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.escape the danger, and to arrive safe in Fort Royal bay, '78*. where they found the count de Graste, • * 20. *
Sir George Rodney, on finding himself disappointed, . returned to St. Lucie; there to refit; take in a supply of water, stores and provisions; and keep a strict watch with his frigates on the movements of the French in Fort Royal bay. The objects of the hostile commanders were not less opposite than their interests. It was the business and design of de Grasse to avoid fighting, till he had formed a junction with the Spanish fleet under don Solano at Hispaniola. On the other side, the sal'** vation of the West Indies, with the whole fortune and hope of the war, depended upon Rodney's preventing »e junction, or bringing on a close and decisive engagelent with de Grasse before it took place. The British fleet at St. Lucie amounted to 36 ships of the line: the * force under de Grasse at Martinico to 34, beside two ships of the line armed en flute, and two fifty-fours, the first wera not in either engagement; and the last if present acted only as frigates. The French fleet, beside a full compliment of seamen, had 5500 land forces on board. The Ville de Paris of no guns, de Grasse's own ship, carried not less than 1300 men including soldiers. The French 74's carried 900 men each. Their metal is always heavier than that of the British, in equal rates: but several of their ships were in very indifferent condition. The British had five 90 gun ships, which was their highest rate; and the French had eight of 84 and 80 guns each, beside the Ville de Paris. The comparative balance of the, force on both fides was tolerablv even; and contending fleets do not often meet upon" more equal terms. The van of the British was com% . manded
1782. manded by Sir Samuel Hood, the centre by Sir George Rodney, and the rear by adm. Francis Drake. The three divisions of the French fleet were under count de Grafle, Mons. de Vaudreuil, and Moris, de Bougainville.
April The French fleet began to turn out of Fort Royal *" harbour by break of day, with a great convoy under' their protection, all bound to leeward and intending to fall down to the French or Spanish ports in Hispaniola, De Grasse, that he might avoid any encounter on his passage, meant to keep close in under the islands, till he had eluded the pursuit of the British. But their departure from the bay, and movements, were so speedily communicated by signals from the frigates, and thf British fleet was in such excellent preparation, that all the ships were clear of Gross Islet Bay by noon, and pursued with the utmost expedition; so that the French saved only a few hours, by being masters of the time of departure. The British gained sight of them under Dominique at night j and afterward regulated die pursuit by signals.
Count de Graflfe formed the line of battle to windward early the next morning; and thereby afforded an opportunity to his convoy for proceeding on their course, while he remained to abide the consequences. While the count had wind enough for these movements by being further advanced toward Guadaloupe, the British fleet lay becalmed under the high lands of Dominique. The breeze at length reached the van of the latter; and the ships, began to close with the French centre, while their own centre and rear were still becalmed. If de Graffe could have avoided an engagement, it .must bethought thought that the prospect of falling with his whole weight upon and entirely crushing one third of his enemy's force, was too tempting to be resisted. The action commenced about 9 o'clock. The attack was lead by the Royal Oak, and seconded by the Alfred and the Montague. The whole division was in a few minute* closely engaged, and for more than an hour was exceedingly pressed by the superiority of the French, The Barsieur, Sir S. Hood's own ship, had at times, seven, and generally three ships firing upon her: none of the division escaped encountering a disproportionate force. The firm and effectual resistance, with which they sustained all the efforts of the enemy's superiority, was. to the highest degree glorious. At length the leading ships of the centre were enabled to come up to their assistance. These were soon followed by Sir G. Rodney in the Formidable, with his seconds the Namur and the Puke, all of 90 guns: they made and supported a most tremendous sire. The gallantry of a French captain of. a 74 gun ship in the rear, who having backed hismajiyr top-sail, steadily received and bravely returned the fire of these three great ships in succession, without in the least changing his station, excited the applause and admiration of his enemies. The coming up of these several stiips of the centre division, induced the French, commander to change the nature of the action, that fp might not become decisive. He kept at such a distance during the remainder of the engagement, as evidenced an intention of disabling the British ships without any considerable hazard on his own side. This, kind of firing produced as much effect as the distance would admit, and was well supported by both, parties.
1782-. for an hour and three quarters longer; during all which time, the rest of the British fleet was held back, by the calms and baffling winds under Dominique. About twelve o'clock, the remaining ships of the British centre came up, and the rear was closing the line: on which de Grasse withdrew his fleet from the action, and evaded all the efforts of the British commanders for its renewal. The French ships received much more damage than their own fire produced. Two of them were obliged to quit the fleet and put into Guadaloupe, which reduced the Count's line to 32 ships. On the British side the Royal Oak and the Montague- suffered extremely; but were capable of being repaired at sea, so as not to be under the necessity of quitting the fleet.
The British fleet lay to at night to repair damages; and the following day was principally spent in refitting, In keeping the wind, and in transposing the rear and the van, as the former (not having been engaged) was necessarily fitter for the active service of that division. Both fleets kept turning up to windward, in the channel which separates the islands of Dominique and Guadafoupe.
On the nth the French had weathered Guadaloupe, and gained such a distance, that the body of their fleet could only be descried from the mast-heads of the British centre; and all hope of Sir G. Rodney's coming up with them seemed to be at an end. In this critical state of things, one of the French ships, which had suffered in the action, was perceived, about noon, to fall off" considerably from the rest of the fleet to leeward. This sight produced signals from the British admiral for a general chafe; which was so vigorous, that the Agamemnon. memnon, and some others of the headmost of the British '782. line, were coming up so fast with this ship, that she would assuredly have been cut off before evening, had not her signals and evident danger, induced de Grasse to bear down with his whole fleet to her assistance. This movement made it impossible for the French to avoid fighting. The pursuing British ships fell back into their station; a close line was formed; and such manœuvres practised in the night, as were necessary to preserve things in their present state, and as might possibly produce casual advantage. The French also prepared for battle with the greatest resolution.
The scene of action lay between the islands of Guadaloupe, Dominique, the Saints and Marigalante; and was bounded both to windward and leeward by dangerous shores. The hostile fleets met upon opposite tacks. The battle commenced about 7 o'clock in the morning, £" and was continued with unremitting fury until. near the fame hour in the evening. Adm. Drake's division led, and with much gallantry received and returned the fire of the whole French line; whose guns were pointed so little to the hulls, or so illy served, that Drake's leading ship, the Marlborough, had only three men killed and sixteen wounded by receiving the first fire of twentythree of their ships. The British as they came up, ranged slowly along the French line, and close under their lee. Being so near every shot took effect; and the French ships being so full of men, the carnage in them was prodigious. The Formidable, adm. Rodney's ship, fired near eighty broadsides, and it may be thought she was not singular. The French stood and returned this dreadful fire with the utmost firmness. Each side Vol. IV. T fought,