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Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Battle of Nassau and the Audacity of Audacity

The Battle of Nassau, it the Bahamas, occurred  March 2 – March 3, 1776, but was less a battle than an appearance.  The Americans came, they saw, they conquered and they left.  Nassau involved an amphibious assault and the first combined naval and marine operation of the war and American history.  On another level, it demonstrates an audacity that must also be recognized as part of the American character.

 The fleet was commanded by Commodore Esek Hopkins.  According to Samuel Eliot Morison in John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography, Hopkins was not directed to go to the Bahamas, so the decision to look for the ammunition and powder in the Bahamas was his.  Jones had been offered command of one of the ships, The Fly, but Jones had turned it down, deeming it not suitable for his level of office.  Although Jones later claimed to be Hopkins' planning officer, he was not, although he had knowledge of the Bahamian waters.  Hubris was a common theme to the American officer corps in the Revolution.

British Governor Montfort Browne secreted 150 barrels of gunpowder to St. Augustine.  After a council of war led by Hopkins, the decision was made to avoid the waters of the channel and land on the eastern side of the island.  There, on March 3 the Americans took Fort Montagu in an unopposed landing.  The Americans did retrieve a sizeable amount of arms.  The following day, March 4, they advanced on the town, the second fort (Fort Nassau) was abandoned, and the Americans remained two weeks, then sailed for New London, Connecticut.

Here is Fort Montagu today, still standing:

Also still standing is Graycliffe, originally built in 1740 by the pirate  Captain John Howard Graysmith; it was used as a prison by the Americans in 1776.  The building is a renowned restaurant and the prison is the third largest private wine cellar in the world.
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