The History of the First West India Regiment
Alfred Ellis

<< 1 2 3 4 5 >>

Some time, then, in September, 1783, the black troopers were removed to the Leeward Islands, and in the "Monthly Return of His Majesty's Forces in the Leeward and Charibee Islands, under the command of Lieutenant-General Edward Mathew," we find them formed into a corps, with a body of black artificers, who had served in South Carolina at the sieges of Charlestown and Ninety-six, and thirty-three black pioneers who had been included in the surrender of Yorktown. The following is the state of this corps:


A. Captains.

B. 1st Lieutenants.

C. 2nd Lieutenants.

D. Sergeants Present.

E. Drummers and Trumpeters Present.

F. Present, fit for duty.

G. Sick in Quarters.

H. Sick in Hospital.

I. On Command.

J. Total.

K. Total of the Whole.

The officers of this corps were, according to Bryan Edwards, vol. i. p. 386, taken from the regular army, and the companies were commanded by lieutenants of regulars, having captains' rank. Artificers, it may be as well to observe, were sappers and miners. The Royal Engineers at about this date consisted of various companies of Artificers; later on they were called Sappers and Miners; and, finally, Royal Engineers.



In February, 1789, all three companies of the "Black Corps of Dragoons, Pioneers, and Artificers" were stationed in Grenada, and from that date until June, 1793, they are shown in every monthly return, with a strength varying from 279 to 268, and an increase of four first lieutenants.

In February, 1793, the news of the French declaration of war was received in the West Indies, and orders were soon after transmitted from England to the Commander-in-Chief in the Windward and Leeward Islands to attempt the reduction of the French islands. Tobago was taken on the 17th of April without much trouble, the majority of the planters in that island being English; and an attack on Martinique was next meditated. The whole of the British force in the West Indies was known and acknowledged to be inadequate to the reduction of that island; but such representations had been spread throughout the army, concerning the disaffection of the greater part of the inhabitants of all the French islands towards the Republican Government lately established, as to create a very general belief that the appearance of a British armament before the capital of Martinique would alone produce an immediate surrender. Major-General Bruce, on whom the chief command of the troops had devolved, was assured by a deputation from the principal planters of the island that "a body of 800 regular troops would be more than sufficient to overcome all possible resistance."

These representations induced Major-General Bruce, in conjunction with Admiral Gardner, to undertake an expedition; and the troops having been embarked at Grenada in the men-of-war, the armament arrived off Cape Navire, Martinique,[10 - See map.] on the 11th of June, 1793. There the general met the officer commanding the French Royalists, and, as the latter proposed an attack upon the town of St. Pierre, the 21st Regiment was landed at Cape Navire on the 14th, and there posted, to enable the Royalists to concentrate in the neighbourhood of St. Pierre, where the remainder of the British force joined them on the 16th. "The British troops consisted of the Grenadiers, Light Infantry, and Marines from the fleet, with the Black Carolina Corps, amounting in all to about 1100 men."[11 - Major-General Bruce's despatch.] The Royalists were said to number 800.

On the afternoon of the 17th, the enemy made an attack, but were driven back by the pickets, with the loss of one officer and three men killed on the part of the British. An attack on the two batteries which defended St. Pierre was planned for the morning of the 18th, but failed, owing to the want of discipline on the part of the Royalists. Major-General Bruce says: "The morning of the 18th was the time fixed for the attack, and we were to move forward in two columns, the one consisting of the British troops, the other of the French Royalists; and for this purpose the troops were put in motion before daybreak; but, unfortunately, some alarm having taken place amongst the Royalists, they began, in a mistake, firing on one another, and their commander being severely wounded on the occasion, the whole body, refusing to submit to any of the other officers, retired to the post from which they had marched."

This conduct showed the general that no reliance could be placed on the Royalists, and that the attack on St. Pierre, if carried out at all, would have to be done by the British troops alone, whose numbers were not equal to the task. He, consequently, ordered the troops to return to their former positions, and on the 19th they re-embarked. As to have left the Royalists in Martinique would only have been to leave them to be massacred by the Republicans, those unfortunate people were embarked on the 19th and 20th, and the 21st Regiment being taken on board at Cape Navire on the 21st, the expedition returned to Grenada.

It may be wondered whence came the Black Carolina Corps mentioned by Major-General Bruce, but it is evident that by that designation the Black Corps of Dragoons, Pioneers, and Artificers was locally known; for in the monthly return, dated May 1st, 1794, the "state" of the corps is headed, "Return of the Black Carolina Corps," and the title, "Black Corps of Dragoons, Pioneers, and Artificers" ceases, from that date, to be used in any official document. The strength of the corps in that return is 258 of all ranks.

The failure of Major-General Bruce's attempt on Martinique induced the British Ministers to send out an armament under Sir Charles Grey for the reduction of all the French West India Islands; and, until the arrival of this force at Barbados, in January, 1794, the Black Carolina Corps remained quietly in garrison at Grenada. The troops from the various islands – and amongst them all three companies of that corps – were collected at Barbados during the remainder of January, and, on the 4th of February, the expeditionary force, 6085 strong, set sail from Carlisle Bay. The army, in three divisions, landed at three separate points in Martinique; the first at Gallion Bay, on the northern side of the island, on the evening of the 5th of February; the second at Cape Navire, nearly opposite on the south, on the 8th of February; and the third at Trois Rivières, towards the south-east. The British were so rapidly successful that, by the 17th of February, the whole of the island, except the two fortresses of Bourbon and Fort Royal, were in their hands. The services of the Black Carolina Corps up to that date are not known in detail, but the return of killed and wounded shows the Dragoons as having had one rank and file killed.

On the 20th of February, Forts Bourbon and Fort Royal were completely invested, and the pioneers and artificers of the Carolina Corps were busily engaged on the siege works. On the north-east side the army broke ground on the 25th of February; and on the western side, towards La Caste, fascine batteries were erected with all possible expedition. By the 16th of March, the advanced batteries were pushed to within 500 yards of Fort Bourbon, and 200 yards of the enemy's nearest redoubt. On the 20th of March, the fortress of Fort Royal was carried by Captain Faulkner, of the Zebra; and General Rochambeau at once sent a flag from Fort Bourbon offering to capitulate. The terms were accordingly adjusted on the 23rd, and on the 25th, the garrison, reduced to 900 men, marched out prisoners of war.

Martinique being now entirely conquered, Sir Charles Grey left there, as a garrison under General Prescott, five regiments, and one company of the Carolina Corps; and proceeded, on the 31st of March, with the remainder of the force to the attack of St. Lucia. That island had no means of defence against so considerable an invading force; and, on the 4th of April, the British colours were hoisted on the chief fortress of Morne Fortune; the garrison, consisting of 300 men, having surrendered on the same terms of capitulation that had been granted to General Rochambeau. The 6th and 9th Regiments, with a company of the Carolina Corps, being left as a garrison for St. Lucia, Sir Charles Grey returned to Martinique, and commenced his preparations for an expedition to Guadaloupe.[12 - See map.]

Guadaloupe really consists of two islands, separated from each other by a narrow arm of the sea, called La Rivière Salée, which is navigable for vessels of fifty tons. The eastern island, or division, which is flat and low-lying, is called Grandeterre; while the western, which is rugged and mountainous, is named Basseterre.

On the 8th of April, the troops, with the remaining company of the Carolina Corps, sailed from Fort Royal, Martinique; and, about one o'clock in the morning of the 11th, a landing was effected at Grosier Bay. Before daybreak on the 12th, the fort of La Fleur d'Épée was carried by assault, and the greater part of the garrison put to the sword. Fort St. Louis, the town of Point à Pitre, and a new battery upon Islet à Cochon being afterwards abandoned, the possession of Grandeterre was complete. The reduction of Basseterre was effected on the 21st of the same month; and the company of the Carolina Corps, with other troops, being left in garrison in Guadaloupe, the general returned to Martinique.

The British, however, were not permitted to remain long in peaceable possession of their most recent conquest; for on the 3rd of June, a considerable French armament arrived off Point à Pitre. Fort Fleur d'Épée was taken by storm, and the place not being tenable after this loss, the British crossed over to Basseterre. Several prisoners were taken by the French, and amongst them were some of the Carolina Corps, for in the return of that corps for February, 1795, dated March 1st, there is the following note: "Some of the corps are prisoners at Point à Pitre, but their number cannot be ascertained." In a later return, however, we find that they consisted of one sergeant and eight rank and file.

On the 2nd of July, the British made an ineffectual attempt to recover Point à Pitre, and soon after established their head-quarters at Berville, in Basseterre. The camp at Berville was invested in September, and on the 6th of October it was compelled to capitulate. Thus the whole of Guadaloupe, with the exception of Fort Matilda, situated above the town of Basseterre, and which was still held by a British garrison, was recovered by the French. At the surrender of Berville, 300 French Royalists, who were in the British camp, were massacred by the orders of Victor Hugues, the French commander.

Fort St. Charles, Basseterre, had been rechristened Fort Matilda by the British on its surrender on the 21st of April, 1794, and against it Victor Hugues now moved all his forces. The fort was commanded by Lieutenant-General Prescott with a garrison of 610 men, including the company of the Carolina Corps which had come to Guadaloupe. General Prescott, in his despatch, dated "On board H.M.S. Vanguard, at sea, December 11th, 1794," says: "To enter into a minute detail of the siege, which commenced on the 14th of October, and terminated by evacuating it on the 10th of December, would not only too much occupy your time, but might be deemed equally unnecessary. It may be sufficient to remark that on entering the fort I found it totally out of repair, the materials composing the wall-work thereof being of the worst kind, and having apparently but little lime to cement them properly. By the middle of last month the works were very much injured by the daily and frequent heavy fire of the enemy, and almost all the carriages of our guns rendered useless. These were in general in a very decayed state, but even the new ones for the brass mortars that were made during the siege gave way from the almost incessant fire we kept up; so that upon the whole, what from the nature of our defences and the small number of our garrison, we were in a very unfit state to resist the very vigorous exertions of our enemy, who began to prepare additional forces about the 20th of last month, but who, from a number of causes, and especially from heavy and continued rains, could not open their new batteries till the 6th of this month. On that day they began to fire from twenty-three pieces of cannon, four of which were thirty-six-pounders, and the rest twenty-four-pounders, and from eight mortars, two of thirteen inches and two of ten. The fire was very heavy and continued all day and night, and by it all the guns on the Gallion bastion were dismounted, and the bastion itself a heap of ruins. Every day after this grew worse until the 9th, on the evening of which day I went into the ditch accompanied by the engineer, when we were both but too well convinced of the tottering state of the works from the Gallion along the curtain, and indeed the whole, from the east to the north-east. I could not hesitate a moment about the necessity of evacuating the fort. I therefore sent off immediately to Rear-Admiral Thompson, who commanded the detachment of the squadron left for our protection, to acquaint him with the necessity of evacuating the fort next evening, and to request that he would have the boats ready to take off the garrison at seven o'clock. I kept this my design a profound secret until half-past six o'clock of the evening of the 10th, when I arranged the march of the garrison… The embarkation continued with little or no interruption, and was happily completed about ten o'clock at night, without its being discovered by the enemy, who continued firing as usual on the fort till two or three o'clock on the morning of the 11th, as we could plainly perceive from the ships. My satisfaction was great at having thus preserved my brave garrison to their king and country."

During the siege of Fort Matilda, the Carolina Corps lost 1 killed and 3 wounded, 2 of whom afterwards died of their wounds. In the "State of the Garrison of Fort Matilda, as embarked on the 10th of December, 1794," the strength of the company of the Carolina Corps is shown as 1 captain, 1 lieutenant, 4 sergeants, and 30 rank and file. After the evacuation, this company was stationed at Martinique; so that at the close of the year 1794, two companies were in that island, and one in St. Lucia.



A: Capt. Commandant.

B: Captains.

C: 1st Lieutenants.

D: 2nd Lieutenants.

E: Sergeants Present.

F: Drummers Present.

G: Present fit for Duty.

H: In Hospital.

I: In Quarters.

This officer is mentioned by Bryan Edwards, vol. iii. p. 452: "Lieutenant Malcolm, of the 41st Grenadiers, was appointed Town Major" (of St. Pierre, Martinique, in 1794) "in consideration of his distinguished conduct and active services at the head of a body of riflemen, which was composed of two men selected from each company of the 1st Battalion of Grenadiers. We shall have occasion to mention this officer afterwards."

This body of riflemen, raised during the operations in Martinique, in March, 1794, must, if the above statement of its formation be correct, have been European, for there were no black troops employed in the reduction of that island, except the Carolina Corps. The corps of riflemen is not shown in any return, and it is probable that at the termination of the active operations the men rejoined their respective battalions. The Royal Rangers, shown in the return of the 1st of May, 1795, were black; for Sir John Vaughan, in a letter dated Martinique, April 25th, 1795, which gives an account of the operations in St. Lucia in that month, says: "The flank companies of the 9th Regiment and the black corps under Captain Malcolm were the troops engaged." These Royal Rangers, then, were almost certainly entirely distinct from the "body of riflemen," and the success which had attended Captain Malcolm's efforts with the first body probably led to his being employed in raising the second, about February or March, 1795. In the month of April, 1795, one company of this corps, numbering 121 of all ranks, was in St. Lucia, and the other company, 112 strong, in Martinique.

Victor Hugues, having succeeded in ousting the British from Guadaloupe, commenced, early in 1795, active measures for the recovery of the other islands that had been wrested from France in the previous year, and the plan which was first ripened appears to have been that against St. Lucia.[13 - Bryan Edwards.] "No official and scarcely any other accounts of the event are to be found, but the invasion of this colony appears to have been effected about the middle of February… Nor can the strength of the invading force be now ascertained. That force was probably few in number, and stolen into the island in small bodies, and under cover of the night. Aided, however, by an insurrection of the slaves, people of colour, and democratical whites, it was sufficient to wrest from us the whole of the colony, with the exception of the two posts of the Carenage and the Morne Fortune."[14 - See map.]

Affairs remained in this situation till about the middle of April, when Brigadier-General Stewart resumed active operations, in the hope of recovering the lost ground. On the 14th of that month, he suddenly disembarked near Vieux Fort, with a force consisting of a portion of the 6th and 9th Regiments, the company of the Carolina Corps which had remained in the island since its capture in 1794, and one company of the new corps of Malcolm's Rangers; and, after two days' skirmishing, that town was abandoned by the French on the 16th, and immediately taken possession of by the British, the enemy falling back upon Souffriere, their chief stronghold.

"Resolved to follow up his blow, General Stewart advanced against Souffriere. Undismayed, however, by their recent defeats, the Republicans had collected together a very formidable force, for the defence of their main position. On his march, the British general was suddenly attacked by a division which had been placed in ambush, and it was not till after a severe struggle that the enemy were driven back."

Sir John Vaughan, in a despatch dated Martinique, April 25th, 1795, says: "He was attacked by the enemy upon his march on the 20th instant, who had formed an ambuscade. The flank companies of the 9th Regiment, and the Black Corps under Captain Malcolm, were the troops engaged. The enemy, after a severe conflict, were driven back. Captain Malcolm, and Captain Nesbitt of the 9th, were wounded, after behaving in a most gallant manner."

On the 22nd of April, the troops reached the neighbourhood of Souffriere, near to which, on the mountainous ground, the attack was made. The contest continued warmly for seven hours, and though the greatest exertions were made by the British, they were finally compelled to retreat to Choiseul, with a loss of 30 killed, 150 wounded, and 5 missing. In the four days' fighting between the 14th and the 22nd of April, Malcolm's corps lost 48 out of a total of 121.[15 - Return of the killed, wounded, and missing in the actions on the following days, of the troops under the command of Brigadier-General Stewart, in the island of St. Lucia.14th of April, 1795Royal Rangers – 1 sergeant, 5 rank and file, wounded.15th of AprilRoyal Rangers – 2 rank and file, killed; 1 sergeant, 4 rank and file, wounded.20th of AprilRoyal Rangers – 6 rank and file, killed; 1 captain, 1 sergeant, and 18 rank and file, wounded.22nd of AprilCarolina Corps – 1 rank and file, wounded.Royal Rangers – 4 rank and file, killed; 5 rank and file, wounded.Names of the Officers killed and woundedCaptain Robert Malcolm, of the Royal Rangers, wounded.] At Choiseul the troops embarked and returned to Vieux Fort, and thence to Morne Fortune and the Carenage, which General Stewart considered his force strong enough to hold until the arrival of reinforcements.

Two months passed away without the occurrence of any event worthy of notice. Sickness, in the meantime, was making great ravages amongst the British, one-half of whose force was generally unfit for service. The enemy, on the other hand, were daily gaining fresh accession of strength. From Guadaloupe arms and other supplies were frequently transmitted; and though some of the vessels fell into the hands of the British cruisers, many more of them reached their destination in safety. The French now began to act decisively. They first reduced Pigeon Island, and, on the 17th of June, made themselves masters of the Vigie. On this last post the communication between the Carenage and Morne Fortune depended, and the enemy now prepared for a general assault upon the latter. As, in the weak condition of the garrison, it would have been imprudent to await the meditated attack, Brigadier-General Stewart determined to evacuate the position; and, on the evening of the 18th, the whole of the troops embarked on board H.M.S. Experiment, undiscovered by the enemy, and proceeded to Martinique.
<< 1 2 3 4 5 >>