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ment, followed them close, in spite of all their attempts to elude his vigilance, and never lost sight of them; till, finding it impossible either to deceive or escape him, they gave up their treacherous purpose in despair, and beat up for Martinico.
A business of more serious import soon engaged his attention. The Americans were at this time trading with our islands, taking advantage of the register of their ships, which had been issued while they were British subjects. Nelson knew, that, by the navigation act, no foreigners, directly or indirectiy, are permitted to carry on any trade with these possessions: he knew, also, that the Americans had made themselves foreigners with regard to England; they had disregarded the ties of blood
nd language, when they acquired the independence which they had been led on to claim, unhappily for themselves, before they were fit for it; and he was resolved that they should derive no profit from those
Foreigners they had made themselves, and as foreigners they were to be treated. once,” said he," they are admitted to any kind of intercourse with our islands, the views of the loyalists, in settling at Nova Scotia, are entirely done away; and when we are again embroiled in a French war, the Americans will first become the carriers of these colonies, and then have possession of them. Here they come, sell their cargoes for ready money, go to Martinico, buy molasses, and so round and round. The loyalist cannot do this, and consequently must sell a little dearer. The residents here are Americans by connexion and by interest, and are inimical to Great Britain. They are as great rebels as ever were in America, had
they the power to show it.” In November, when the squadron, having arrived at Barbadoes, was to separate, with no other orders than those for examining anchorages, and the usual inquiries concerning wood and water, Nelson asked his friend Collingwood, then captain of the Mediator, whose opinions he knew upon the subject, to accompany him to the commander-in-chief, whom he then respectfully asked, whether they were not to attend to the commerce of the country, and see that the navigation act was respected that appearing to him to be the intent of keeping men of war upon this station in time of peace? Sir Richard Hughes replied, he had no particular orders, neither had the Admiralty sent him any acts of parliament. But Nelson made answer, that the navigation act was included in the statutes of the Admiralty, with which every captain was furnished, and that act was directed to admirals, captains, &c. to see it carried into execution. Sir Richard said, he had never seen the book. Upon this Nelson produced the statutes, read the words of the act, and apparently convinced the commander-in-chief, that men of war, as he said, were sent abroad for some other purpose
than to be made a show of.” ACcordingly orders were given to enforce the navigation act.
Major General Sir Thomas Shirley was at this time governor of the Leeward Islands; and when Nelson waited on him to inform him how he intended to act, and upon what grounds, he replied, that “old generals were not in the habit of taking advice from young gentlemen.”—“Sir,” said the young officer, with that confidence in himself which
never carried him too far, and always was equal to the occasion, “ I am as old as the prime minister of England, and think myself as capable of commanding one of his majesty's ships as that minister is of governing the state.” He was resolved to do his duty, whatever might be the opinion or conduct of others : and when he arrived upon his station at St. Kitt's, he sent away all the Americans, not choosing to seize them before they had been well apprized that the act would be carried into effect, lest it might seem as if a trap had been laid for them. The Americans, though they prudently decamped from St. Kitt's, were emboldened by the support they met with, and resolved to resist his orders, alleging that king's ships had no legal power to seize them without having deputations from the customs. The planters were to a man against him; the governors and the presidents of the different islands, with only a single exception, gave him no support: and the admiral, afraid to act on either side, yet wishing to oblige the planters, sent him a note, advising him to be guided by the wishes of the president of the council. There was no danger in disregarding this, as it came unofficially, and in the form of advice. But scarcely a month after he had shown Sir Richard Hughes the law, and, as he supposed, satisfied him concerning it, he received an order from him, stating that he had now obtained good advice upon the point, and the Americans were not to be hindered from coming, and having free egress and regress, if the
governor chose to permit them. An order to the same purport had been sent round to the different governors and presidents; and Gene
ral Shirley and others informed him, in an authoritative manner, that they chose to admit American ships, as the commander-in-chief had left the decision to them. These
in his own words, he soon “trimmed up, and silenced ;” but it was a more delicate business to deal with the admiral. “ I must either,” said he, “ disobey my orders, or disobey acts of parliament. I determined upon the former, trusting to the uprightness of my intentions, and believing that my country would not let me be ruined for protecting her commerce.” With this determination he wrote to Sir Richard, appealed again to the plain, literal, unequivocal sense of the navigation act; and in respectful language told him, he felt it his duty to decline obeying these orders till he had an opportunity of seeing and conversing with him. Sir Richard's first feeling was that of anger, and he was about to supersede Nelson; but having mentioned the affair to his captain, that officer told him he believed all the squadron thought the orders illegal, and therefore did not know how far they were bound to obey them. It was impossible, therefore, to bring Nelson to a court martial, composed of men who agreed with him in opinion upon the point in dispute; and luckily, though the admiral wanted vigour of mind to decide upon what was right, he was not obstinate in wrong, and had even generosity enough in his nature to thank Nelson afterwards for having shown him his error.
Collingwood, in the Mediator, and his brother, Wilfred Collingwood, in the Rattler, actively cooperated with Nelson. The custom-houses were informed, that after a certain day all foreign vessels
found in the ports would be seized; and many were, in consequence, seized, and condemned in the admiralty court. When the Boreas arrived at Nevis, she found four American vessels deeply laden, and what are called the island colours Ħying—white, with a red cross. They were ordered to hoist their proper flag, and depart within eight and forty hours; but they refused to obey, denying that they were Americans. Some of their crews were then examined in Nelson's cabin, where the judge of admiralty happened to be present. The case was plain; they confessed that they were Americans, and that the ships, hull and cargo, were wholly American property; upon which he seized them. This raised a storm : the planters, the custom-house, and the governor, were all against him. Subscriptions were opened, and presently filled, for the purpose of carrying on the cause in behalf of the American captains : and the admiral, whose flag was at that time in the roads, stood neutral. But the Americans and their abettors were not content with defensive law. The marines, whom he had sent to secure the ships, had prevented some of the masters from going ashore; and those persons, by whose depositions it appeared that the vessels and cargoes were American property, declared, that they had given their testimony under bodily fear, for that a man with a drawn sword in his hand had stood over them the whole time. A rascally lawyer, whom the party employed, suggested this story; and as the sentry at the cabin door was a man with a drawn sword, the Americans made no scruple of swearing to this ridiculous falsehood, and commencing prosecutions against