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The British Navy – Captain Vandeput

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

September 18. –We are much astonished at the behavior of some of those captains of men-of-war, who are stationed upon our coasts. They seem greedily to anticipate the horror of blood shedding; and although war is not yet proclaimed, nor any hostilities ordered by Parliament against the colonies in general, yet confiding in their strength, they daringly assault our towns, and destroy lives upon the least provocation whatever.

When Porto Bello was restored to the Spaniards, it was agreed that the English should have a free trade there; before some of the people of the town destroyed one of the English vessels there in the night, and murdered the men on board her. When this was known, ships were sent to demand satisfaction, which was refused. Orders were then given to beat down the town. The commander in that service sent a boat on shore to inform the inhabitants of his business, and desire the women and children to remove out of the city. He allowed them a whole day for the purpose–sent ashore again to see if it was done, and then battered down only some of the houses, and a church or two, and that in the day time. Such was the true old British spirit, even when dealing with Spaniards and executing positive orders! How different from this is the conduct of those inhuman commanders now upon our coasts! How detestable their character! A Wallace and an Ayscough disgraced humanity and brought reproach upon the British Navy by wantonly employing it to terrify women and children. But the conduct of a Vandeput is more surprising and cruel than even theirs. They only threatened –he actually fired upon a defenceless town, and his previous preparations showed that he was not actuated by a sense of duty, but by the cold-blooded barbarity of an assassin. He acknowledges in his first letter that he was informed of the design of taking away the cannon from the battery; why then did he not, by a letter to the magistrates, let the city know he esteemed it his duty to defend those guns? In that case the town, apprised of his determination, might have thought it more prudent to desist than to provoke him. But upon his own principle of protecting the battery, what right had he to elevate his guns, and fire heavy balls at random upon the city, a great part of whose inhabitants must consist of children and women. Surely the blood of innocents will rise in judgment against him. It was not owing to his wishes or endeavors, but only to the goodness of Almighty God, that hundreds of men, totally ignorant of what was doing at the battery, were not murdered. O! had this happened in the days of good old King George, that father of his people, it would have cost Vandeput not only his character and his ship, but his head would atone for his horrid barbarity. 1


1 Extract of a letter from Annapolis, Maryland, in the Constitutional Gazette, September 20.

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