The British Navy in the Caribbean, John D. Grainger

The British Navy in the Caribbean, John D. Grainger

We start with a useful reminder that the British possessions always represented a rather small part of the Caribbean, massively overshadowed by the Spanish Empire, which dominated the coast of South and Central America, and had at least a foothold along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico and into Florida for much of this period, as well as occupying the larger of the islands, including Cuba and Hispaniola. In contrast the British West Indies consisted of a series of the smaller islands (with Jamaica being the largest). Today only 14% of the Caribbean population speak English or a related language, making it only third behind Spanish and French. 

As one might expect from this background, the initial English then British presence in the area was rather transitory, starting with a series of tentative trading missions attempting to break the Spanish monopoly of the area, and then evolving into the famous privateering raids of the Elizabethan era. Over time the Spanish monopoly on colonies in the area was broken, so these unofficial raids slowly turned into an official Naval presence (both Royal and Commonwealth). Inevitably some of the material is familiar – the stories of Drake and Hawkins at the start, and Hood, Rodney and Nelson at the end – but there is plenty that is unfamiliar (including the often very effective Spanish counter-measures taken to protect their Empire).

I was surprised how significant the Caribs remained well into the colonial period  - the general impression one gets is that they were wiped out fairly early by the Spanish and the first French and British settlers, but on some islands they not only survived, but even thrived surprisingly well for some time after the arrival of the Europeans, and retained a reputation as fearsome fighters and control of some of the islands for much longer than I’d realised.

1 – English Encroachments, Timidly
2 – Slavers and Pirates
3 – War, Privateering and Colonoies
4 – Western Design
5 – Buccaneers
6 – Two Great Wars
7 – Pirates, Asiento and Guarda costas
8 – Jenkins’ War
9 – The Seven Years War
10 – The American War – Defeats
11 – The American War – Recovery
12 – The Great French Wars
13 – Fading Supremacy

Author: John D. Grainger
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 280
Publisher: Boydell
Year: 2021

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