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Seven Years War

1756-1763: The Seven Years' War led to a historic change in the New World as Britain dominates the Caribbean

Tensions remained high between England and France at the end of the War of Jenkins' Ear. The Seven Years' War was a land war between Prussia, Austria, and Russia but was also a worldwide war between England and France, and later Spain. This British war is one that affected the Caribbean.

Both England and France realized that the sugar islands were the most important bargaining pieces they had during this war, and that changed the countries' fighting styles drastically. Instead of simply destroying their opponent's sugar plantations, they tried to capture whole islands. As a result, both sent much larger forces to the Caribbean than they had ever sent before.

On a World Stage

This was truly one of the first world wars, since Britain and France had territories in both the East and West Indies, as well as in North America. However, this meant that much of the countries' attentions were directed in places other than the Caribbean. True battles were sporadic, though privateers made their mark on merchant ships.

The first captures were far from the Caribbean, and it wasn't until January 1759 that William Pitt, who directed a majority of the war, sent a naval force to attack Fort Royal, now Fort-de-France, on Martinique. However, the attack was unsuccessful, and the leaders turned toward Guadeloupe, taking Basse-Terre.

Many soldiers fell ill, and the British commander died. Brigadier-General John Barrington took his place, and, instead of a full-on attack, he planned a divisive strategy. He planned to attack outlying plantations, thus breaking the militia into smaller portions as deserters left to defend their homes. By May 1, the win was so complete that the French surrendered.

The surrender came a few days before a French fleet arrived to support the colony. However, Barrington's terms of surrender were extremely generous, protecting religious and trade rights with British colonies. This gave Guadeloupean sugar cultivators the ability to charge higher prices to the closed British market, and it gave the opportunity to import many slaves.

After this conquest, however, the British turned its empire-building attentions to Canada, which shifted the nation's focus away from the Caribbean region for about two years. Soon Canada was fully occupied by British troops.

Capturing the Caribbean

British attentions returned to the Caribbean in June of 1761. Troops sent from Canada took Dominica easily, and in November, Admiral George Rodney arrived in Barbados. Rodney came with 13,000 soldiers and began to attack Martinique again early the following year.

British troops sieged Fort Royal for only three weeks before Martinique surrendered. Many members of the militia deserted in order to save their estates when British General Robert Monckton offered them similar terms of surrender to those offered on Guadeloupe.

The French also sent troops to aid Martinique, but these arrived too late as well, and troops took St. Lucia and Grenada. Other than Hispaniola, the British had managed to occupy all of the major French holdings in the Caribbean. In fact, the minor holdings of St. Vincent and Tobago were only home to small French camps.

Spain in the War

Although Spain feared the British gaining total control of the Caribbean waters, the Spanish had not yet declared war - even despite attacks on their merchant ships by British privateers. In 1761, Spain promised France that it would join the war before May of the following year. However, the British never gave Spain the chance, and declared war themselves in January of 1761, immediately sending ships to Havana, Cuba.

The fleet sent to Havana was commanded by Admiral George Pocock and contained 15,000 soldiers under the command of George Keppel, Earl of Albemarle. Pocock took a risk to gain the element of surprise, coming in through the dangerous Old Bahama Channel on Cuba's northern edge instead of heading along the island's southern coast in the most common route. In August of 1762, Moro Castle fell, after a siege of two months.

Only 560 soldiers died in battle while taking Havana, but more than 5,000 died of fever or dysentery. However, the British took incredible spoils, including 12 naval ships and almost 100 merchant ships.

Treaty of Paris

In 1763, the Seven Years' War came to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. But by this time, the Caribbean sugar planters had ceased fighting the annexation of French sugar islands, and instead supported the idea. The treaty did not leave England with many French Caribbean lands.

The world's territories were divided in the treaty:

  • Britain kept Canada, Grenada, the Grenadines, Dominica, St. Vincent, and Tobago.

  • France gave up captured German territories in exchange for Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St. Lucia, as well as slave stations returned by Britain. Spain traded Florida for Havana.

  • France gave Spain Louisiana as compensation for loss of territory.

  • Britain traded St. Lucia for continental territory in North America.

Britain made moves to gain a large amount of territory in the Americas, using rich sugar islands as important trading pieces, and their tactics won them a great deal of control in this war.

 

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