Relacion de las embarcaciones del Comboy Inglés, procedente de Posmuth en 29. de Julio del presente Año, baxo la escolta del Ramilles de 74 Cañones, y de dos Fragatas de 32. con destino á la Barbada, y San Christoval, Santa Lucia, Jamayca, &c; y al Oriente á sabèr, Bombay, Madrás, Santa Elena
Relacion de las embarcaciones del Comboy Inglés, procedente de Posmuth en 29. de Julio del presente Año, baxo la escolta del Ramilles de 74 Cañones, y de dos Fragatas de 32. con destino á la Barbada, y San Christoval, Santa Lucia, Jamayca, &c; y al Oriente á sabèr, Bombay, Madrás, Santa Elena
A Turning Point in the American Revolutionary War
Ships, Red Coats, and Materiel Seized in One of Britain’s Worst Naval Defeats Ever
Rare Spanish Document Penned Aboard the Flagship
[AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY WAR] / [CÓRDOVA, Luis de].
Cadiz, En la Real Imprenta de Marina, 1780.

Relacion de las embarcaciones del Comboy Inglés, procedente de Posmuth en 29. de Julio del presente Año, baxo la escolta del Ramilles de 74 Cañones, y de dos Fragatas de 32. con destino á la Barbada, y San Christoval, Santa Lucia, Jamayca, &c; y al Oriente á sabèr, Bombay, Madrás, Santa Elena.

4to [27.6 x 19.8 cm], (2) ff. Bound in marbled paper boards, mounted on tabs. Narrow margins, otherwise pristine.

Very rare first and only edition of a remarkable Spanish relación tallying the spoils taken in one of the most decisive and important naval victories in European theater of the American Revolutionary War, the capture of 55 British ships by a joint Spanish-French fleet in what would come to be called the ‘Action of 9 August 1780.’ The document was drafted on 17 August aboard the flagship Nuestra Señora de la Santísima Trinidad, commanded by admiral Don Luis de Córdova (1706-96), and immediately published in Cadiz by the Real Imprenta de Marina upon the return of the fleet to port on 20 August. Córdova’s victory, which ranks as perhaps the worst logistical disaster of British naval history, greatly hampered British efforts in the Colonies, stretching forces to the breaking point and turning many at home against the war in America, making the present document a valuable witness to an important turning point in the American War for Independence.

The effect on the British economy from the ‘Action of 9 August 1780’ was massive. Not only were dozens of ships lost, but nearly 3,000 soldiers and sailors, “half of whom were British redcoats” (Volo, p. 77), were taken captive. Many tons of military supplies were confiscated, including arms, artillery, ammunition, uniforms, rations, and other provisions to resupply military efforts in (according to the present document) New York, Quebec, Barbados, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Antigua, Sint Eustatius, Saint Kitts, the Leeward Islands, Bengal, and even for “la Esqudra de Rodney,” the fleet headed by the famed Admiral George Bridges Rodney (1718-92). The relación lists each of the ships captured, their number of guns, principal cargo and intended destination (e.g., “Viveres, Cerveza, Arcos de Fierro para Nueva York,” “Vestuarios para 12 Regimientos,” etc.), and in tabular form provides numbers of captured sailors, soldiers, women, passengers, and other officials.

The value of the lost cargo was £1.5 million, an enormous sum of money. “This unexpected Spanish victory compounded by the serious storm losses in the Caribbean produced a financial crisis among the marine insurance underwriters throughout Europe. Many went bankrupt, and war insurance rates, already remarkably high due to the menacing presence of privateers, were driven to intolerable levels” (Volo, pp. 77-8).

Spain declared war on Great Britain in July of 1779, joining France in support of the American colonists in the American War of Independence. The Santísima Trinidad became flagship of the Spanish fleet, immediately taking part in Franco-Spanish operations in the English Channel. This ‘Armada of 1779’ hoped to divert British military assets, primarily of the Royal Navy, from other theaters of war by invading the Kingdom of Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War. The proposed plan was to seize the Isle of Wight and then capture the British naval base of Portsmouth. Ultimately, no fleet battles were fought in the Channel, and the Franco-Spanish invasion never materialized, but the ‘Armada’ would prove its worth in the summer of 1780.

Spain received intelligence that a large British convoy would soon be leaving Portsmouth destined for the West Indies, and so preparations were made to send 37 Spanish and French warships to intercept this fleet. Sixty-three British ships sailed by late July, including five ‘East Indiamen’ (massive ships destined for the Far East and under the control of the East India Company), as well as some 50 ‘West Indiamen’ (smaller ships carrying goods back and forth from the West Indies). The convoy was guarded by Captain John Moutray aboard the 74-gun Ramillies and two other war frigates.

Luis de Cordova located the British on the evening of 8 August, 200 miles from Portugal, and quickly concocted a trick to lure the British fleet toward them: In the night, lantern signals were given by the Santísima Trinidad, which the British ships mistakenly believed to be from their own commander. The British fleet turned toward the signal, and, in the morning, found themselves in the middle of the Spanish fleet, which attacked at once from all sides, easily captured dozens of ships. Many vessels suffered significant damage, numerous sailors were killed, and only the three military escorts and five other ships managed to escape. Moutray was soon court martialed for his role in the debacle.

The ‘Action of 9 August 1780’ was widely reported in both the European and American press, where its extraordinary impact was immediately understood. British sources recall with despair the enormity of the defeat: “A most valuable convoy from the East and West Indies, under the conduct of Captain Moutray of the Ramillies, fell unfortunately into [Spanish] hands … The prizes were conveyed to Cadiz, where a sight of triumph, unusual to the Spanish nation, was exhibited. Sixty English ships were brought captive by the squadron, whilst a groupe of prisoners, nearly 3000 in number, of all ages and denominations, soldiers, marines, seamen, and passengers, were led ashore in sight of the inhabitants … The multitude and mixture of the prisoners, and the sight of such an immense spoil, resembled rather the gathering of a sacked city, than of the capture of an ordinary fleet” (T. Campbell, p. 56). American sources, of course, were more sanguine, sensing an opportunity for the advancement of the war effort in the colonies: “The value of salable commodities was great, but the loss of the military and naval supplies was much more considerable, as they could not be replaced in time. Advantageous purchases will undoubtedly be made out of this capture for the service of the American army” (W. Gordon, p. 4).

OCLC and KVK locate no examples of this relación in North American institutions and only 3 examples worldwide (Biblioteca Nacional de España, Universidad de Sevilla, and Biblioteca Nacional de Chile).

* Medina, Biblioteca Hispano-Americano, vol. 5, p. 163, no. 4964; F. de Paula Pavía, “Descripcion del apresamiento del gran convoy inglés en 1780 por la esquadra combinada de España y Francia al mando del general don Luis de Córdoba,” La revista militar, vol. 8, no. 1 (1851), pp. 153-162; “Documento: presa de un convoy británico de 55 velas por don Luis de Córdoba (1780),” Revista de historia naval, vol. 12, no. 44 (1994) pp. 75-80; T. Campbell, Annals of Great Britain, from the Ascension of George III, to the Peace of Amiens; W. Gordon, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment of the Independence of the United States of AmericaRemembrancer; or, Impartial Repository of Public Events. For the Year 1780, pp. 249-50; W. L. Clowes, The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present, p. 55.

Price: $2,850.00

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