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The Battle of Martinique

Updated: Mar 1, 2022

5th February 1793

The Battle of Martinique was a successful British invasion of the French colony of Martinique in the West Indies during the French Revolutionary Wars. They continued to occupy the island until 1802, when the Treaty of Amiens restored it to French control.

Prior to the invasion, war had broken out between the French Republic and Great Britain. The British government was contacted by French planter Louis-François Dubuc, who wished to place Martinique under British protection as the Republic's National Constituent Assembly was about to pass legislation which would abolish slavery in the French colonial empire; the legislation was passed the day before the British invasion of Martinique commenced. Fourteen days later, the British signed the Whitehall Accord on 9 February with counter-revolutionary French planters, which allowed them to keep their chattel property.

'The Capture of Fort Saint Louis, Martinique, 20 March 1794' painting by William Anderson.The painting shows the beach, with Fort Louis beyond on the right, where a ship's barge has run ashore. Commander Faulknor is shown leading his men up the beach towards the fort, which is shrouded with gunsmoke. To the left of the fort and close under its walls is the 'Zebra' in port-bow view, engaging to port. On the left of the picture another ship's boat is making for the shore, firing a swivel-gun from her bow. Beyond her are other boats heading for the beach and in the background is the 'Asia', starboard-bow view.

On 5 February, a British fleet under the command of Royal Navy Admiral Sir John Jervis landed troops under the command of Sir Charles Grey on the island, Marines under Captain T. Oldfield stormed the trenches of Saint Nicholas mole and forces proceeded to capture the island from the Republicans in concert with French planters.

Fort George, Martinique (circa 1809) © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London Object: PAF8427 Artist: Edward Pelham Brenton []

By 20 March, only Fort Bourbon and Fort Royal remained under Republican control. Jervis ordered the fourth-rate ship of the line HMS Asia, and the sloop, HMS Zebra to capture Fort Saint Louis. Asia was unable to get close to the fort and Zebra went in alone, with her captain, Richard Faulknor. Despite facing heavy Republican artillery fire, Faulknor ran Zebra close under the walls. He and his ship's company then used Zebra's boats to land.

The British stormed the fort and captured it. Zebra lost only her pilot killed and four men wounded. Meanwhile, the remainder of the British fleet captured Fort Royal and two days later Fort Bourbon capitulated.

The Governor General of Martinique at the time, Donatien-Marie-Joseph de Vimeur, surrendered to Grey. The British then occupied Martinique until the Treaty of Amiens returned the island to the French in 1802

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