable, particularly if it takes the shape of a new
idea.45 Although Jackson and others raised the idea of establishing mili-

Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 23

tary posts on the main ridges of West Indian mountains during the war,
British officialdom seems to have regarded the concept as something novel
long after the defeat of France, and treated it as such. But the story of
London's medical myopia does not stop there. There were additional rea-
sons why the military authorities refused to expand the measure beyond
Newcastle to other locations in Jamaica and elsewhere in the West Indies.
The British Parliament was hidebound by the long-standing desire for
economy in expenditures. R. Arthur Bowler makes the important point in
discussing the British army's logistical weakness during the American Revo-
lutionary War that there is nothing necessarily wrong in the desire for
economy. He cautions, however, that the economizing must be governed
by reason.46 Perhaps the most serious effect of London's parsimony was in
its disposition toward the army. Mountain stations were the victims of a
penny-wise, pound-foolish policy that favored a misdirected fiscal conser-
vatism over the government's sacred duty to do all it can to save the lives
of British soldiers and their dependents. When the British government
was finally moved to establish a station at Newcastle, it paid a paltry 4,230
for the site.47 Evidence of this sort confirms the destructive stinginess of
the British government in its dealings with the army.
But the most important reason for limiting the concept of a high-alti-
tude health station to Newcastle was London's and the colonists' rigid in-
sistence on deploying the army in coastal strongholds to protect the trade
and at select points near the plantations to frighten the black population
into obedience both during and after the period of slavery. Thus, troops
were quartered in hot, damp barracks at known areas of deadly endemic
diseases. Often crammed with nonimmune European troops, who were
highly susceptible to heavy infection, these posts became death traps from
which few emerged to bear witness.
The alternative to the relentless destruction of the British army at low
altitudes in the West Indies was the creation of several strategic reserves
in the high mountains on each island, into which the island garrison was
deployed. Perched high above what can be termed the disease line, these
troops would descend in times of emergency and, if necessary, act in con-
junction with the guard ships of the Royal Navy. Since most, if not all,
West Indian towns and prime agricultural districts lay in the vicinity of
the mountains, troops of the strategic reserve would be within easy march-
ing distance of virtually any threatened point. Newcastle station, for ex-
ample, is only eight miles from Kingston.
These were dark times in the West Indies-times that required radical
solutions in order to save lives. However, the colonists' misguided needs

24 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

to see soldiers in their midst, contributing to their all-important sense of
security, fixed the deployment of the army among the most notoriously
unhealthy locations in the West Indies. Thus, in terror and unspeakable
death the British army served in the West Indies. Few soldiers experi-
enced the kindly cool temperature of the high mountains, which, by itself,
is a vigorous vitalizer and a potent bactericide.48
It is hardly surprising that British soldiers, prisoners of the hot and dan-
gerous lowlands, should have little to say of the mountains in their letters
and journals. Lacking intimate knowledge of the mountains, they had little
response to them. The weather and climate of the West Indies were a dif-
ferent matter; these elements were unavoidable. Accustomed to Britain's
moderate climate, the soldiers' written reminders refer constantly to what
they viewed as the volatile and capricious nature of life in the West Indies.
Newcomers were confronted by the physical forces of the tropics be-
fore the first island appeared on the horizon as a blue haze. As eighteenth-
century transoceanic travelers headed across the Atlantic, after sailing south
past Portugal and the Canary Islands (the route forged by Columbus), they
encountered the humid heat of the torrid zone. Major Henry Johnston,
who set sail with his cavalry regiment from Cove, Ireland, in July 1796 for
Saint Domingue, complained to his wife, in a letter written at sea, of the
burning heat. "Were it not for an Awning," he protested, "it would be
quite impossible for to go on deck." The fierce tropical sun even sapped
the cold from the Atlantic. Private James Aytoun recalled many years af-
ter his service with the 30th Regiment in Dominica the pleasure he and
his comrades experienced while dousing each other with sea water which,
as he put it, was "as warm as milk and blood." The alien heat compelled
some soldiers to wax descriptively after experiencing the blazing sun for
the first time. Dr. George Pinckard, a deputy inspector-general of hospi-
tals, wrote of the "torrefaction of these burning regions." Lieutenant
Jonathan Leach, who served with the 70th Regiment at Antigua from 1803
to 1805, confided in his daily journal that the heat was "sufficiently in-
tense to satisfy a salamander." Before the soldiers finally reached Carlisle
Bay, Barbados, the assembly point for troop reinforcements and expedi-
tions, the tropical sun and downpours filled the air below decks with a
clammy, stifling heat. To the misery of a sticky, suffocating atmosphere of
a crowded troopship, was added the unbearable prickly heat. "Our bod-
ies," lamented Pinckard, "were covered with it, and the irritation and itch-
ing it occasioned were intolerable."49
The discomfiture engendered by the excessive humid heat was com-
pounded by the dread of hot climates. Karen Ordahl Kupperman, in her
study of climate and morbidity in the English colonies in America and the

Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 25

West Indies during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, observes that
the medical authorities were certain that high temperatures produced dis-
ease. The morbidity and lethality of the West Indies increased markedly
from the seventeenth century through the eighteenth century when yel-
low fever and malaria, the great killers of nonimmune hosts, were added
to the roster of tropical diseases. These fevers merely confirmed to the
medical professionals and lay people alike that heat had caused them. As
the eighteenth century drew to a close, colonists and soldiers accepted the
risk of living in the West Indies; however, the dread of hot climates re-
mained constant.50
When the soldiers had at last arrived in the West Indies, some may
have thought that a great force had thrown the seasons into confusion,
for they quickly discovered a new world of year-round sultry heat and
hard service under a blazing sun. Despite the conventional wisdom that
high temperatures produced disease, some soldiers, like twenty-one-year-
old Lieutenant Thomas Henry Browne of the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers,
threw caution to the wind and, as he put it, "selected the hottest sun of
the noon-day" to explore the mysteries of Barbados, particularly the sen-
sual offerings of Bridgetown. Such youthful concessions to curiosity and
adventure in the face of dire warnings of the dangers of the tropics were
not unusual among the soldiery of the British army.51 Nonetheless, the
soldier was sure in his belief that excessive heat was the major reason for
illness and death. Lieutenant Thomas Phipps Howard reflected this tenet
when he recorded in his diary after an exhausting march that "severe Fe-
vers [were] Occasioned by the intense Heat of the Sun & want of Wa-
ter."52 The link between heat and sickliness was also artistically expressed
in a riveting drawing by Abraham James, a lieutenant in the 67th Regi-
ment who served in the West Indies from 1798 to 1801. "THE TORRID ZONE.
OR, BLESSINGS of JAMAICA" yellow fever and other diseases incubate in some
hideous nether world by the unremitting white heat of the sun in a cloud-
less sky. The colonists are caught in a narrow arc of existence where the
rhythms of life are ultimately governed by a violent sky above in concert
with a festering earth below.53
The connection between climate and health hardened over time and
became medical dogma, with the result that coup de soleil is the description
that soldiers used more than any other to characterize the relationship
between heat and disease. Thus, it was the "Coup de Soleil," writes Lieu-
tenant John Irwin, that made the surgeon of his regiment lose his senses;
it was the "coup de soleil," writes Lieutenant Leach, that killed five sol-
diers almost at the same moment during a march "in the heat of the day."54
How people react to the sun is a question of attitude, the roots of which

1803. Lieutenant
Abraham James,
Lewis Walpole
Library, Farming-
ton, Conn.

"-. _' ,. ..'., ._ i '._ , ,. .
i -* .* i!


Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 27

are essentially cultural. Witness the popularity of sunbathing among today's
tourists, who stream endlessly to equatorial regions seeking the same sun
and heat the early settlers and soldiers found so fierce and unrelenting
and earnestly sought to avoid. Still, the humid heat of the West Indies was
daunting to Europeans. Richard S. Dunn has shown that Englishmen and
women were habituated to a moderate year-round climate: "moderately
warm, moderately cold, moderately rainy, moderately sunny."55 What they
discovered in the West Indies was a world of year-round summer. It is
hardly surprising, therefore, that they should lament the humid heat of
the Indies. It is safe to say that every British soldier who did a tour of duty
in the West Indies found the experience trying, to say the least, being both
parched with excessive heat and drenched with heavy rainfall. Thomas
Staunton St. Clair, a lieutenant in the 1st Regiment, probably spoke for all
when he recorded in his journal that he had been "broiled" during the
whole of his service in the colonies of Essequibo, Demerara, and Berbice,
in present-day Guyana. West Indian heat and humidity were particularly
distressing to British army doctors, whose steel medical instruments were,
as one frustrated surgeon put it, often "injured by rust."56
Although climatic conditions vary greatly, the mean annual tempera-
ture throughout the West Indies, winter or summer, varies between the
mid-seventies at night and the mid-eighties during the day." Like any
generalization, this brief description of the climate of the West Indies omits
detail and, consequently, is somewhat misleading. Marshall and Tulloch's
neat summary of Jamaica's climate and weather is more revealing of the
trying environmental conditions the embattled British soldier endured in
the Indies and thus deserves to be quoted in full: "[T]he temperature at
noon does not vary more then 8 or 9" throughout the year, its greatest
height being about 92, and lowest 83". The mid-day heat on both sides of
the island is greatly modified by the influence of the sea-breeze, which
generally sets in from the eastward about 8 or 10 o'clock in the morning,
increases in force till about 2, and declines with the sun, till, on the ap-
proach of evening, it is succeeded by the land wind from the mountains.
When these winds become less regular, or altogether fail, as is sometimes
the case before the rainy seasons, the atmosphere is exceeding oppressive
to the feelings, though the thermometer perhaps exhibits but little change
in the temperature." Of the tropical year in this tropical island world,
Marshall and Tulloch write:

From the middle of December to the middle of April there is gener-
ally clear dry weather, except a few showers at Christmas. During

28 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

the first three months of this period, north winds prevail, with con-
siderable diminution of temperature, the thermometer sometimes
sinking so low as 70' in the morning, but by mid-day it generally
stands at from 83' to 85"; the sea-breezes at this time are weak and
irregular. About the middle of April the sea-breeze fails altogether,
the thermometer rises to about 86" at mid-day, and is seldom below
80" at night; the heat becomes oppressive, the atmosphere cloudy,
and a few transient showers begin to usher in the spring rains, which
continue with great violence during most part of May, and are gen-
erally preceded by heavy storms of thunder and lightning. The
weather in June is generally hot and dry, the sky seldom obscured
by a cloud, the thermometer often rises to 92 at noon, the land wind
fails, and the nights are consequently oppressive, but the sea-breeze
is strong, and tends greatly to moderate the intensity of the heat.
Very little change is perceptible throughout July or August, but in
September there is the same close sultry weather as in April, which
continues till the autumnal rains set in, about the middle of Octo-

The "sea-breezes" Marshall and Tulloch refer to are the famous trade or
diurnal winds. Although they vary in direction and force, they sweep across
all of the islands with alternating land and sea breezes." The trades' effect
on the climate of the West Indies can hardly be overstated: the relatively
high average temperature of the region is tempered by these winds. If not
for the cooling, refreshing effects of these breezes, Europeans would have
found the weather conditions of most of the islands' coastal areas unbear-
able, a situation that quite impressed them.60
To avoid the inconvenience of the heat and to feel comfortable, the
inhabitants had to find ways of taking advantage of these breezes, which,
as we have just seen, were not constant in their intensity. Unfortunately,
however, the sheltered locations selected by the settlers for their chief ports
and towns, and the fortifications which defended them, were typically on
the noticeably warmer lee side of the islands than on the cooler, Atlantic-
swept windward side. St. Georges on Grenada, Kingston on St. Vincent,
Castries on St. Lucia, Roseau on Dominica, Charlestown on Nevis, and St.
John's on Antigua are all located along the lee coast, while the mountains
and high hills that shelter these ports shoulder off the blast of the Atlantic
as well as much of the cooling trades blowing in from an easterly quad-
rant. The weather in these and other similarly protected West Indian towns
was very likely to be hot, humid, and oppressive as disembarking British

Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 29

soldiers, dressed in heavy flannel shirts and woolen tunics, quickly discov-
As soldiers set foot on the West Indian islands, all were undoubtedly
struck, in one way or another, by the newness, richness, beauty, strange-
ness, and variety of tropical nature. For the vast majority of the rough
soldiery, one hard look at this new world was enough, however. For these
men, there were more pressing things that demanded their attention and
gratification: to stand once again on terra firma after too many days on
the deck of a listing troopship; to eat the delicious-looking fruit hawked
by black peddlers of the bum-boat trade; to drink as much fiery rum as
they could hold; to stare in amazement at the hundreds of nearly naked
African slaves who lined the shore on every side; and to discuss, in a ban-
tering style, the pleasures of sexual intercourse with black women, who
according to popular myth, were children of nature and therefore espe-
cially sexually passionate.61 For others, the sight of this wondrous but alien
land, plentiful and powerful, was irresistible. Like John Augustine Waller,
a surgeon in the Royal Navy, many were compelled to record their im-
pressions. Arriving at Bridgetown, Barbados, after sunset, Waller had to
wait for daylight for his first glimpse of a West Indian island. It must have
been quite a spectacle for he wrote, "The next morning, at day-light, dis-
played one of the most enchanting prospects my eyes ever beheld. It is at
this hour that the West India islands appear in all their glory, and resemble
a paradise. The air is then cool and refreshing, and the rising sun seems to
exhilarate the whole face of nature, diffusing new life and vigour around.
I was uncommonly entertained and astonished with the loveliness of this
first West-India morning, nor was the effect produced by it diminished,
even after a four years' residence."62
Another newcomer, also intoxicated by the sight of Barbados, was an
anonymous soldier of the 21st Fusiliers. The interplay of sunlight and col-
orful vegetation spawned this rhapsodic passage, written in 1794: "the
increasing brilliance of the Sun, as his beams fell in broad flakes between
the great cabbage-trees, lit up the leaves, stalks & petals of the flower-
beds, seeming to gem them round with emeralds & diamonds, for yet the
dew lay deep on every Shrub & tree."63
The extraordinarily productive agricultural system-row-style, open-
field plantation agriculture-elicited similarly effusive descriptions. Cap-
tain Leigh, quartermaster general of the British army of occupation in
Martinique, set out on a tour of the districts in the vicinity of Fort Royal in
the spring of March 1795 in order to inspect the local militia regiments.
Working his way eastward toward the town of Lamentin, the trees that

30 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

crouched along both sides of the hilly road suddenly fell away revealing a
beautiful swaying landscape, which he later described in his copybook as
"An immense Plain covered with Sugar Canes and a fine River winding
through it which occasionally overflows and fertilizes perhaps more than
the Nile. Four rich Estates and a number of small Plantations on the sides
of the distant hills extending the Cultivation to the very summit. The pro-
digious Vegetation and luxurious verdure on every side and as far as the
Eye can reach. All these Circumstances render the scene extremely de-
Soldiers are not usually given to purging their emotions through po-
etry and charged prose. How, then, does one explain these (and other)
gushing eulogies to the West Indian physical environment? Toward the
end of the eighteenth century, a good (that is, fast) passage to the West
Indies from a port in southern Britain would take about six weeks to make
the crossing. Forty-two days of nothing but endless water, frightful storms,
rumors of lurking enemy privateers and warships, and the fear of con-
tracting some gastrointestinal illness, which not infrequently proved fatal,
were enough to make any soldier wax rhapsodic about land, even land as
ordinary looking as Barbados at a great distance: a low, sandy smudge on
the distant horizon.65 Two examples will suffice to demonstrate how in-
toxicating the sight of land could be to soldiers accustomed to looking at
endless ocean for weeks on end. Major Johnston (whose complaint to his
wife of the blazing sun we read earlier) was suddenly a changed man when
the sight of Barbados filled him with excitement and sheer joy. "You have
no idea how very beautiful the Island appeared," he wrote to Jane, his
wife, "what joy it caused when the Man at the Mast head Call'd out land
on the Starbord bow. every person was in a Minute on deck looking out
with eagerness and indeed no wonder after seven weeks seeing nothing
but Water and Sky."66 John Skinner, lieutenant colonel of the 16th Regi-
ment was also in high spirits, as he had every reason to be since he and
the officers and men of his regiment had spent nearly seventeen weeks at
sea. "Our men .... he later recorded in his journal at Fort Amsterdam,
Suriname, "were almost wild with joy at landing ... and were astonished
at the fine estates-regular rows of orange trees, lemon trees, lime trees,
and hedges all laid out in the most perfect order, full of humming birds,
and singing birds of all kinds."67 It was only natural that landsmen con-
fined in a rolling, listing ship for many weeks would wax poetic when
they attempted to describe the overwhelming tropical brilliance of the West
But there was another, more important reason for the flowery tributes

Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 31

to tropical nature. British soldiers, as they stumbled ashore from their troop
ships, brought with them their own ecological heritage. It was as much a
part of their regimental kit as their muskets and bayonets. It was, how-
ever, a heritage which made them completely unprepared for what they
experienced in the West Indies. Upon entering the tropics, soldiers en-
countered an alien world of spectacular scenery which assaulted their senses
and compelled them to describe the lush vegetation and majestic gran-
deur of the region.
Well before the end of the eighteenth century, the essential feature of
the British soldier's ecological tradition was what Kirkpatrick Sale calls an
environmental-altering proclivity rooted in the drive to dominate and
thereby tame nature. In Europe, this quest was manifested by centuries of
overfarming, exploitation of animals, and the destruction of the forest. It
was also evidenced in the system of agriculture: labor-intensive farming
and, particularly, straight-line, row-style agriculture. Lieutenant Colonel
Skinner and his weary men immediately recognized the familiar style of
linear agriculture in the "regular rows" in which the Dutch planters of
Suriname arranged their estates "in the most perfect order."68 This agri-
cultural gridiron enabled Captain Leigh to see past the monotonous di-
orama of quivering cane grass and to count the individual plantations on
the distant Martinican hillsides. But that did not precisely make Suriname,
Martinique, or, for that matter, any of the other West Indian islands into a
European landscape.
Despite the visible evidence that the natural ecology of the West Indies
had indeed been altered, the land retained much of its pristine quality:
arrogantly abundant, spectacularly beautiful, and in many ways, untamed.
This startling condition was reflected in the brilliant tropical colors that
transfigured the landscape. This array of splashy colors, to which the sol-
dier had to adjust his eyes, began at sea. There are many recorded descrip-
tions of the West Indian islands. On the island of Dominica, rising fast
from the depthless blue of the Caribbean, Carleton Mitchell, a modern-
day sailor, writes, "As a boat starts across the channel [Dominica] is a pale
purple outline, scarcely more tangible than cloud; it becomes blue, then
green with a lingering blue overtone from the haze, finally bright green.
Brilliant green."69 Mitchell has caught it exactly: distance and atmospheric
phenomena combine to mask the island in a shadow of dull, pale colors,
which, however, turn to their natural vividness on closer inspection.
The range of colors increased dramatically once the soldier stepped
ashore and became acquainted with his new surroundings. Once past the
vast sweep of white beach and green coconut palm (the ubiquitous sym-

32 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

bol of the West Indies), other bright splashes of color punctuated the al-
ways green vegetation: the red of the dracaena bush, the flamboyant tree,
and the hibiscus; the orange blossoms of the immortal tree; the lavender
of the water hyacinth; the gold and rust tones of the croton; the magenta
of the flowering bougainvillea; the yellow and white of the acacia tree
flowers; and the blue and crimson of the twining four o'clock. The color
palette of the West Indies blazed away all day. It disappeared from view
only when the tropical night fell upon the land in a rush-there was no
twilight in the West Indies.70
We may picture the soldier gazing intently at the colorful foliage as he
trudged along to his new barrack world. Later, on his way to the canteen
during a respite from drills, he would stop to examine some unnamed tree
or sensitive flower. Faced with these strange tropical growths in high per-
fection, he would question their amazing form and especially their vibrant
color, but his mind was probably free of answers. Not so for an adventur-
ous and observant Scottish woman who traveled through the Leeward
Islands in 1774-75. It was immediately evident to Janet Schaw that the
superior brilliance of the colors was the result of the "warmth of a Tropick
sun." To this she added that many species of West Indian plants belonged
to the same "tribes" that flourished in her native Scotland. However, they
were so greatly transformed by the same tropical sun that "they were hardly
to be known."71
The astonishing fertility of the soil also pointed to the primeval nature
of the land. The indigenous crops-cocoa, corn, arrowroot, sweet pota-
toes, cassava, plantain, avocado, tobacco, and cotton, to which Europeans
added oranges, figs, breadfruit, lemons, mangos, sugar cane, coconuts, and
bananas-all grew prodigiously; some even swelled to twice their usual
size. Then there were the old-growth tropical rain forests that survived on
islands like Dominica. Here conditions were so favorable that rain forest
giants, supported by thick buttress roots, soared a hundred feet or more
into the sky. From their lofty crowns a melodious multiplicity of sweet,
hollow bird songs drifted down to the forest floor below. High in the canopy,
on the wettest branches, hung gardens of ferns, bromeliads, and colorful
orchids, whose roots never touch the soil. And more varieties of wildly
beautiful plants and insect species than some soldiers knew how to count
thrived in the understory and on the dark, humid forest floor.72 We can
see the soldier in his red tunic succumbing to these and other exotic veg-
etative charms of what remained of the West Indian aboriginal landscape.
The amazing fertility of the soil did not escape the attention of the mili-
tary authorities. Much of what the British soldier regularly ate came from

Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 33

abundant local staples. The flourishing of food crops and other plants in
the West Indies also affected the time-honored system of regimental iden-
tities in the British army, albeit in a small way. Between 1795 and 1798,
London authorized the raising of twelve West India regiments for service
in the islands. In casting about for an appropriately distinctive regimental
device for the 4th West India Regiment, the authorities sanctioned the
pineapple. In the richly embroidered centerpiece of the regimental color
of the 4th West India Regiment, two large pineapples support the central
device. The same motif was embroidered on the turnback of officers' coats
and cut into regimental buttons and officers' shoulder belt plates. Thus did
the bountiful nature of the West Indian ecosystem, which had excited
attention, slip into British military lore.73
The eyes were but one medium through which soldiers could come to
know the sunlit natural realm of the West Indies. The sense of smell was
another unavoidable conduit. Whether offshore or on land, the air was
infused with a distinctive odor. By all recorded accounts, it was a sweet,
pleasant scent. Fusilier Browne observed that there was a "sort of perfume
in the air" when he landed at Barbados in December 1808. Major Johnston
also noted a "fine aromatic smell" when his troop ship dropped anchor in
Fort Royal Bay, Martinique, in September 1796. And when Lieutenant
Irwin arrived at Barbados in April 1809 he later recorded in his journal
that "the perfume that came from it was delightful."74 Any number of aro-
mas mingled to produce this sweet-smelling air: the scent of spices, the
cloying odor of sugar, the fragrances of a million flowers, and, of course,
the rich smell of vegetative decay speeded up by a hot sun. (The air was
also rich in organic matter, which undoubtedly upset the gut of not a few
British soldiers.) If, as Lord Olivier has observed, the physical beauty of a
landscape is brought to the soul of the observer through the eyes,75 then
the nose also serves a like function.
When soldiers landed in the West Indies, they entered a world in some
ways Edenic-a world of lush and spectacular vegetation and many varia-
tions of magnificent landforms. And, so, when moved to portray this alien
setting in writing, soldiers responded in kind with sugary praises.
The idyll of the West Indies did have flaws, however. As we have seen,
the physical conditions of the region included a torpid climate at sea level,
the midday heat of a blazing sun, periodic torrents of rain, and rare but
terrifying volcanic activity. There was also an environment of disease in
the islands. The list of tropical diseases was long, with yellow fever and
malaria being the chief enemies of health. The were other perils as well.
Storms were a typical hazard of life in the West Indies. Newcomers to the

34 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

region were awed by their tremendous force, noise, and the very heavy
rains that accompanied these disturbances. For example, on the night of
8 August 1796, a particularly violent tropical storm struck St. Marc, St.
Domingue, where Lieutenant Howard and his regiment, the York Hussars,
were garrisoned. Moved by the odd and excessive nature of the storm,
Howard later wrote: "I think we had one of the most dreadful Storms of
Thunder, Lightening & Rain I ever experienced in my Life. It began at
about 6 oClock in the Even: & continued without intermission until 12 at
Night. The roaring of the Thunder [was] increased by the Echoes of the
adjacent Mountains; the continual flashing of the Lightening without the
intermission of a Minute between each flash or sheet of fire that seemed
to sweep the Plain [before Saint Marc]; The Deluge of Rain that came-
down as if a River was falling from the Clouds; the cracking of the Woods;
& all together formed one of the grandest Effects of horror I ever experi-
Of the frequent serious disturbances in the tropical atmosphere, hurri-
canes are the chief menace. The so-called hurricane season lasts from the
middle of July to the middle of October, although hurricanes do occur at
other times of the year. They form in the western Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf
of Mexico, and the Caribbean-large open bodies of water where there is
abundant moisture and little frictional resistance to wind. Many are
spawned to the east of the Lesser Antilles. Once formed, they gather speed
and intensity and track along a nearly east-west path through the Lesser
Antilles before they start curving northward.77 Usually accompanied by
heavy rains, these terrifying storms pack raging winds that can exceed
140 miles an hour. Where these violent storms pass, they occasion spec-
tacular havoc. As the historian Gordon K. Lewis has noted, a typical West
Indian hurricane can destroy a city or shatter the economy of an entire
island in the matter of a few hours.78 Unbraced wooden houses are com-
pletely destroyed, while public structures of substantial construction are
often damaged and, in some cases, entirely leveled when located on flat
and utterly vulnerable islets like Anguilla. During the eighteenth century,
the sugar crop was usually harvested before the start of the hurricane
season's most dangerous period. The destruction of provision grounds and
stores could be as devastating as the loss of a sugar crop, since it meant a
precipitous rise in the price of food accompanied by shortages that could
well result in famine for the unlucky inhabitants of the islands.79
In addition to the velocity of winds and the torrential downpours, there
is also the appalling force of the sea during a hurricane. Storm waves have
periodically swept over the land pulverizing the wooden towns of the West
Indies and drowning those who were unable to escape. Thomas Atwood

Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 35

noted in the Dominica of the late 1780s the shattering impact of storm-
driven waves on shipping and property, particularly along the exposed
shore of Roseau, the capital.8"
The greatest inconvenience caused by hurricanes was the disruption to
commercial shipping activities. Every year during the hurricane months,
commercial traffic was nearly suspended. Captains of the large, square-
rigged West Indiamen were afraid of these violent storms and so tried to
sail out of the Indies before the hurricane season began. Tiny local vessels
that worked along the coasts and among the islands on short trips took
their chances and were ready to dash for shelter in some hurricane hole.
The Jamaica and Leeward Islands squadrons of the Royal Navy were ex-
pected to spend the summer months at their stations in the West Indies.
For example, the great line-of-battle ships of the Leeward Islands squad-
ron were expected to ride out the bad weather in English Harbor, Antigua,
which was fortified and equipped at some cost with an impressive dock-
yard where the repairing, rerigging, heaving down, provisioning, and ca-
reening of ships could be done. The New Sailing Directions for the Caribbee
Islands boasted in 1818 that English Harbor was "perfectly safe," that "ships
of war commonly lie here during the hurricanes." The British admiralty
disagreed with this claim and periodically dispatched the ships of the Lee-
ward Islands station out of harm's way as far south as Tobago and the
coast of northern South America during the hurricane season.81
But packet-boats, which were designed for speed in carrying mail, im-
portant people, and cargoes, had to venture forth at all times of the year.
So did individual frigates of the Royal Navy which were dispatched on
some cruise either to plunder or to keep a keen watch for enemy sails.
Ships so employed could hardly expect to avoid these storms, and inevita-
bly some met with disaster, as in the case of H.M.S. Babet, a twenty-gun
corvette that foundered in a hurricane, losing all on board, soon after sail-
ing from Martinique for Jamaica on 25 October 1800.82
Related to the subject of hurricanes is that of earthquakes, a less-fre-
quent affliction but one which nonetheless added to the intimidating harsh-
ness of life in the West Indies. They are infrequent, and when they do jar
the landscape, they seldom shatter buildings and kill people. Damage, if
any, is often minimal. For these reasons, the inhabitants of the West Indies
seldom ran from their homes in fear for their lives when the earth shook.
They would pause momentarily in order to gauge the violence of the shock,
beseech the protection of God, and, when satisfied that it was nothing
more than a good jolt, continue on their usual rounds as if nothing had
happened. Lieutenant Browne of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers observed this
behavior among the French settlers of Martinique after "two smart shocks"

36 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

shook the island on 13 February 1809. "The people, who were all Catho-
lics," he noted, merely "crossed themselves most devoutly, and uttered
plenty of Ave Marias for a minute or two, but shortly after the second
shock was over, they dispersed, and went laughing away to their several
Although infrequent, earthquakes are, of course, dangerous and pack
truly phenomenal destructive power. The sad truth of this statement is
revealed in a few randomly selected facts: the town of Jamestown, Nevis,
toppled into the sea in 1680; three-fourths of Port Royal, Jamaica, was
destroyed in the space of several minutes in 1692; St. Kitts and Nevis were
devastated in 1843; and a combined earthquake and tidal wave laid waste
to Kingston, Jamaica, in 1907.84
One last defect in the physical environment of the West Indies remains
to be noticed, one lacking in the dramatic, pulverizing violence of a hurri-
cane or an earthquake yet a thousand times deadlier in terms of the great
loss of human life it routinely occasioned. The mosquito is a flimsy-look-
ing fly with the characteristic three-part insect structure: head, thorax,
and abdomen. It has a genetically fixed, short life span made even shorter
because it is so relatively easy to crush it on one's skin as it dines on one's
blood. Adult mosquitoes are also so thin that they are highly susceptible
to being desiccated and, so, more frequently venture out in search of blood
meals when the air is moist than when it is dry.85 And, yet, the female of
certain species were the great handmaidens of death in the West Indies.
As already noted, the mosquito is the vector of malaria and yellow fever
as well as other diseases. The colonists were completely vulnerable to these
maladies since they traced them to heat and insidious air, or miasma, which
was thought to exude from wet, swampy grounds. That a person inhaling
fetid, dank air would become ill needed no proof.
If the early European settlers of the West Indies were ignorant of the
role of the mosquito in transmitting diseases, they were uncomfortably
aware of its physical presence. There are numerous recorded expressions
of soldiers and sailors being constantly harassed by biting mosquitoes. A
young Horatio Nelson, the future Viscount Nelson and hero of the battle
of Trafalgar, complained bitterly of mosquitoes "woefully pinching" him
during his unhappy service with the Leeward Islands station from 1784 to
1787. The mosquito bites her host during the day or evening. However,
British soldiers found the night-biting and constant humming particularly
annoying, and so they recorded these ordeals in their journals and letters.
Jonathan Leach was tormented "throughout the night" by these "devils";
as was John Waller, who was persecuted by their "piercing stings" as he
tried to "pass the night." It has been proven that mosquitoes have a de-

Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 37

.: Detail from "JOHNNY NEW-COME
1800. Lieutenant Abraham
SJames, Watkinson Library,
Trinity College, Hartford,

cided preference when they are stirred to go in search of food. There can
be little doubt that Leach and Waller were both bitten by malaria vectors,
which prefer to browse for blood at night.86
Blood is essential to reproduction. The protein in blood is required to
feed and mature the eggs. Conditioned to get it even at great risk to her-
self, the mosquito spares no one from her fierce attacks-least of all newly
arrived visitors to the West Indies. Contemporary drawings of inhabitants
enveloped in clouds of hungry mosquitoes were fairly common.87 The fear-
less determination of the mosquito to nourish her eggs is evident in the
detail from a narrative strip by Lieutenant James entitled "JOHNNY NEW-
COME in the ISLAND of JAMAICA." Frustrated in his efforts to drive off the tena-
cious insects, this first-time visitor to the West Indies has decided to es-
cape his swarming tormentors by drowning his misery in an ample portion
of sangaree, a local concoction composed of varying amounts of lemon,
water, and red wine. The inspiration for this drawing was undoubtedly
James's own personal ordeal with these pesky insects during his service in
St. Domingue and Jamaica.
From ancient times, keen-eyed observers-ordinary folk among them-

38 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

suspected a link between the mosquito and intermittent fevers. However,
so entrenched was the belief that the germ lurked in swamp filth that the
view of the mosquito as the villain was discounted. It is conceivable that
the secrets of yellow fever and malaria might have been discovered sooner
if leading members of the scientific community had taken into account all
the clues that pointed inexorably to a connection between mosquitoes
and disease and developed a scientific hypothesis that could be demon-
strated.88 One of the clearest signs of a link was the mosquito's penchant
for blood-sucking, which a number of artists, like Lieutenant James, ob-
served and depicted as a living cloud of pests swarming about the head of
some tormented human host.
During the eighteenth century, the West Indies were an ideal habitat
for the mosquito and, consequently, mosquito-borne diseases were spread
there. Atmospheric humidity, constantly warm sea-level temperatures,
abundant water, and a sufficient pool of nonimmune hosts (in the per-
sons of thousands of British military personnel) all combined to maintain
the malaria and yellow fever vectors in sufficient numbers. This in turn
guaranteed the establishment of a cycle that permitted the indefinite trans-
mission of deadly pathogens from mosquito to human host and back again
to mosquito.89
The West Indies was infested with other stinging insects. Huge cock-
roaches, for example, nipped at legs and arms at night. The hateful chig-
ger-a small tropical flea with a propensity for burrowing under the toe-
nails-caused intense irritating itching, even ulcers. And the bite of the
bright light-blue galley wasp was especially painful and known to send
blood spurting into the air when its large lancetlike proboscis pierced the
skin of some unlucky person.90 As irritating as these insects were to sol-
diers, slaves, and settlers, they were minor when compared to the mos-
quitoes, which, with their deadly contagia, haunted the West Indian land-
scape in vast multitudes.
Finally, it is necessary to take into account the watery heart of the West
Indies, the Caribbean Sea. Formed by a half-circle of the mainland to the
west and by a half-circle of an unbroken chain of islands to the east, the
Caribbean stretches 2,000 miles from northwest to southeast, and 900 miles
from north to south at its widest point. In doing so, it covers a vast area of
slightly more than 750,000 square miles. Warm surface water of the At-
lantic, pushed irresistibly along by the north equatorial current, slips into
the eastern end of the sea through numerous island channels as the Antilles
current. Swirling steadily northwesterly, it flows through the Caribbean
until it escapes in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is immediately deflected

Adjusting to the West Indian Physical Environment 39

eastward toward the shallowing and narrowing channel between Florida
and the Bahamas. There, it reemerges in the Atlantic as the young Florida
or Gulf Stream. The continuous movement of this water, which occasion-
ally reaches a speed of three knots an hour, was of great importance in the
days of sailing ships since it could generally be counted on to flow in a
fairly constant direction.
The weather produced by the Antilles current is often violent. Squally
conditions seem to hover about its warm waters. For that reason, a careful
study of the effects of light on the color of the Caribbean was of consider-
able practical importance to seamen in the age of sailing ships. Only by
correctly interpreting such effects could a mariner forecast both weather
and navigational changes in known and unknown parts of the Caribbean.
For example, dark cloudy weather, which turned the sea water to a dull
cheerless gray hue, could well be a harbinger of a storm, and dark water
could mean dangerous rocks. But to a judicious eye, the dark spot in an
otherwise green sea was only the reflection of a single cloud and not a
threatening shoal. The effects of unimpeded tropical light on the sea could
also be dazzling, like the deep blue of a thousand fathoms and the lumi-
nescent green of shallow water. Side by side, and in common with the
land, the Caribbean Sea is a miniature universe: full of color with well-
defined parameters, alternately calm and violent, mysterious, and rich in
vividly pigmented aquatic life. Like the land, the Caribbean casts its own
powerful spell.
It is clear enough from this brief examination of certain features of the
physical environment of the West Indies that the region possesses aston-
ishing beauty. It was and remains, in many respects, an enchanted natural
garden where the midday air is permanently scented by aromatic flowers
and where the surrounding sea reflects the azure sky. It is a pretty sight,
but it is a deceptively idyllic Eden. Perhaps the most glaring singularity of
the tropical nature of the region is a kind of dialectical eccentricity wherein
a largely peaceful and harmonious environment is in constant conflict with
volatile natural elements in concert with the warring ecology of human-
ity. Thus, the West Indies represent a place of fundamental contrasts where,
for example, untamed and unkempt nature struggles against orthogonal
agriculture, where indolent spells cast by warm tropical air are blasted by
the rampaging force of hurricanes, and where sweet bird songs once com-
peted with the gasping sounds of jaundiced British soldiers choking to death
on their own blood. In the West Indies, two landscapes converge-one a
terrestrial paradise, the other a place of chaos and fear.

Chapter 2

Formation of the West Indian Garrison

Before beginning to examine the history of the apprentice years of the
British army in the West Indies, the origins of the early English commer-
cial settlements in the region claim first attention. This brief inquiry is
important because English settlers preceded English soldiers in the West
Indies and because the English colonial society largely determined the role
of the army. Without this wider investigation, the early history of the British
army in the region would be told in a vacuum.
When the first Englishmen set out to establish what were to become
successful exploitation colonies in the West Indies during the early years
of the seventeenth century, Spaniards had possessed their own for about
four generations. Indeed, the quickness with which Spain established settle-
ments in the West Indies and on the mainland after Columbus's historic
encounter with the New World in 1492 is quite remarkable. When Eliza-
beth became Queen of England and Ireland in 1558, Spain was already in
occupation of Peru and Mexico and scattered settlements in Florida,
Panama, and along the northeastern coast of South America. In the West
Indies, Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, and Jamaica were all com-
mercial centers of varying importance. Since the Spaniards only saw fit to
settle the Greater Antilles and Trinidad, which they used to grow provi-
sions and cattle, they left the Lesser Antilles to the Caribs, the indigenous
inhabitants of the smaller islands. Nonetheless, Spain claimed the entire
archipelago and the mainland as its exclusive preserve.'
At the start of the seventeenth century, England lacked the national
will, economic strength, and governmental organization and support to
seriously challenge Spain's hegemony in the West Indies. Britain's attempts
to break Spain's territorial power and trade monopoly were largely lim-
ited to smuggling and sporadic raids. During the first half of the seven-
teenth century, however, events occurred in Europe which forever al-
tered the history of the West Indies. The Dutch, behind their organized

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 41

fleets, well-financed trading company, swarms of privateers, tropical agri-
culture know-how, and inveterate hostility to Spain, presented a serious
threat to Spain unlike any that had occurred before. Much of Spain's en-
ergy and resources were diverted away from further colonization to meet
the Dutch irruption into the region. This coincided with the great migra-
tion from the British Isles to the Atlantic seaboard colonies of Virginia and
Massachusetts and the West Indies, where colonies of settlement were
established. The authorities in England encouraged these ventures. Even
so, England's relative weakness compelled its imperial strategists to select
the most strategically vulnerable Spanish islands for settlement. Savage
Spanish attacks and formidable resistance from the Caribs failed to halt
English occupation. By the middle of the seventeenth century, England
had established permanent settlements in St. Kitts (1624), Barbados (1627),
Nevis (1628), Montserrat and Antigua (1632), and Jamaica (1655).2
The years immediately following the settlement of what has since been
styled Britain's "Old" West India colonies3 were a time of greater activity
than economic achievement. Cocoa, tobacco, cotton, coffee, provision crops,
and indigo were among the first experiments in tropical agriculture. For a
variety of reasons these crops failed to become the hoped-for commodities
of great financial importance. It was, however, an entirely different mat-
ter with sugar, which the English colonists learned principally from the
Dutch how to grow and process during the early 1640s. With the demand
for sugar in Europe growing steadily, cane became the obvious crop of
choice for planters and quickly leaped forward to dominate the market in
tropical staples. Barbados, the most windward of the Lesser Antilles, led
the other English colonies with bountiful yields of high-quality cane a few
short years after the first sugar crops were raised on the ham-shaped is-
land. By the middle of the seventeenth century, Barbados replaced
Hispaniola as the leading sugar-producing colony in the West Indies.4 To-
day, more than 350 years after the first canes were planted, sugar estate
capitalism remains the driving engine of the island's export industry.
The growing wealth of England in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eigh-
teenth centuries facilitated the historic switch to sugar. For example, the
national wealth of the country is thought to have increased by as much as
20 percent between 1688 and 1701. As a result, there was an ever-in-
creasing supply of risk capital available for overseas operations promising
quick and lucrative profits. The West Indian colonies provided such op-
portunities, and loans on agricultural enterprises rapidly became a com-
mon form of business practice. Planting in the English islands, practically
from the beginning of settlement, was thus a capitalistic enterprise.5

42 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

The switch to a predominantly sugar monoculture transformed life ra-
cially and economically first in Barbados and then in other English islands
whose economies were committed to cane sugar. Growing, harvesting,
crushing, boiling, and potting sugar for shipment to England immediately
required a large and cheap labor force capable of unremitting heavy toil
under horrific tropical conditions. Because the old practice of indenture
could not provide the necessary work force, the hunt for men focused on
other hapless groups in Europe. Crimps regularly snared men in back al-
leys and gin houses in English harbors; some even descended on north
German ports where they scoured for men among the thousands of drift-
ers who had been uprooted by the Thirty Years War (1618-48). More le-
gally, but no less harshly, the English criminal justice system was adapted
to West Indian labor demands. Transportation or deportation to the West
Indies was a regular punishment for thousands of prisoners of war, politi-
cal prisoners, hardened convicts, and those convicted of venial crimes
against property, such as wood theft and poaching.6 Even so, none of these
methods produced white laborers in sufficient numbers. The general re-
sult of all of this was that the need for a cheap and well-disciplined work
force was met, for about 200 years, by the trade in African slaves. During
the life of the Atlantic slave trade, at least 10 million Africans were stolen
from their homelands in West Africa and transported against their will to
the Americas. Fully half of this diaspora was absorbed by the islands and
coastal perimeter of the West Indies.7 Here was the epitome of evil. Even
now, more than a century after the abolition of slavery, one cannot read
the record without sharp sensations of disbelief, shame, and anger at the
capacity of individuals to seek profit in an enterprise so vile and miserable.
When the switch to sugar began in the 1640s, what were the basic de-
mographic characteristics of the English islands? Fragmentary and scat-
tered census information indicates that the white population was rela-
tively small and that blacks were in insignificant numbers. Barbados, the
most populous of the English colonies, provides a case in point. A poll-tax
return for 1640 shows that the island had a white population of about
10,000. Only a few hundred blacks were on the island at the time. Unfor-
tunately, there is no equivalent information for the next twenty years for
the islands, since the government authorities saw fit not to systematically
compile census information. As a result, we are reduced to worthless guess-
ing regarding population trends during the critical transition period to sugar.
The situation from the 1660s improves, however. There were increased
calls from London for statistical information, which prompted island gov-
ernors to institute the practice of periodically enumerating their popula-

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 43

tions and forwarding the results to England. This important achievement
resulted in census returns for Barbados, Jamaica, and the Leeward Islands
from the 1660s through the end of the seventeenth century and into the
eighteenth. Some returns, observes Richard S. Dunn, were quite worth-
less; others, however, were methodical and detailed head counts.8
The most striking feature of the demographic picture that these returns
produces is the racial transformation of the English islands. As the sugar
industry developed, the ratio of African slaves to white laborers steadily
increased. Once again, Barbados provides a case in point. In 1640, the
island had no more than a few hundred blacks, as compared to about 10,000
whites; by 1660, there were about 20,000 blacks and 22,000 whites; in
1670, 30,000 blacks and 20,000 whites; in 1680, the population was 40,000
blacks and 20,000 whites; and ten years later, the number of blacks had
increased to 50,000 while the number of whites had decreased to 18,000.9
The growing disproportion of blacks throughout the English West Indies
continued steadily. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the ratio of
blacks to whites in Barbados was four to one, seven to one in the Leeward
Islands, and as much as ten to one in Jamaica.'1 The island authorities
became increasingly apprehensive about the disproportionate increase in
the slave population. During the early eighteenth century, colonial as-
semblies countered with legislation seeking to increase the number of white
inhabitants. The so-called deficiency laws compelled the planters to main-
tain a permanent ratio of white servants to blacks under penalty of a fine.
In the end, this and other efforts proved vain. The demographic process
was now irreversible. This fact is evident in contemporary English-speak-
ing West Indian society with its black majority and tiny white community.
The decline in the number of white settlers stemmed from another as-
pect of the switch to sugar, namely the growth of large plantations. The
experience in the Leeward Islands is representative of the process of change
that was taking place in other parts of the English West Indies. The first to
quit the islands were the small white planters whose lands were absorbed
by the new sugar plantations. Their numbers could not be replenished by
fresh imports of white servants since they were expensive and increas-
ingly few in number. The next to emigrate were small white traders who
were circumvented by the large planters trading directly with their agents
in England. They, in turn, were followed by the small white artisans who
could not compete with a rising class of slaves and free coloreds" in the
artisan trades and also by middling white planters, who like the small white
planters, were unable to contend with the large sugar estates. The major-
ity the whites once held in the English West Indies was doomed by the

44 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

inexorable expansion of sugar plants and black slaves and the unrivaled
competition they generated.12
The decrease in the white population was also the result of the absen-
teeism of the great planters. Perhaps as early as the 1670s, many of the
richest planters began to retire to the more congenial and opulent lifestyle
of an absentee West Indian in London and in such coastal cities as Bristol
and Southampton. Their departure deprived the English islands of the tal-
ents and services of men of ability, all of which placed heavy burdens on
the civil and military establishments of the colonies. The colonial assem-
blies saw a threat in absenteeism but proved unsuccessful in legislating an
end to the practice. The lure of England was simply too irresistible.13
Elsa Goveia reminds us of the demographic consequences of the sugar
revolution in the English Leeward Islands. She writes: "As a result of the
emigration of the poorer and the absenteeism of the richer whites, the
numbers of whites in the ruling class . at the end of the eighteenth
century were relatively small."14 Very well, but did it really matter? Did
emigration and absenteeism arrest the economic development of the En-
glish islands? Have we in fact made much ado about very little? As long as
there was professional military protection at hand to safeguard the colo-
nies, the white settler may well have been superfluous. As Eric Williams
observed, whites engaged in tropical agriculture were necessary only as
proprietors and managers." The relative smallness of the English popula-
tion in the West Indies did not prevent England from reaping the rewards
from her sugar plants and slave laborers. Richard S. Dunn points out that
almost half of the sugar consumed in Europe in 1700 was supplied by
English estates.'6
The fact that sugar plants and African slaves were the keys to England's
imperial wealth and power was not lost on the other major European con-
tenders in the West Indies. Sugar production started slowly in the French
West Indies toward the end of the seventeenth century and then devel-
oped rapidly after 1713, with St. Domingue leading the way. As Carolyn
E. Fick points out in her ground-breaking study of the St. Domingue or
Haitian revolution (1791-1804), by the 1780s the colony was the single
most important producer of sugar in the West Indies, having surpassed
the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique as well as the English
West Indies. In the Spanish islands, the pattern of economic development
was the same as with the French. Sugar cane had actually been intro-
duced into Hispaniola as early as 1493. Within three decades, slave-grown
sugar was produced in Cuba and Puerto Rico. Nonetheless, the sugar revo-
lution would be delayed until the very end of the eighteenth century,

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 45

after which it became the mainstay of the economy of the Spanish West
Indies.17 Sugar was not gold, and gold was the commodity that Europeans
(beginning with Columbus) craved. Nevertheless, sugar provided great
wealth and power to those willing to risk capital and exploit the labor of
stolen people.
To quote Stephen Saunders Webb, "There can be no empires without
armies." The defining point of empire is, as Webb continues, "the imposi-
tion of state control on dependent peoples by force."'8 Webb's proposition
is useful but somewhat limited, however. To acquire, preserve, and ex-
ploit colonies, force was also necessary to ward off independent peoples-
that is, imperial rivals. With regard to the dependent peoples, the social
organization of slavery meant what Gordon K. Lewis calls the "quasi-mili-
tarization" of the plantation system in order to thwart the ever-present
risk of slave revolt." There are any number of recorded expressions that
confirm this most compelling fact of the daily routine of plantation life in
the West Indies. Janet Schaw, for example-that sharp-eyed traveler-
observed in St. Kitts: "The Negroes who are all in troops are sorted so as to
match each other in size and strength. Every ten Negroes have a driver,
who walks behind them, holding in his hand a short whip and a long one.
You will too easily guess the use of these weapons; a circumstance of all
others the most horrid. They are naked, male and female, down to the
girdle, and you constantly observe where the application has been made."20
Or this statement by John Luffman, a visitor to Antigua in the 1780s: "The
Negroes are turned out at sunrise, and employed in gangs from twenty to
sixty, or upwards under the inspection of white overseers; subordinate to
these overseers, are drivers, commonly called dog-drivers, who are mostly
black or mulatto fellows of the worst dispositions; and these men are fur-
nished with whips, which, while on duty, they are obliged, on pain of
severe punishment, to have with them, and are authorized to flog wher-
ever they see the least relaxation from labour; nor is it a consideration
with them, whether it proceeds from idleness or inability, paying at the
same time, little or no regard to age or sex."21
One need only read the elaborate slave laws to recognize how much
the whites lived under the daily gut-wrenching dread of slaves rebelling
against this tyranny. Indeed, the body of English slave laws, which were
enacted in the earliest days of settlement, almost solely regarded the slave
as a potential insurrectionary.22 Never mind that the whites' fear may well
have been exaggerated far beyond the proportions of the danger of bloody
rebellion. The great numbers of slaves in all the islands represented warn-
ing enough to the whites.

46 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

At the same time, war offered the two principal rival colonial powers-
the English and the French-the opportunity to destroy the prosperous
sugar economy of the other, since each proved unequal to the task in peace-
ful competition. The fundamental aim of West Indian warfare was to cripple
enemy islands rather than annex them. The idea that it was a better busi-
ness practice to damage enemy sugar islands rather than acquire them
intact stemmed from the designs of greedy mercantilists to limit the sup-
ply of sugar and thereby artificially inflate its price. The acquisition of fresh
sugar-producing colonies was frowned upon by both English and French
West Indian interests, as that would increase sugar production and con-
comitantly lower prices and profits within their protected markets. During
the long period of hostilities, from the 1660s to 1815, English and French
commerce-destroying expeditions repeatedly raided each other's colonies,
burned cane fields, ruined machinery, pillaged, seized shipping for their
prize value, and, above all, carried off slaves, who, as chattel, were the
most valuable and mobile components of the planters' wealth.23 Because
each colonial power sought resolutely to monopolize the commerce of its
own colonies while destroying that of its rival, there were numerous wars
in the region. One estimate claims that of the 126 years from 1689 (the
start of the War of the League of Augsburg) to 1815 (the last year of the
Napoleonic Wars), no fewer than 64 were occupied by war.24 Thus, from
the beginning of English colonization, the problems of stability and secu-
rity were ever uppermost in the minds of the white settlers. Even while
enjoying their financial success and political hegemony, the English colo-
nists were uncomfortably aware that threatening forces were just over the
not-so-distant horizon in the form of Africans endeavoring to escape the
catastrophe of slavery and truculent European rivals with their eyes fixed
firmly on the English commercial prize. Yet in spite of these endemic dan-
gers to the security and ultimately the wealth of the islands, a handful of
regular troops of the British army were sent intermittently to the region.
Even during peak war years in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,
the West Indian garrison was not strong enough to provide adequate pro-
tection for the sugar islands. Not until the very end of the eighteenth cen-
tury, during the prolonged wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon,
was the West Indian garrison augmented with troops in sufficient num-
bers for the proper defense of the colonies. How do we account for these
extraordinary developments that put the English West Indies continually
at risk?
The gradual development of the British army as the primary protective
shield of the West Indies can be traced to four factors:25 first, a tenacious

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 47

dislike in England of a standing army of long-service professionals; sec-
ond, the initial reliance on colonial militias as a substitute for regular troops;
third, the lack of a conscription machine to answer the growing demand
for professional soldiers as guardians of order in Britain and overseas in
the empire; and fourth, the conflict between the tropical colonists and the
authorities in London over who was chiefly responsible for the expenses
of the military establishment in the West Indies. These factors were all
operating around the same time; indeed, developments in military orga-
nizations are the product of complex interactions. For the sake of clarity,
however, each will be examined separately.
Armies are conceived in crisis. The development of the standing army
as an "institution of militarism" in seventeenth-century Europe was a par-
ticularly threatening development to those interested in maintaining con-
trols over the military, since it challenged the long-held view that armies
should not be permanent. And so it was in England in 1645, when Oliver
Cromwell created the new model army, which became that country's first
permanent military force. As a standing force, the British army came into
being at a time when the central political and constitutional question of
the day was arguably the place of military power within society. In fact,
opposition to soldiers and the efforts of the English monarchy to enlarge
military forces loyal to the king existed before the issue of a standing army
in peacetime became a burning question. Lois G. Schwoerer, in her study
of antimilitary thought in seventeenth-century England, reminds us that
the attempt to define the constitutional place of military institutions was a
part of every important constitutional and political confrontation between
the king and Parliament. Issues like the Petition of Right of 1628 and the
Militia Bill/Ordinance of 1641-42 provided the context within which the
question of a peacetime army was debated. Opposition to a permanently
embodied army, which was heightened by a bloody civil war and by the
terrifying experience with Cromwellian militarism, was rooted in the be-
lief that a standing army was, in the emphatic words of one contemporary
antimilitary writer, "inconsistent with a Free Government, and absolutely
destructive to the Constitution of the English Monarch." In addition to
the constitutional argument against a permanent army, there was the
equally thorny question of expense. During the Middle Ages, armies were
raised to protect national territory and to go on foreign expeditionary ser-
vice. Once peace was made, the armies dispersed, the soldiers returning to
their castles, villages, and farms. Under this system, costs were temporary;
standing armies, on the other hand, meant perpetual costs. A standing
army in peacetime was therefore viewed by the supporters of Parliament

48 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

as the instrument of the executive, and, as a result, a source of coups d'etat.
Proper security measures for the nation rested with the Royal Navy and
the militia, which were regarded as cheap and constitutionally safe alter-
natives to a permanent and paid military force. This kind of anti-standing-
army ideology-with its cry of "No Standing Armies!"-became deeply
imbedded in the English national consciousness and remained a vital force
throughout the eighteenth century. The anti-standing-army bias also spread
across the Atlantic to Britain's North American colonies, where it was ea-
gerly received.26
In the course of the debate on a permanent peacetime force, a fledgling
British army gradually evolved into a standing military machine of per-
petual soldiers. That a standing army should have been created over in-
tense national opposition was in some ways inevitable. The necessity for
some sort of permanent professional force to maintain order at home and
abroad demonstrated the need for a standing army. Further momentum
was supplied by what Geoffrey Parker calls the "military revolution" in
Europe between 1500 and 1800. During those three intervening centu-
ries, improvements in management, organization, supply, and equipment
transformed standing armies as well as offensive and defensive warfare.27
Defenders of a permanent army could argue with force that in view of the
development of standing armies on the continent, it would be tantamount
to a dangerous unilateral disarmament for England not to have a similar
institution. As one proponent put it in Parliament in 1733, when the Brit-
ish army was still in its infancy: "In ancient time no Prince in Europe had
a standing force, now they all have, which makes it necessary for us to
have it, for the Militia is nothing against trained soldiers."28 The speaker
was saying aloud what all-even the most ardent critics of a standing
army-knew in their hearts to be true: that for a military force to be effec-
tive it had to be constantly maintained.
It was as simple as it was profound. By the end of the seventeenth cen-
tury, a permanent military establishment had become something of a na-
tional institution in England. Gone forever was the ancient custom of con-
sidering an army's usefulness with the conclusion of an expedition or a
war. Nevertheless, the English standing army, which gradually came into
existence during a period of about sixty years beginning in 1645, was un-
like those in France and Prussia, where the monarch and his ministers
effectively controlled the military establishment. The constitutional settle-
ment of the seventeenth century created a system of dual control over the
army in Britain. Appointment and command were within the preroga-
tives of the monarch. The power to raise, discipline, and pay came under

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 49

the civilian authority of Parliament. The various statutes that made all of
this possible had the revolutionary effect of transferring military sover-
eignty over the army from the monarch to Parliament.29
The military reforms that firmly set the constitutional place of perma-
nent armed forces in England included the yearly review of the army's
size and appropriation by Parliament. Lingering fear of a large army moved
Parliament to drastically limit its peacetime strength. For the first fifty years
or so of the eighteenth century-a period that saw England become a major
continental and colonial power-the average annual strength of the peace-
time British army was 20,000.30 This was ludicrously small when com-
pared to continental armies of the period, like that of France, which had a
peacetime strength of 133,000." J. A. Houlding notes wryly that even
though Britain and Ireland had a combined population of about 8.5 mil-
lion by 1730, the king of tiny Sardinia could field an army equal in strength
to that of George I.32 The disproportionate smallness of the British army
reflected the continuing universal unpopularity of the army, which was
allayed at the cost of placing the nation practically at the mercy of its en-
emies. Of course, the intention of these low annual troop strengths was
clear: to limit costs but also to prevent the formation of an army which,
because of its size, might become a threat to the nation.33
It follows that if the British standing army was viewed with what John
Shy calls a "near-pathological fear,"34 and thus intentionally kept under-
strength by a wary and parsimonious Parliament, the forces provided for
the defense of the West Indies were inadequate. Over time, a clear pattern
developed. In times of war, the numbers of troops swelled dramatically: in
1654, for example, 6,000 regulars were dispatched to the West Indies to
capture the Spanish island of Hispaniola.3 Nearly 100 years later, in 1740,
12,000 soldiers and marines attacked Cartagena on the Spanish Main.'6
Puny by modern standards, the troops embarked on these expeditions were
numerous in comparison to the smallness of the British army at the time.
But the size of these operations was aberrant. Parliament reacted differ-
ently to West Indian defense in peacetime. Once the danger or panic was
over, a paltry handful of all-but-forgotten and neglected regulars was left
to guard the islands. Numbers confirm the image of scattered aggregations
of soldiers but no army-no command organization above the company
level and no regimental occasions-in short, no sense of the structured
hierarchies of a large military force. As late as 1676, the number of regu-
lars at St. Kitts, the tadpole-shaped island the English nervously shared
with the French, numbered 110; in 1689, one company guarded the En-
glish Leewards; and by 1692 one regiment and four additional companies

50 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

protected all of the English West Indies. This situation remained essen-
tially the same in the decades that followed. For instance, in 1735, one
company did duty at Bermuda, another in the Bahamas. Before that, those
islands shared a single company between them. In 1735, fear of a slave
insurrection at Jamaica saw that garrison increased from two to eight com-
panies. Depending on the duty and the health of the troops, the strength
of these companies varied from 35 to 100 men.37
The effects, then, of a small standing army and the frictions of peace
and war, particularly diseases that routinely disabled and killed large num-
bers of men, combined to limit the size of the West Indian garrison through-
out most of the colonial period. The individual camps comprising the gar-
rison were unlike the sprawling military cantonments in India, many of
which accommodated several thousand troops at a time in row upon row
of barracks. The truth of this assertion can be seen today in the military
ruins that dot the West Indian landscape. Anyone who climbs the Cabrits
at Prince Rupert's Neck, Dominica; Shirley Heights, Antigua; or Brimstone
Hill, St. Kitts, will appreciate that the few barracks constructed by the Brit-
ish there (and elsewhere in the region) were meant to accommodate rela-
tively small numbers of men and their families. There was a notable in-
crease in the number of British soldiers serving throughout the empire in
peacetime after the 1760s,38 but this augmentation did little to alter fun-
damentally the size of the West Indian garrison, which remained a small
imperial station.
The aforementioned companies were the traditional independent com-
panies of the British army. So called because they were unregimented,
they were, as we have seen, widely dispersed about the West Indies, per-
forming duties too simple to require the services of entire regiments. They
were recruited largely with old and physically disabled soldiers, which helps
to explain the large numbers killed by disease. Because they were consid-
ered garrison units, they were never moved from their forts. This policy
originated with the practices of the Tudor monarchs, which held that gar-
risons of important fortifications must be irremovably attached to them.
In keeping with this tradition, West Indian military units were left to rot,
unrelieved for many years. For instance, the 38th Regiment remained in
the Leeward Islands for fifty continuous years, from 1716 to 1765. In rec-
ognition of this hard service, in 1936 the regiment was granted the dis-
tinction of wearing a patch of brown cloth behind the cap badge to com-
memorate the maintenance of worn-out uniforms with the coarse holland
sacking used for packing sugar. According to John W. Fortescue, the his-
torian of the British army, independent companies gradually disappeared

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 51

from the West Indies and were replaced with whole regiments beginning
during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14). Reliance on under-strength,
ill-constituted, and forgotten garrison units supports the proposition that
the British army was not yet the anchor upon which the defense of the
West Indies was moored. Then, too, that customary English device of local
self-help-the militia-was still viewed as a sufficient colonial defense. The
army would not become the mainstay of defense until the second half of
the eighteenth century, when the rapid growth of the empire demanded a
bigger and better-organized imperial land force.9
The piecemeal introduction of the British army into the West Indies
was also linked directly to the English militia system. Based on the ancient
principle of every man's duty to protect the nation in times of emergency,
the militia was imported into the region with the first settlers since, as
John Shy reminds us, "colonization was essentially a military enterprise."40
The colonists had little choice but to provide for their own defense. From
the beginning of settlement, the English monarchs assumed no responsi-
bility for the defense of the islands. Most importantly, the policy of local
self-help rested on the underlying mercantilist principle that the colonies
were to contribute to rather than drain England's military resources.41 As
a result, the English colonies relied for defense primarily on their militias.
As mentioned above, dependence on militia soldiers seemed to work well
enough. During much of the seventeenth century, the formation of island
militias presented little difficulty. The ranks of the militias were kept full
by freemen, transported political and military prisoners, disbanded sol-
diers, and indentured servants.
The militia of each island was usually established by an act of the local
assembly. This force was generally composed of all able-bodied white men
between the ages of twelve and sixty-five, with subordinate and segre-
gated sections of able-bodied free blacks, and, occasionally, trusty slaves.
In their organization, the tropical militias were patterned after the English
model. They comprised mainly infantry, occasionally with small contin-
gents of artillery, or cavalry, or both. Militia regiments were flexible orga-
nizations with no fixed establishment. Nonetheless, as a general rule, each
regiment was subdivided into companies with as few as five and as many
as ten to a regiment. In the spirit of self-help, militia soldiers were respon-
sible for the supply and maintenance of their own uniforms and arms.
Militiamen were periodically mustered for drill, use of arms, and inspec-
tion. When martial law was declared, the militia was called out and came
under the control of the island governor in his capacity as commander-in-
chief. Militia soldiers had to remain on permanent duty for the duration

52 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

of the emergency, which could last for months-a source of considerable
cost and irritation to those of modest means.42
The militia was not only a paramilitary organization; it was also a social
institution. As such, it mirrored the hierarchical nature of a society based
irrevocably on race, class, and the planters' love of rank and position. No-
where was this more evident than in the officer corps. Throughout the
period, only white men could hold commissions. This form of social sepa-
ration was rooted in the racial superiority whites felt toward blacks and
the system of apartheid that gave legal expression to this sentiment. To
permit blacks to hold commissions as officers was unthinkable, for it would
bestow on them a dignity and social elevation that was the guarded pre-
serve of the white community. As a result, blacks were rigidly excluded
from all levels of the officer corps. Once the aspirant for a militia commis-
sion successfully met the racial qualification, his rank within the officer
corps was determined by the extent of his wealth. The senior ranks, from
general downward through colonel to major, were the preserve of the big
planters. The junior grades-captains, lieutenants, and ensigns-were open
to smaller planters. Because of the social eminence attached to service in
the militia as officers, there was an enthusiasm among white West Indians
to obtain commissions. The effect of this was a superabundance of officers.
One visitor to Jamaica in 1700 came away with the distinct impression
that all white settlers were militia officers.43
How effective a fighting force was the West Indian militia? The militia
was not as militarily hopeless as it is often depicted." The early militias of
the seventeenth century appeared to know how to defend themselves.
Whether mobilized or not, the island militias could be relied on for the
essential, though inconspicuous, work of holding down the slave popula-
tion. They performed well enough when called upon to track down small
bands of marauding slaves. The early militia was also able to perform cred-
itably at times against regular troops when properly led. Take, for instance,
the French invasion of Jamaica in 1694: the militia forced the French to
reembark after a defense with desperate energy. This spirited and success-
ful defense of the island was achieved without any assistance from regu-
lars or the Royal Navy.45
Nevertheless, by the early years of the eighteenth century, the defense
of the islands provided by the tropical militias had become a precarious
protection. As we have seen, the sugar revolution led to white depopula-
tion. This in turn resulted in the drastic shrinkage of the militias at a time
when European armies were increasing in size and technical power. But
the death blow to the local militias as the front line of land defense was

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 53

the ever-widening scale and professionalization of modern warfare. The
climactic struggle between Britain and France during the Seven Years' War
witnessed the development of new forces. For instance, joint amphibious
operations by British land and sea forces made possible the capture of
Martinique, Guadeloupe, Havana, and Manila, the conquest of Quebec,
and victories in distant India. During these operations, improved weap-
onry demonstrated the effectiveness of naval gunfire against fixed land
positions. Armies continued to swell in numbers, and military efficiency
increased with the development of new forms of military organization. To
this mix was added the great military innovation of the eighteenth cen-
tury: highly trained light troops who skirmished, scouted, and accurately
shot at specific targets (unlike the rigid formations of the regular line in-
fantry whose principle tactic was based on massed, mechanical volley-
fire). All this demanded constant training and drill, which was designed to
make soldiers more obedient and more efficient.46 The modern battlefield
was no place for merchants and planters who drilled periodically and who
wanted to devote most, if not all, of their attention to business.
Under the crushing weight of these conditions, the military efficiency
of the militias decreased rapidly from the end of the seventeenth century
through the eighteenth century. The later, or eighteenth-century, militia
could still tap supplies of men to satisfy paramilitary needs. Some miscel-
laneous examples may be given to show the periodic strength of the West
Indian militias. In 1793, when revolutionary France declared war on Brit-
ain, the militia strength of tiny Grenada was 855. In 1796 the Jamaican
militia numbered 6,885. And in 1802 the Barbadian militia comprised 3,218
officers and men.47 Despite these impressive numbers, the militia had failed.
In the hundred years preceding the beginning of the wars of the French
Revolution, internal decay had deprived the West Indian militias of their
efficiency. The rank and file were badly led by an ignorant and slothful
class of amateur officers. A few were former professional soldiers and en-
thusiastic amateurs. This efficient minority could maintain standards only
up to a point. The bulk, however, were raw and insufficient in profes-
sional competence. But this alone did not invalidate the militia as an ef-
fective military force. The lack of training was undoubtedly the Achilles
heel of the militia. The Jamaica militia, for example, mustered only once a
month for drill and only once in every three months for field inspection
during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-15).48 This was hardly enough time to
create specialists in the controlled application of violence which modern
warfare increasingly demanded of the eighteenth-century soldier.
In Lieutenant James's scornful "MARTIAL LAW in JAMAICA," we can see what

"MARTIAL LAW in JAMAICA," 1803. Lieutenant Abraham James, Lewis Walpole Library, Farmington, Conn.

4 -,., .. ., .; ..^~*./ ~ I' '~C'"n '

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 55

effects inadequate training can have on a military organization. The mili-
tiamen are unfamiliar with their weapons; there is a general lack of en-
thusiasm; neither the officers nor the other ranks have discarded the care-
lessness of civilian deportment and adopted the rigid self-possession of
military bearing; they all look ridiculous in the variety of their dress; offic-
ers are mere ceremonial warriors; and the men are ignorant of the rudi-
mentary close-order maneuvers. In short the militia is wholly unwarlike
and unmilitary.49
In fairness, it must be remembered that James was a regular army of-
ficer and that his venomous caricature of the Jamaica militia stemmed in
part from his dislike of bumbling amateurs who, sunk in luxury, cared
more for rank and position than defeating the king's enemies. James's
scathing depiction of boorish-looking militia soldiers was also rooted in
his undisguised contempt for the main features of West Indian society: its
crude frontier existence, its medieval quality, and its Creoleness. This dis-
dain runs through all of his known caricatures of life in the tropics.50 An
uncritical observer might consider the parade-ground smartness of a par-
ticular militia unit as proof of efficiency. Janet Schaw, for instance, was
favorably struck by the "very military appearance" of the Antiguan mili-
tia.5 It was a thrilling sight indeed to see large bodies of brilliantly uni-
formed men marching and maneuvering in unison. But appearances are
at times deceiving. James had it right: the West Indian militias were largely
useless as a military force; James accurately captured this lack of utility in
this lively and crudely drawn caricature.52
There were efforts to reform the militias. But there was no way to revi-
talize the institution. The militia was rendered permanently unfit as a mili-
tary force by sketchy peacetime training. It was also rendered valueless by
political and military conditions, all of which made it unable to fight regu-
lar troops and to even successfully perform its traditional police-work func-
The decay of the militia did not go unrecognized. Very early in the eigh-
teenth century, it was clear to the authorities in London (as well as those
in the West Indies) that continued reliance on colonial self-help would
mean the loss of the sugar islands. The remedy was to assign the militia a
strictly auxiliary role and to rely primarily on British regulars for the de-
fense of the West Indies. A force of 3,000 regulars was assigned to the
West Indian garrison in the establishment of 1763. This was an improve-
ment over the ridiculously weak earlier establishments, but it was hardly
adequate for a successful defense of the islands-as the wars of the Ameri-
can and French Revolutions were to demonstrate. At the onset of both

56 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

struggles, one British island after another was captured by the French be-
cause of the critical shortage of British regulars. In the last year of the
American Revolution, the commander-in-chief of the British army, Gen-
eral Henry Conway, wisely recommended that a peacetime establishment
suitable for the defense of the British West Indies required at least 6,000
regulars. Only a force of that size, he argued, could hold the islands long
enough until help arrived. London, however, was bent on economy and
so kept the colonial peacetime establishment at 3,000 men.54 The decision
of the British government to keep the West Indian garrison at a bare mini-
mum would be one it would later regret.
London had reversed its long-standing policy of colonial self-help by
permanently quartering over time whole regiments in the islands. This
new plan sounds like a relatively simple matter; however, as we shall see,
there were a number of problems. Nevertheless, the British army was now
the backbone of land defense in peacetime as well as war. Moreover, the
British army had now reached a point where its powerful array of cus-
toms, interests, prestige, authority, and actions would be brought to bear
on West Indian society.
The absence of a national conscription system also helped to limit the
size of the British army, and this in turn limited the number of Britons
available for duty in the West Indies during the seventeenth century and
much of the eighteenth." Recruitment was normally based on voluntary
enlistment. The standard method of netting volunteers during the eigh-
teenth century was for a sergeant major to obtain a "beating order" from
the regimental commanding officer. The recruiting party-a young subal-
tern, one or more senior sergeants, several privates, and a boy drummer
(to "beat") was dispatched to "beat up" promising regimental recruiting
areas. Members of the party-chosen men in smart, well-fitting uniforms-
were permitted to enhance their already dazzling appearance by the addi-
tion of red, white, and blue streamers pinned to their caps and the drum.
The recruiting party made its determined sweep from county to county,
hoping to snare men who were willing to sever local ties for one reason or
another. The best time to beat up for volunteers was just after harvest,
when bored and idle men were most likely to be found.
The machinery of recruitment included other methods. The would-be
soldier was lured into military life through the exhortations of regimental
recruiting posters. During wartime, aggressive appeals to regimental esprit
de corps and patriotism were the order of the day. "A FEW GOOD RECRUITS ..
[for] this MOST EXCELLENT REGIMENT," ran the words of a late 1790s poster for
the 6th Regiment, was the right prescription to defeat "that most execrable

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 57

and detestable Banditti, THE FRENCH." The poster mentions "BRINGERS," a dis-
ingenuous reference to the universally loathed crimps, civilian middle-
men who forcibly found men for hard-pressed regimental recruiters. (In
the public's mind, crimping was synonymous with kidnapping, which pro-
voked anticrimping rioting in Britain during the first years of the 1792-
1815 war.) The poster also refers to "BOUNTY," which was ready money
used to stimulate enlistment. That crimps were to be "handsomely re-
warded" and recruits were promised the "LARGEST BOUNTY" suggests that vol-
unteers for regular military service were scarce. In fact, at no time during
the eighteenth century was the army able to enlist men in sufficient num-
bers in Britain to maintain the regiments up to numbers called for in the
annual regimental establishments.56
The central recruiting problem, in the absence of general conscription,
was popular hostility to regular military service. Certain features of army
life exercised a baneful influence over the overwhelming bulk of British
subjects. A recruit could expect to serve in some distant and dangerous
tropical garrison, like the West Indies, at some point in his military career.
His chance of avoiding contact with deadly pathogens was virtually nil in
view of the fact that regiments in foreign garrisons were frequently exiled
abroad for long periods in the absence of a regular rotation system. It was
equally true that soldiers were kept in their ranks by a tough retributive
system of military justice. Despite some softening in the harsh criminal
codes and punishments in Britain and Europe during the Enlightenment,
discipline was ruthlessly maintained by the lash. Sentences of 1,500 lashes
were not uncommon. Another factor was the low pay of the private foot-
soldier: in 1793, just prior to France's declaration of war on Britain, the
soldier's gross pay was increased from eight pence a day (a rate estab-
lished by Parliament in 1660) to one shilling. Although provided with bread,
the soldier was expected to purchase the rest of his food and the pipe-clay
to whiten his equipment. Deductions from his gross pay left him with about
eighteen shillings a year at a time of soaring inflation. His net pay may be
compared, for instance, to a bricklayer's three shillings and nine pence per
day. All these factors resulted in a dearth of recruits and an army danger-
ously under-strength.5
Furthermore, there was wasteful competition for men between the Brit-
ish militia and the British army-which the former routinely won, since
regular service (unlike militia or local duty in Britain) ordinarily meant
lifetime soldiering, often in foreign garrisons. This inability to get men led
to crises when the frictions of peace and war brought losses in excess of
recruitment. A situation of this kind occurred, for instance, from 1795 to

58 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

1797 when there was a deficit of 50,000 troops on the official establish-
General conscription for the army was out of the question. Britain was
as yet unprepared to adopt French-style conscription, whereby, in the lan-
guage of the law of 5 September 1798, "Every Frenchman is a soldier and
is obliged to come to the defence of the fatherland."59 The formation of a
British mass army would be delayed until World War I, when, in 1916,
with the supply of recruits running dangerously dry, the ancient principle
of voluntary enlistment was abandoned in favor of straightforward con-
scription. Selective conscription, vaguely masked as impressment, was a
different matter, however. R. E. Scouller, in his study of the organization
and administration of the British army during the reign of Anne (1702-
14), makes the claim that the only form of conscription imposed on the
army before World War I occurred in 1702. Not all historians of the Brit-
ish army agree with Scouller's assertion.60 To trace the debate concerning
the origins of maintaining the army with conscripts or impressed men
would be useless. What is important to notice, however, is that the British
Parliament frequently resorted to selective conscription to recruit the army,
and when it did so, the most vulnerable men in British society were har-
vested. Beginning during the reign of William and Mary (1689-1702) and
continuing into the middle of the eighteenth century, imprisoned insol-
vent debtors were released for service in the army. The next to be im-
pressed were capital offenders who were thought fit to be reprieved from
execution. The earliest evidence of conscripting criminals has been traced
to 1702. Unable to resist the military dragnet (as in the case of accused
felons, who by law were not permitted the services of an attorney to ad-
dress the jury), other groups within the British underclass lay open to
exploitation. Beginning in 1703, impressment was extended to paupers.
And decades later, in 1778, impressment was applied to men deserting
their families.61 As mentioned above, these measures similarly failed to
produce the required yield of men.
The West Indian garrison was not overlooked in these flawed efforts to
maintain the army. From the very beginning of the policy of conscripting
among imprisoned criminal and pauper classes, there was statutory au-
thority to pardon inmates on the express condition that they be "trans-
ported beyond the seas" to serve in the West Indies.62 In fact, there is cred-
itable official evidence which strongly suggests that throughout the lifetime
of this practice, most of those sent to the colonies were sent to the West
Indies.63 As with the army in Britain, selective conscription failed to allevi-
ate the need for men in the West Indies. A mere handful of men arrived in

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 59

the islands, where they rotted and died as fast as they were shipped out.
The odious reputation of the West Indies made it that much more diffi-
cult to raise men for the British army, since service with the regulars usu-
ally meant a life-threatening tour of duty in the islands. The source of this
notoriety was, of course, an arsenal of killer diseases, most notably ma-
laria and yellow fever. Over time, the ominousness of the region became
common knowledge in Britain. For example, William Thackeray's Cap-
tain William Dobbin miraculously "returned from yellow fever in the West
Indies."64 And Charles Lever's Major Monsoon, a redoubtable military brag-
gadocio, darkly advised a listener: "It's very hard to leave the West Indies
if once you've been quartered there, what with the seductions of the cof-
fee plantations, the sugar-canes, the monsoons, the brown skins, the rainy
season, and the yellow fever, most of us settled there."65
But it was not so much the stories that discouraged some would-be
recruits from volunteering as it was the tangible evidence of the ghastly
nature of West Indian service. Thousands of infirm and diseased men, dis-
charged as unfit for further service after their brush with death, returned
to every corner of Britain for all to see and shudder at. Men with ampu-
tated toes and limbs, blind men, men with ulcer-covered limbs, oddly tor-
pid young men, stammering men, mentally deranged men, twitching men,
deformed men, men who had lost the use of their limbs, chronically weak
men, jaundiced men, dying men, unhappy men. Many of those who did
not die of their infirmities soon after returning from the West Indies were
nonetheless broken for life. There could be no eagerness to share their
The tens of thousands who "settled" permanently in the islands simi-
larly discouraged men from coming forward as recruits. In many town
and village churches, monuments of one sort or another were put up in
memory of dead soldiers. No sight those memorials offered was sadder, or
more poignantly revealing of the enormous human cost the British paid
for their West Indian misadventure, than the simple markers erected in
the memory of a lost son or husband. One of these was placed in the clois-
ter of Canterbury Cathedral in Kent. On a simple, white oval plaque, the
heartbroken parents of William Le Geyt of the Royal Artillery chiseled a
notice that their son had died at St. Lucia in May 1795 at the tender age of
eighteen. These monuments became emotional centers, active reminders
during pensive church services of the calamity of military duty in the West
Indies. Those contemplating soldiering would undoubtedly reconsider their
plans in the presence of these simple yet compelling memorials.
It is not surprising that the terror of the West Indies as a yawning grave

60 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

also led to losses among those men already serving with the colors. As one
would expect, British soldiers ordered to the West Indies were fully aware
of the enormous danger of that service. The most complete evidence of
this is to be found in the letters, journals, and sundry statements written
during the war against revolutionary and Napoleonic France. Take, for
example, Dr. George Pinckard, who writes on the eve of his departure to
the region in 1795:

A degree of horror seems to have overspread the nation from the
late destructive effects of yellow-fever, or, what the multitude de-
nominates, the West India plague; insomuch that a sense of terror
attaches to the very name of the West Indies-many, even, consid-
ering it synonimous with the grave; and, perhaps, it were not too
much to say, that all, who have friends in the expedition [of 1795-
96], apprehend more from disease than the sword. Such discourag-
ing sentiments I am sorry to find have not been concealed from the
troops. The fearful farewell of desponding friends is every day, and
hour, either heedlessly, or artfully sounded in their ears. People walk-
ing about the camp, attending at a review, or a parade, or merely
upon seeing parties of soldiers in the streets, are heard to exclaim,-
"Ah, poor fellows! you are going to your last home! What pity such
brave men should go to that West India grave!-to that hateful cli-
mate to be killed by the plague! Poor fellows, good bye, farewell! we
shall never see you back again!" With such like accents are the ears
of the soldiers incessantly saluted; and the hopeless predictions are
loudly echoed, for the worst purposes, by the designing, whose tur-
bulent spirits would feast in exciting discontentment among the

Possessed of this grim knowledge, many soldiers reacted predictably
when it became known that their regiments were ordered to prepare for
service in the deadly West Indies. It was, for some, a time to desert. It was
for others the moment to escape through disabling self-inflicted wounds.67
It was for still others the opportunity to report themselves sick, as in the
unusual case of the troops of the 8th Regiment who reported ill en masse
in February 1796 when ordered to the West Indies.68 And, for some, it
was a time to mutiny, as when the 105th and 113th Regiments took to the
street of Cork, Ireland, in September 1795, armed with muskets, declaring
to curious onlookers that their conditions of service had been broken.69
The response, however, of most of those soldiers destined to serve in

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 61

the hot pestilent islands was to stay with their units. Naturally many were
fearful, but the soldier was expected to subdue his fear and not give way
under stress. And so they remained in the ranks. Some were inspired to
stay with their colors by dauntless courage. Others were motivated by regi-
mental pride. But all who considered some kind of evasion no doubt did
so in the cold light of the brutal punishments meted out to convicted de-
serters. These ranged from vicious floggings and painful brandings with
the letter "D" for deserter, to ritualized executions. Nevertheless, the or-
ders to prepare for service in the West Indies caused a great many long
faces among those who remained loyal.
Some were not discouraged by the reality that the most compelling fact
of life in the West Indies was death; Lieutenant Leach of the 70th Regi-
ment was such a one. Because he was "young and thoughtless," as he put
it, he viewed his marching orders a "novelty" and thus accepted them
with "pleasure rather than dislike."70 There were others, as we shall see, as
unmindful of the dangers as Leach.
In view, then, of the national dislike of the British army, and the sev-
eral obstacles to recruiting, among them West Indian service, every dic-
tate of common sense called for general conscription, not a recruiting sys-
tem that waged class warfare on powerless men who comprised a tiny
fraction of the population. But the problem of providing the army with
enough native Britons was never solved. Rather than tap directly into its
national human resources, Britain endured national humiliation by rely-
ing heavily on rented men, foreign mercenaries. The hiring of mercenar-
ies was the fastest and cheapest means by which London could augment
its meager land forces in times of national peril.
Dependence on foreign troops stimulated official protests. As early as
1696, Parliament resolved that the troops entrusted with the defense of
the realm should all be native-born. These and other similar efforts were
quickly rendered worthless when Britain faced peril at home and abroad
and was too weak to wage war successfully with "Subject troops"-that is,
only British nationals. Foreign mercenaries were simply too valuable a
prop to the ruling authorities in Britain to be ignored.71
The employment of foreign soldiers occurred both within Britain and
overseas in the empire. The presence of mercenaries in the British army
can be traced back to a small number of specialists employed in the artil-
lery and engineers of the new model army.72 After that episode, treaty-
soldiers-that is, large contingents of entire regiments of foreign troops
annually paid for by a lump subsidy to their rulers-were no strangers to
British shores, since national perils were not infrequent and the British

62 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

army small. Some were Dutch and others Swiss, but the largest group
were Germans, principally Hanoverians and Hessians. Examples are nu-
merous of foreign troops serving in Britain during the eighteenth century.
Among the most dramatic examples were the twelve Hanoverian and eight
Hessian battalions encamped in southern Britain in 1756. Each force was
self-contained in its own camp with its own staff, general officers, and
artillery.73 On this and other similar occasions, Britain was in effect an
occupied country.
Reliance on foreign mercenaries for service on the continent was simi-
larly heavy. For instance, in 1711, during the War of the Spanish Succes-
sion (1701-14), foreign troops in British pay comprised a vast host of slightly
more than 200,000 men. This may be compared to the British contingent
for the same period, which numbered around 42,000 troops.74
When not helping to maintain civil order in Britain and winning ac-
claim on European battlefields, foreign mercenaries on the British payroll
were also employed in the far-flung empire. The focus of their hard ser-
vice was centered, of course, in the North American colonies during the
American Revolution (1775-83). Sylvia R. Frey reminds us that about
29,000 German soldiers saw service in America during the war. When the
peace was signed in 1783, German mercenaries outnumbered British regu-
lars in Canada.75 Some thirty years before that, small numbers of Swiss
and German mercenaries entered the British East India Company's ser-
vice. In sharp contrast to this record of service in North America and In-
dia, foreign soldiers avoided duty in the West Indies. Why, in view of the
strategic and economic importance of the islands, was the West Indian
garrison denied the services of foreign mercenaries, arguably among the
best troops in British pay, for most of the eighteenth century?76
As noted earlier, the West Indies had a well-deserved reputation as the
graveyard of white men. To Britons, long familiar with their fever-stricken
shores, the islands were daunting places where the price of growing sugar
was paid in blood. But to those unfamiliar with the region, like the Ger-
man princelings and the soldiers they traditionally hired out, the unknown
and the distant and the bizarre were scarier still, perhaps even terrifying.
On the practical side, service in the West Indies was a death sentence, the
effects of which would make it difficult for the princes (as for the British)
to recruit men who had undoubtedly heard the dreadful tales of duty in
the tropics and who also knew that Britain, as the principal renter of Ger-
man soldiers, had massive wealth in the islands to defend. Under this pres-
sure, the German princes thus refused to have their superbly trained regi-
ments serve in the West Indies. All this would change dramatically during

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 63

the 1792-1815 war, when Britain found it strategically necessary to com-
mit large numbers of troops to the defense of the West Indies. In desperate
need to rapidly swell its army, Britain successfully persuaded the German
rulers to modify their long-standing objection to West Indian service for
their soldiers with generous financial subsidies.77 As we shall see, thou-
sands of nontreaty German mercenaries, now coming in as individuals
and embodied in special corps, served in the West Indian garrison through-
out the nearly twenty-five-year Anglo-French struggle. Before this hap-
pened, however, the hiring of foreign mercenary units had no effect on
the development of the West Indian garrison. The opportunity to provide
the garrison with first-rate troops, and, thus, a real fighting capability, was
lost for much of the eighteenth century.
The fourth and final factor explanatory of the snail-like pace with which
the British army became the bulwark of defense in the West Indies was
the tug of war between London and the colonists over who was respon-
sible for the financial burden of maintaining imperial troops in the region.
Almost immediately after the intervention of the first regulars in the is-
lands, it became sufficiently evident that the British soldier simply could
not live in the tropics on the pay provided for his maintenance in Britain.
Part of the problem was that the soldier's pay, which had remained fixed
for more than 120 years, was too little for his upkeep. Even so, at the root
of the financial problem in meeting the costs of West Indian defense were
the additional and extraordinary expenditures peculiar to service in the
West Indies. What were these? First of all, the lure of sugar being irresist-
ible, planters were preoccupied with the cultivation of cane. As they in-
creased their concentration on sugar growing, they became increasingly
unwilling to put caneland under provision crops. Island provisions there-
fore often had to be imported for the soldier at great cost. Second, experi-
ence had shown on more than one occasion that to collect any great num-
ber of nonimmune white men together in the islands was the certain way
to bring about epidemics of malaria and yellow fever which would annihi-
late them. With British regulars forming the nucleus of the defense of
pestilent sugar islands, sturdy barracks, guard houses, hospitals, and forti-
fications became necessary if the soldier was to have any hope of surviv-
ing the lethality of the West Indies. Consequently, London recognized the
necessity for increased outlays in order to construct and maintain these
installations. To provide quarters, food, heat, and light for British soldiers
was thus an expensive affair.
Unlike the North American colonists, who had objected to the presence
of large peacetime garrisons of redcoats in their midst, white West Indians

64 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

generally welcomed and occasionally even demanded British regulars. It
is not hard to understand why the tropical colonists were so eager to be
protected by imperial troops. Efforts to preserve a safe proportion between
whites and their slaves were doomed by the inexorable growth of the new
sugar economy and of the unequal contest it generated. As noted earlier,
the new economic system of sugar plants and black slaves forced the emi-
gration of poor whites by destroying the economic basis of their liveli-
hood. As the number of whites declined, the number of slaves increased,
both in their total numbers and their proportion in the overall population.
Because of these greatly uneven numbers, the colonists lived in perpetual
fear of slave revolt. Such dread was compounded by the eternal danger of
the loss of property and trade if war should break out, all of which made
the colonists eager for the protection of the British army.78
As Richard Pares observed in his authoritative War and Trade in the West
Indies, 1739-1763, it seems like a relatively easy task to station troops in an
area where the populace wants them. In fact, it was far from simple. The
leading significant fact about imperial defense was its generally soaring
costs during war- and peacetime, especially during the eighteenth cen-
tury. Helen Taft Manning estimated that the peacetime cost of all colonial
garrisons in the Americas rose dramatically from about 75,000 in 1754 to
240,000 in 1764. As one might expect, the increase in military expendi-
ture in time of war was even more striking, as evidenced Jamaica, where
costs skyrocketed, going from 18,750 in 1777 to 44,446 in 1783 and to
189,599 in 1802.79
Rather more informative regarding the great expense of maintaining
an army in the West Indies are the costs of subsisting soldiers. There are
numerous glimpses of the high costs of imperial protection, for the record
is both ample and clear. However, only one example is necessary to make
the point. In the pithy remarks of a hard-pressed commander of the Wind-
ward and Leeward Islands command, "every Article of life bring [s] ... an
enormous price. And if the Ration only, without any Allowance for
Cloathing, is to be given to them, it will amount to two Shillings Sterling a
day."80 Here is an extraordinary disclosure of the high cost of living in the
West Indies in 1802. The daily cost merely to put food in the soldier's
mouth was more than twice the amount he received each day as pay be-
fore deductions were made. Little wonder the home authorities were re-
luctant to augment the forces employed in the West Indies! But on whom
was the burden of defense expenditure to fall?
During the early decades of the seventeenth century, when English-
men were scrambling for their share of the West Indian islands, it was

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 65

clear who was responsible for their protection. The defense policy, insti-
tuted by the crown, was simple. The king assumed virtually no obligation
for the defense of the American colonies, including the tropical islands.
Under these stark conditions, the settlers were responsible for their own
protection, and thus the militias became necessities for their survival. The
policy of local self-defense was in keeping with the then-conventional
mercantilist wisdom, that the island settlers were not to exhaust but to
contribute to Britain's military power. However, as the seventeenth cen-
tury came to a close, a new defense policy began to guide imperial military
action, one that ran against the grain of mid-seventeenth-century political
economy. London decided that, in view of the growing inadequacy of the
tropical militias and the new demands created by more modern methods
of warfare, further dependence on colonial self-defense would result in
the loss of the increasingly prosperous islands. The British government
then proceeded to station regulars in the islands in peacetime. The first
permanent injection of redcoats occurred toward the close of the seven-
teenth century. These, as we have seen, were the unregimented indepen-
dent companies, special units raised principally for duties in the West Indies
which were too small for a full regiment and unfitted for regimented com-
panies detached from their parent unit.8' These formations were quickly
followed by local calls for more troops in peacetime. London's response
was to ship out one, possibly two, whole regiments before the close of the
seventeenth century. The historic shift from colonial self-defense to per-
manent garrisons of regulars was a short one, starting in the 1660s and
continuing to the end of the century. By the 1730s small but fixed garri-
sons of British soldiers dotted the West Indian landscape.82
In the first flush of his arrival, the regular stood high in the colonists'
esteem. Against the French, Spanish, and Dutch, and particularly against
the mass of discontented slaves whom the colonists feared most, the only
dependable force was the British soldier. His initial popularity was un-
doubtedly fairly universal. The redcoat, however, quickly became the sub-
ject of hot controversy. His services were not there simply for the taking.
In fact, the crown had established unilaterally the principle that the colo-
nists had no natural right to the British army's protection unless they were
willing to make some contribution to the costs of a regular garrison. Nor
were these new expenditures compensatory, since the colonists were still
solely responsible for the expense of maintaining the militias. Government
ministers in London hoped to achieve economy in imperial defense by
placing a portion of the burden of the peacetime expenditure on colonists.
The islanders, on the other hand, earnestly sought the protection of the

66 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

regulars but desired to avoid the costs associated with their upkeep. As a
result, the number of British soldiers in the islands during peacetime was
in large part determined by the local assemblies' willingness to make grants
of money and slave labor to construct and maintain forts and to pay addi-
tional subsistence to cover the extra costs of troops on West Indian ser-
vice. That so few British soldiers served in the region speaks to the parsi-
mony of the colonial assemblies as well as the imperial government.
Efforts to stiffen the defense of the colonies with British troops were
frequently thwarted by one side attempting to get the upper hand at the
expense of the other. The result of this corporate selfishness merely served
to jeopardize the security of the British West Indies. Nothing illustrates
better the illogic of the British way of strengthening imperial defenses in
the West Indies than does Antigua's petition for a regiment in 1738, the
year after a major Antiguan slave revolt. In addition to the politicians of
Antigua, two of the key players in the farce were William Mathew, gover-
nor of Antigua, and Thomas Dalzell, colonel of the regiment in question.
Richard Pares writes of that episode, where the two disputing sides showed
more zeal for defeating the contrary party than securing the island against
another slave rebellion:

Antigua ... offered to build barracks, with a contribution from the
King, and to furnish an additional subsistence, on condition that there
should never be less than 400 effective on the island. When Dalzell's
regiment went out upon these terms, its establishment was raised to
700, so Governor Mathew was able to spare some companies to
[neighboring] St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat. But the West Indies
were the grave of English soldiers, and the planters would not have
the regiments recruited among their own [white] servants, so the
numbers began to fall. The people of Antigua were determined to
have their 400 men, to secure them against another insurrection of
their negroes, or else they would not pay for any. They considered
that the Government had broken its bargain with them by preparing
to send the regiment on [Lord] Cathcart's expedition [against
Cartagena in 1740] (but this was countermanded at the last mo-
ment) and then by actually putting it on board [Commodore]
Knowles's ships for the attack on La Guayra [modern Venezuela].
They were also angry with Mathew for dispersing part of the force
among the other islands under his government. They therefore seem
to have discontinued the additional subsistence."3

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 67

News of the clamor over Antigua's defense arrangement inevitably
reached Britain, where one party in the imbroglio was indefatigably vigi-
lant since the controversy involved his own regiment. Pares continues:

This reached the ears of Dalzell, who was of course in England (for
the colonels of these regiments stationed in the colonies did not of-
ten condescend to share the exile of their men.) He too was very
angry with Mathew for taking a step which had caused his soldiers
to lose a part of their pay; he demanded that Mathew should con-
centrate the troops again in order to entitle them to the additional
subsistence. Mathew was forced to make up the 400 men at Antigua
by withdrawing the companies from Montserrat. The legislature of
that island had done nothing for them-would not pay additional
subsistence or even build barracks or guard-houses or hospitals, for
want of which many lives had been lost. The politicians of Antigua
were mollified by the return of these men, but not for very long.
They soon demanded another sacrifice, and Mathew was very ready
to give it, as the legislature of St. Kitts had annoyed him by refusing
to follow his advice upon military matters. He therefore withdrew
all the troops from St. Kitts too, but restored them in 1744, when
the Assembly, in the absence of his personal enemy the Lieutenant-
Governor, dutifully voted an additional subsistence and came into
all his other measures.84

Two aspects about this shameful affair suggest themselves. The first is the
opposite views held by the colonists and the mother country regarding
imperial defense. The geographical separation of the islands encouraged
in each a political individualism and, concomitantly, an insularity of out-
look. The colonists of each island were concerned solely for the safety of
their own trade and property. Thus, their efforts were directed to the rou-
tine of defense against foreign invasion and particularly slave mutiny; and
it was to meet these threats that the colonists requested the services of
British regulars. It became axiomatic in colonists' circles that imperial de-
fense rested on rocklike island fortresses. The extraordinary vulnerability
of the islands did not go unnoticed in London. The authorities there were
well aware of the crippling damage a small armed force of foreign troops
or slaves could do to the economy of an island in a short period. The ob-
jective of West Indian warfare was not so much about the acquisition of
enemy sugar-producing islands as it was about destroying them: tram-

68 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

pling and torching canelands, wrecking machinery, and carrying off slaves,
who, more than any other element, symbolized the prosperity of sugar
cultivation. This notwithstanding, London viewed the question of impe-
rial defense through a wider-angle lens than did the colonists. The secu-
rity of each island was of concern to Britain, but individual island protec-
tion had to be weighed against the collective security of all the islands
comprising the British West Indies. Then, too, as a world power with im-
placable enemies, Britain needed to be ever alert to the imperialistic com-
petition of its rivals. To this end, the West Indian garrison had become a
part of an Atlantic defense system which, in addition to the tropical is-
lands, included the garrisons in North America, Gibraltar, and Majorca in
the western Mediterranean, and those in Britain.'8 What mattered most
in London was the defense of the empire; and the distribution and move-
ment of regiments within and among the far-flung garrison units was one
way to shore up imperial defenses. To the authorities in Britain, imperial
defense was governed by local needs as well as strategic considerations.
Second, although royal governors were the direct representatives of
British authority and as such were expected to uphold the policy of the
imperial Parliament, they had, in fact, become more the instruments of
the colonial assemblies than of the mother country. Several factors ex-
plain this wide gap between theory and practice. First, few if any of the
appointees to colonial government felt any zeal for the colonial service in
the West Indies. In this they were the direct opposite of those "maids-of-
all-work" of the Indian civil service, who administered India in the nine-
teenth century with a high degree of both devotion and efficiency. The
sad fact is that most of those who accepted governments in the West Indies
did so merely as a way to supplement paltry incomes from estates, if they
were members of the British nobility, or government pensions, if they
were soldiers. The climate did not make their tasks as chief colonial ex-
ecutives any easier. A deadly climate, deadly on a scale that is impossible
now to imagine, only compounded the misery of men who longed to es-
cape from what they undoubtedly viewed as a lonely, frontier exile to the
smart, urbane, and lively social centers in the civilized world of London.
In truth, there was little in West Indian colonial service to cheer them. In
view of their reluctance to be in the tropics, they sought the easy way out
and vacillated in opposing the wishes of the colonists. Second, royal gov-
ernors were usually deficient in political experience. To make matters
worse, they stepped ashore in the islands with no legal training and no
knowledge of local conditions and local history. Despite their urgent need
for information of colonial conditions, they generally failed to throw them-

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 69

selves actively into a campaign to acquire the art and knowledge they
lacked.86 Rendered vulnerable by their ignorance of local affairs, they in-
evitably drifted into the waiting web of colonial customs and interests.
Third, and more fundamentally, by the close of the eighteenth century,
the majority of West Indian governors had themselves become owners of
plantations. As property owners, they had come to rely heavily on the
credit and operational facilities offered by the mercantile community. In
an exaggerated instance, Sir William Young, governor of Tobago from 1807
to 1815, owed an amount exceeding 90,000 to John Robley, a West In-
dian merchant, to whom all of Young's property was mortgaged. All this
naturally added up to what D. J. Murray calls a "community of outlook"
between the colonists and governors, whereby the latter gave up much of
their political independence in the direction of colonial government.87 Fi-
nally, the authority of the governors was severely limited since the con-
siderable powers given in their Commission and Instructions were not de-
signed for continuous exercise but for use only in emergencies. What that
meant in practice, only too often, was that the colonists were largely able
to govern themselves. The royal governor, as in the case of Governor
Mathew, was thus caught between the devil of the king's Commission and
the deep blue sea of colonial self-government.
The prolonged war against revolutionary and Napoleonic France went
a long way in solving the perennial problem of the undersupply of British
soldiers in the West Indies. British regulars and their mercenary allies
flooded into every corner of the region in unprecedented numbers during
the long war. Their great numbers made them seemingly omnipresent,
and travelers who felt the need to cast the unfamiliar world of the islands
into visual statements invariably induded members of this red-coated fight-
ing fraternity in their drawings, as did one anonymous observer in his or
her view of an Antiguan slave market in 1806 (see following page). Pre-
served for us in this drawing are no fewer than three British soldiers casu-
ally exploring the curiosities of a West Indian market that hitherto had
been unknown to them. Yet despite the consoling presence of the soldier,
conspicuous in his red tunic, the debate over the extraordinary expense of
British troops in the West Indies continued. As we shall see, not even the
menace of French revolutionary crusades and slave revolts could extin-
guish the bitter conflict and draw the two sides together.
One sad footnote is necessary to complete this sketch of the slow pace
by which the British army assumed the guardianship of the British West
Indies. The life of the soldier was one of constant earthly misery. No sooner
had he embarked for the West Indies than he was virtually forgotten by



i rt:

A Negro Market in the Antigua, 1806. Lewis Walpole Library, Farmington, Conn.



Formation of the West Indian Garrison 71

the authorities and destined to rot, uncared for and unrelieved, for years
at a time for want of a system of regular upkeep and rotation. The in-
stance of the 38th Regiment, which remained continuously in the Lee-
ward Islands for fifty years, was not unique. Other regiments had similar
experiences.88 The reason for the soldier's neglect was quite simple: it was
expensive to keep him alive and (if he survived the climate) to rotate him
between distant garrisons. Once the soldier established his humble living
space, be it a hammock if he was assigned to a lonely police post or a
wooden crib that he shared with three other men if he was quartered in a
fortress, he immediately became intimately acquainted with the woe of
everyday life. Despite the fruitful and beautiful land, deaths occurred daily
from the cumulative effects of heat, neglect, indiscipline, rum, and dis-
ease. Occasionally new uniforms, money to pay arrears, and colonial hand-
outs arrived unexpectedly and brightened the gloom of the barrack-room
world. But these were momentary deliverances; the woe of life contin-
ued. Boredom, isolation, despair, terror, withdrawal, lethargy, sickness,
and death typified the inexorable pattern of existence in the West Indian
garrison. We can picture the puzzled look on the face of the dying soldier
as he sought the meaning of his death amid the mocking beauty and abun-
dance of the land. West Indian service was a catastrophe with few bright
spots in its whole dark history.
It is noteworthy to examine where the soldiers were quartered once
they arrived in the West Indies. As they assembled to get into the trans-
port boats that would ferry them to what would be for many a fatal shore,
the troops were undoubtedly happy to leave their rolling wooden world,
where they had suffered from overcrowding and seasickness during their
voyage across the Atlantic. Forming quickly in columns on the beach, they
would march to destinations of which most knew nothing. There were, in
fact, six kinds of military installations in which British troops were de-
ployed by the close of the eighteenth century: coastal batteries, large coastal
fortresses, deodands, hill camps, police posts, and signal stations.
The first were designed to defend places where merchant shipping could
lie in safety and to protect strategically important landing sites against hostile
incursions. Because there were so many safe landing places among the
roadsteads, bays, coves, and beaches along the Caribbean or leeward shore,
the coasts of West Indian islands were dotted with small fortified works.
Nothing reveals so well the colonists' preoccupation with defending the
coastal areas of their island homelands as the numerous seaward fortifica-
tions of the French island of Martinique. In addition to guarding anchor-
ages, the settlers also constructed impressive batteries at landing places in

72 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

order to protect plantations.89 Like the French, the British also constructed
coastal defenses. Thomas Craskell's late-eighteenth-century surveys of
Jamaica's forts and batteries serve as reminders of British efforts to protect
vulnerable coastal points. His work survives in a series of nineteen beauti-
fully executed pen and watercolor sketches preserved at the Hispanic So-
ciety of America in New York.90 These earthworks were manned by de-
tachments of the Royal Artillery and, at times, by infantrymen trained in
artillery duties. The number of foot soldiers acting in assistance of
artillerymen is thought to have been small. However, there were cases
when entire companies supported the regular artillerymen as "additional
gunners."91 Views from these battlements were often spectacular and ro-
mantic: lofty mountains shrouded heavily in tropical growth; purple out-
lines of nearby islands; water in every shade of green and blue; cloudless
blue skies; and indolent evening spells cast by warm tropic breezes. But
these soldiers led a dreary life in what were often isolated works remote
from any civilized settlement. An army being defined most simply as a
large body of soldiers, it would seem to follow that personnel would be
concentrated in large numbers. Such, in fact, was frequently not the case,
particularly in peacetime, when regiments were dispersed on a variety of
tactical functions like coast duty. No bustling towns and noisome brothels
served as magnets to dispersed soldiers. What they experienced can be
best described as soldiering-on, isolated. Lonely and bored, these men took
refuge in fiery drink and free-ranging slave prostitutes, resources that were
always available to them.
Nearly every island had one or more regular fortresses guarding the
principal towns and harbors. They served as the military focus of the is-
land, and hundreds of soldiers were quartered within their massive walls.
Dominica had Fort Shirley, which guarded Portsmouth Harbor. Jamaica
had Fort Augusta and Port Royal, which protected the entrance into
Kingston Harbor and the Linguanea plain beyond. Grenada had Fort
George, which commanded St. George's Harbor. There was also another
Fort George which towered over Port of Spain, Trinidad. Barbados had no
central fortress, though its capital, Bridgetown, was defended by a redoubt-
able system of small forts. Curiously, Basseterre, the seat of government
of St. Kitts, was defenseless. It is noteworthy that an official study of Brit-
ish West Indian defenses following the Napoleonic Wars drew attention to
the fact that the island's principal military station, Brimstone Hill, afforded
no protection to the town and its vital roadstead.92
As David Buisseret points out in his study of the defenses of Kingston,
Jamaica, the designing of these enormous fortifications was a learned art,

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 73

-" ,,LL" 7 Fort New Amsterdam,
-- 'i r nSuriname, 1794. Archives of the
@vs./ JSociety of Suriname, No. 521,
Rijksarchief, The Hague, Neth.

involving a considerable amount of mathematical, architectural, engineer-
ing, and topographical knowledge.93 As a result, the king entrusted this
task to professional army engineers. The majority of these structures were
constructed according to original principles laid down by Italian engineers
in the sixteenth century and later improved upon by Sebastien Le Prestre
de Vauban (1633-1707), Louis XIV's chief military engineer, and others.
From their work emerged a new type of fortress design: low and thick, it
was built on a massive scale to shelter large numbers of soldiers, their
equipment, and supplies. In addition to being squat, it was characterized
primarily by its trace, or outline. The perfect fortress was a regular poly-
gon with curtains or stretches of wall connecting angled bastions or gun
platforms projecting from the walls at regular intervals. With the increased
range of artillery fire, powerful semidetached outworks were added to
improve defensive capacity. These strongly armed outworks eventually
reduced the significance of a fort's magistral or main-line fortified defenses,
namely, the bastions.
The contemporary drawing of the Dutch fortress New Amsterdam, which


74 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

lies at the confluence of the Suriname and Commewijne Rivers in the
colony of Suriname, confirms the major elements of the Vauban-modified
"Italian system." Executed in 1794, the drawing shows the decagonal for-
tress fully integrated with curtains and bastions. Vauban's influence is evi-
dent in an enormous outwork covering the "Groninge" and "Holland" bas-
tions. Practically enveloped by this powerful detached work, the two
bastions have lost much of their former role of being the principal de-
fenses of the curtain. Instead, their chief purpose now appears to be that
of supporting the outwork should it be in danger of being captured.94
It would be hard to find an example of a fortress in the British West
Indies to match those built in eighteenth-century Europe under the influ-
ence of Vauban and others, better than Jamaica's Fort Augusta. It was
located at the tip of a narrow peninsula, appropriately named Mosquito
Point, to contest the narrows into Kingston Harbor. In 1740, work began,
but it was not until the mid 1750s that the fortress, named in honor of the
mother of George III, was completed.9 We have it on the authority of
General Archibald Campbell, lieutenant governor of Jamaica from 1781
to 1784, that Fort Augusta was a formidable work. The magistral line of
the fortress was studded with powerful angled bastions along its entire
length. At some points along the curtain, the parapets were eighteen feet
thick. In addition to two bastions, the western or land approach to the
fortress was guarded by a five-foot-deep dry ditch and a powerful out-
work which increased the depth of the defenses and also kept attackers
further away from the magistral line. Additionally, the weight of the fire
power that could be thrown at an attacker was stunning. In 1782, during
a French invasion scare, the fortress bristled with eighty 24-pounders and
three mortars.96 With angled bastions protruding from its magistral line at
irregular intervals, and heavily armed, the fortress was capable of sealing
off approaches with tightly interlacing fire lanes without any apparent blind
spots or dead ground in the arch of murderous cannon fire. The design of
Fort Augusta thus reflected the preoccupation of the military architects of
the time with the total rationalization of the flanking system and its angled
In outward appearance, Fort Augusta seemed capable of housing thou-
sands of soldiers. In fact, it could comfortably accommodate only about
800.98 That so few soldiers were quartered in the fortress was due to the
large number of interior structures required to maintain the garrison, all
of which served to reduce living space. In addition to troops' barracks and
officers' quarters, the general plan of the fortress included oven and bake
houses, workshops for pioneers, ordnance stores, powder magazines, a
smith's forge, a guard house, parade ground, and, of course, a hospital.

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 75

The location of the fortress made duty there unrelentingly dull and
deadly. Placed at the tip of a slender peninsula, the fortress had the sea on
three sides and a swamp on the fourth, enhancing the sense of isolation
and imprisonment. Bustling and earthy Kingston was about ten miles away
by land and a mere three if the soldier took the more direct water route
across the harbor. Yet he seldom if ever had the opportunity to enjoy its
mysteries. The nearness of the swamp and its swarms of thirsty mosqui-
toes, which gave the area its unsavory name, accounted in large part for
the high rate of sickness and mortality suffered by the troops at that sta-
tion. Because of all this, each newcomer to the fortress must have consid-
ered duty there to be cruel and unusual punishment. Restricted to the
fortress and its immediate environs, one could look longingly through the
embrasures and see the town in the near distance. The beautiful night-
time heavens, with their magnificent configuration of stars, were at first
interesting but hardly the kind of pleasure coveted by soldiers. But all was
not lost: as we shall see, if the soldier could not go to the mountain, the
mountain could and did come to him.
Much of the early military history of the West Indies was centered
around fortified refuges, or deodands. As already noted, the British Wind-
ward and Leeward Islands were dotted with these structures. They sur-
vived into the eighteenth century as active military sites and were thus
garrisoned by British regulars. Even if one allows for some exaggeration,
the most spectacular of these works was Brimstone Hill, St. Kitts. The steep
hill, 800 feet high, stands at the water's edge three-fourths of the way up
the leeward side of the island. Alone and aloof from human habitation, it
is also detached from the jagged range of mountains that spans the length
of the tiny island. As one nears the hill, it becomes evident that an enor-
mous alteration of the crest has taken place. Prodigious efforts of human
labor were harnessed to cut leveled terraces of battlements into the hill-
top, giving it its distinctive manicured look. The scene today surrounding
the base of Brimstone Hill must be much as it was at the end of the eigh-
teenth century, when the present citadel of Fort George, the Prince of
Wales Bastion, and a great part of the Magazine Bastion were completed.
There is no tillable ground that is not cultivated with sugar cane. Checker-
board fields of a brown, yellow, and green pattern extend today, as they
did in former times, all around in every direction, even high up the
mountainside. So lush was the row-style plantation agriculture that it re-
minded Lieutenant Browne of a "highly cultivated garden" when he briefly
visited the hill in March 1809.99
Colonel Light, that indefatigable illustrator of West Indian military
scenes, has left us several remarkable drawings of Brimstone Hill, two of

76 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

-- ,- i -,- ".'. --

General View of Brimstone Hill from the North. Views in the West Indies, 1811-1814,
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Whalley Light, Public Record Office, Kew Gardens,

which are reproduced here. The first, a view looking south, reveals the
striking solitary location of the hill. Also disclosed are the island's rugged
mountains, which dominate the eastern landscape, as well as the reshaped
contours of the crest of the hill.'00 The second offers a fascinating close-up
of the hilltop as seen from the southwest. We see an impressive number of
structures covering the top of the steep volcanic hill in orderly fashion.
There are numerous quarters for officers and men as well as an extensive
system of ramparts, angled bastions, batteries, and the citadel, Fort George,
which crowns the hill. The rich variety of buildings required to maintain
the garrison also includes a "mental" house, a women's privy, and the
obligatory deadhouse. The sloping oval-shaped open space is a huge water
catchment area, where the runoff was trapped and drained into an enor-
mous cistern built beneath the surface of the catchment. The most im-
pressive structure is the infantry officers' quarters, seen here as the long
arcaded building just behind the catchment. Arcades face a number of
other buildings on the hill and represent a common feature of military
architecture throughout the West Indies. The buildings are of local volca-
nic stone, all carefully cut, shaped, and well-laid, and now weathered in
muted colors ranging from dark gray to brown to purple.10' From the west
battlements, the soldier had an extraordinary view. There were towering
green mountains on whose slopes the soldier could see the orderly culti-
vation of cane pieces. And beyond the coastline, on a clear day, one could
see two islands, each wrapped in a haze the color of which was deter-

*' ,' :'
^ :.:

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 77

... ..-.

W ," 4 _' '


Crest of Brimstone Hill from the Southwest. Views in the West Indies, 1811-1814,
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Whalley Light, Public Record Office, Kew Gardens,

mined by its distance from St. Kitts: the pale purple, scarcely more dis-
cernible than a cloud, of distant Saba, and the blue of nearby St. Eustatius.
Looking at the steep, fortified bulk of Brimstone Hill today, it seems
unbelievable that the fortress had virtually no military value. In describ-
ing its worthlessness, the report of an 1824 commission that surveyed the
defenses of the West Indies makes for depressing reading. The commis-
sioners noted that "Brimstone Hill is unconnected with the Sea; and a
Garrison shut up on the Hill could neither receive reinforcements, or be
relieved in any way, without a Colonial Work a little way from the Foot of
the Hill and which commands the Roadstead, called Fort Charles . We
beg leave respectfully to observe that without the possession of Fort Charles,
Brimstone Hill, which is in itself certainly strong and respectable, becomes
quite insulated and of course of much less consequence to the defence of
this Island against any attack from without."102
To understand why the Hill served no military purpose, one first must
look at its location. Brimstone Hill, like so many other West Indian fortifi-
cations, is completely commanded by higher ground. Light's panoramic
view of the hill and its surroundings clearly shows the jagged mountain
range towering over the fortress. Anyone who has been to Brimstone Hill
undoubtedly has felt the awesome presence of the mountains as they seem
to crowd in upon the fortress. In 1782, the French established batteries

78 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

among these heights, the plunging fire from which helped to pound the
British garrison into submission.103 Furthermore, Brimstone Hill was not
fortified in order to protect a strategic point: the fortress began life merely
as a final fortified place of retreat in wartime. As such, its value was strictly
limited to its height and steep slopes, which were thought to make it inac-
cessible. And yet, despite its worthlessness, there was no effort to abandon
the hill during the eighteenth century. On the contrary, the tradition of
occupying the hill lingered until 1853, when the giant fortress was finally
abandoned as a place of defense. Until that time, those who served on the
hill, and in similar deodands elsewhere in the West Indies, were cooped
up on their lofty perch. They were, in the words of the Commission Re-
port of 1824, "quite insulated" from the real world far below at sea level.
In addition to lonely coastal batteries, mammoth central fortresses, and
towering fortified retreats, British soldiers also served in hill, or health,
stations. These were barracks constructed in elevated regions where the
effects of the pestilential climate were not as severe as in the low grounds
and along the coast. Very little is known about these installations, which
makes it difficult to understand their development with a great deal of
confidence. For example, few documents relating to their development
have been unearthed at the Public Record Office in London, their likely
home. Fortunately, a few scraps of information have been discovered that
tell us a number of important things about this class of installation. First,
most were built in Jamaica. Second, they were constructed close to im-
portant strategic and tactical points so as to retain the military value of the
troops quartered there. Third, none were built at altitudes higher than
2,000 feet, a situation that limited their usefulness in combating disease.
One of the best pieces of information on health stations is an 1811 en-
gineer study of the largest of these installations, Up Park Camp, Jamaica.104
The first thing one is struck with is the relatively large size and layout of
the station. In 1784, when an area then known as Up Park Pen was pur-
chased by the authorities for the modest sum of 350, it comprised 156
contiguous acres. Topography provided the site with a number of impor-
tant features. The land rises gradually from about 200 feet above sea level
at its southern extremity to a height of 313 feet at its northern boundary,
thus affording a commanding view of Kingston about one and a half miles
to the south.105 The ground was generally flat, a necessity if troops were to
drill and practice their evolutions. No less important than terrain was the
dry and well-drained nature of the ground. This was a critical factor that
some unknown engineer officer no doubt mentioned in his site-recom-
mendation report. Drinking water was provided by two wells, one in the

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 79

upper portion of the camp, the other at the end of a narrow corridor pro-
truding from the southern corner of the station.
Up Park Camp, when everything had been put in order, presented a
fine, orderly, compact picture. It held accommodation for 1,000 men and
their dependents, all of whom were concentrated in the northern half of
the station.106 This area was neatly divided into four distinct lines running
east to west. The southernmost consisted of field officers' barracks con-
structed in the form of walled-in compounds. These numbered four and
were evenly spaced across the waist of the camp. Next came the officers'
mess rooms, kitchens, "necessary houses," and barracks. The latter, like
all of the station's barracks, were low, long, rectangular structures which
faced north and south to keep out the monstrous heat of the sun. Be-
tween the second and third lines was the empty heart of the station: the
sprawling maneuver and parade ground. The third line comprised the sol-
diers' barracks; here were to be found guard houses, kitchens, bake houses,
canteens, stables, and privies. It is noteworthy that in sharp contrast to the
officers, the rank and file were not provided with mess rooms. The ordi-
nary soldier ate where he slept and cleaned his musket: in his barrack
room.107 The northernmost line contained the medical establishment. There
were two large hospitals for the station. Their purpose was to provide or-
ganized care, but the troops at Up Park Camp (like troops everywhere in
the West Indies) lived in terror of them since so few ever returned alive
from their wardrooms.108 The soldiers knew that doctors and medicines
were ineffective against local diseases. Finally, the station was completely
enclosed by a thick wall with pillars of some kind and gates at tactical
intervals. Beyond the wall, on all sides, was an endless scene of pens bro-
ken only by the looming bulk of Long Mountain a short distance away to
the northeast. As a community under constant discipline, Up Park Camp
was essentially isolated from other large settlements. (Ironically, today,
Up Park Camp lies completely within Kingston's city limits.)
Those troops who were given long-term duty assignments in health
camps such as Up Park Camp and, particularly, Maroon Town (which was
also in Jamaica) could count themselves as lucky. The records show that
mortality and morbidity rates in these installations were generally lower
than in those situated at or very near sea level.'09 Nevertheless, hill sta-
tions were not the panacea for the army's health woes. (The answer, as
we have seen, was high-altitude mountain stations like Newcastle.) The
soldier assigned to duty in these intermediate stations was still imperiled
by the hostile climate and thus had a better-than-average chance of con-
tracting a deadly or crippling disease.

80 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

As alluded to earlier, British troops, acting in aid of the civil authorities
in the West Indies, were for much of their time involved in policing the
restive slave population. In fact, it can be convincingly argued that the
danger of slave insurrection was the principal reason for their permanent
presence in the region. Playing the role of policemen required that indi-
vidual regiments be broken up into small tactical units, widely scattered,
and preoccupied for long periods of time in lonely police posts. There is an
almost total lack of information about where these posts were located,
how many were established, how long they were occupied, the troop
strength of each, and when and why they were eventually abandoned.
The fact that these posts apparently were never professionally mapped
merely complicates efforts to reconstruct a full picture of soldiering in the
West Indies. Their discovery and scientific excavation and study will re-
veal much about military service in the islands, much in the way the pub-
lished archaeological work of William Louis Calver and Reginald Pelham
Bolton at the turn of this century cast considerable light on camp life dur-
ing the American Revolution and War of 1812.110
It will be some time before British army police posts have been forced
to yield the material culture left behind long ago by their unknown occu-
pants. Fortunately, however, written evidence is occasionally culled from
archival sources. A case in point is a small but valuable piece of informa-
tion that sheds some tantalizing light on the nature of police work in Ja-
maica during the Napoleonic era. Beginning sometime during the gover-
norship of Sir Eyre Coote (1806-8), what was described as a "remarkable
fine Rifle Company" of the 6th Battalion 60th Regiment was detached
from its parent organization and sent to garrison a police post at
"Woodstock" some twelve miles from Port Antonio, the headquarters of
the 60th Foot. The detachment was ordered to the post in consequence of
an alleged conspiracy among slaves on a nearby estate. In July 1808, the
officer commanding British troops on the island, Major General Hugh Lyle
Carmichael, in a dispatch to the secretary of war and colonies in London,
lamented the fact that service at the post had "entirely broken up" the
elite unit. Out of twenty men originally sent on this duty, only two re-
mained fit for service. Carmichael ordered the evacuation of the station
and then sent the survivors to rejoin their regimental headquarters at Port
In the Nijenhuis Collection at Leiden University in the Netherlands,
there is another piece of valuable evidence that sheds further light on British
army police duty in the West Indies. It is a crudely drawn sketch-plan of
Post Armina, a remote jungle station perched on the banks of the

Formation of the West Indian Garrison 81

,* 4-


c-- Sketch of Post Armina,
Sca. 1790. Bodel Nijen-
... huis Collection, Leiden
University, Leiden, Neth.

Marowijne River in Suriname. This unique drawing was made around
1790, when the Dutch army occupied the site. The post was cut out of the
surrounding forest ("Bosch"). The self-sufficiency of the station is clear;
and we might best underscore the efficacy of service at Post Armina by
drawing attention to some of the post's principal features: a bakery
("Bakkerij"), soldier's barrack ("Kazerne"), vegetable garden ("Tuin"),
kitchens ("keuken"), carpenters' workshops ("Timmer Loots"), hospital
("Infirmerie"), an artillery emplacement ("geschut"), a lookout ("Uitkijk"),
and a powder magazine ("Kruidenmagazijn"). The hard manual labor re-
quired to maintain the post was provided by slaves who lived outside the
post in rows of huts ("Negerhuizen"). Should they become ill, they were
brought inside the station and cared for in a hospital ("Negerszieken")
limited to their use.
But all of this evidence of utility and effectiveness belied the wretched
nature of police work on the lonely banks of the Marowijne River. Com-
fort was more apparent than real. In 1835 a traveler visited the post, which

82 The Setting and Development of the West Indian Garrison

was still in use and would remain so until 1842. His description of the
station suggests that little had changed since the war years. What he dis-
covered there left him shaken. "It is," he confessed, "the most remote and
dismal military post of the whole colony." He continued: "the military
buildings of Armina are built of palisades with pina roofs, which in the
morning are marked by a cold haze and during the day are burning hot, so
that altogether these barred huts are extremely unhealthy. Besides one
finds oneself in the middle of a desolate place and, by the great distance
from friends and neighbors, as though abandoned from the world, with-
out any correspondence."112
These two examples do not tell the whole story of police duty in the
West Indies, but they do corroborate the well-documented broader pic-
ture of British soldiers serving spells as policemen in other parts of the
empire and in Britain itself. The frictions of this type of service boredom,
isolation, stress, alcoholism, disease, the lack of barracks, and reduced dis-
cipline and training all combined to destroy the cohesiveness in detached
regimental units. They were also the inescapable results of police work in
the West Indies, which British soldiers no doubt earnestly hoped to avoid.
Finally, the need to warn the inhabitants of the islands of the presence
of friendly and particularly suspicious ships led to the construction of sig-
nal stations which were manned by British troops. Some were compo-
nents of fortifications. Others, like Rodney's Lookout, perched atop Port
Henderson Hill, Jamaica, and Scott's Head, at the southern tip of Dominica,
were independent structures built for that purpose and located at points
offering commanding views of the sea.
The function of signal stations was to collect and disseminate informa-
tion about shipping. To accomplish this vital task, each island organized a
string of stations on hilltops and promontories in visual contact with one
another. By means of alarm guns at night and colored flags and (begin-
ning in the nineteenth century) semaphores during the day, messages could
be relayed rapidly from one point to another. The essential link between
signals communication and topography is evident in the relay points along
which messages were sent up and down Dominica's leeward coast. In the
event that enemy ships approached the island from the south, Scott's Head
would signal ahead to Fort Young, which is visible with the unaided eye
to the north. From there, the signal was flashed to Morne Daniel, Cape
Layou, Grand Savannah, Pt. Crabier, Pt. Ronde, the Cabrits Peninsula, and
finally on to Cape Melville at the northern tip of the island. Lennox
Honychurch, the historian of Dominica, reminds us that a signal could be
relayed from Scott's Head to the important military complex at the Cabrits

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