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Action of 25 January 1797

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Action of 25 January 1797 was a minor naval battle of the French Revolutionary Wars, fought in the Gulf of Cádiz. The Spanish third-rate ship of the line San Francisco de Asís was attacked and pursued for several hours by a British squadron of three fifth-rates frigates and a sixth-rate corvette under George Stewart, 8th Earl of Galloway. After an intermittent but fierce exchange of fire, the British warships, badly damaged, were eventually forced to withdraw.[1][better source needed] The San Francisco de Asís, which suffered only minor damage, was able to return to Cádiz without difficulties. The commander of the ship, Captain Alonso de Torres y Guerra, was promoted for his success.

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  • George Washington: The Birth of a Nation (1789 - 1797)
  • 10 Historical Predictions That Came True


Hey it’s Professor Dave, I wanna tell you about George Washington and the United States of America. The United States of America is the most powerful nation in the world. What does it do with this position, and is it deserved? To have any hope of answering these questions, one must learn about the nation’s rise to power, and the figures that color its past. This series will tell the story of America through its presidents, one commander-in-chief at a time, from the beginning, starting with George Washington and the birth of a nation. Without George Washington there may have been no victory in the Revolutionary War, and thus no United States. He was the Indispensable Man, the one person that most everyone could agree on. North and South, States’ Rights and strong Federal government advocates, abolitionists and slaveholders, he was the glue that held it all together. As we shall see throughout this series, temperament is the common denominator of the greatest presidents, and in Washington, it was his most admired quality. In him, as with every president, character is destiny. Washington had a gravity that made him a natural leader of men, a dignity such that even brilliant minds like Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton recognized him as a superior. He has been embalmed in a kind of patriotic waxwork display, a marble bust. But the real man, the flesh and blood Washington, deserves better. To turn him into some kind of remote, stately figure would be a disservice, although understandable, because the country owes him everything. Born into middling status in Virginia, then the most populous British colony, Washington became an officer in the militia just before the French and Indian War, a time when the collision between French and British Empires for the domination of North America was inevitable. In 1753 the 22-year-old Major Washington was sent to what is now Pittsburgh, in a contested region known as Ohio Country. Soon after, in 1754, Washington and his troops ambushed a French detachment. The incident, known as the Battle of Jumonville Glen, had international repercussions, as both France and England sent troops to North America to protect their colonial interests. War was formally declared in 1756, and Washington was made a Colonel in the Virginia Regiment. His military experience during this time would provide invaluable insight into British war tactics, as well as a chance to hone his leadership skills. He realized that having numerous state militias was ineffective because there was no singular command. This made Washington a firm believer in a strong central authority for the country. After the war, Washington married a wealthy widow, Martha Custis, and became a successful planter at Mount Vernon. In 1765, the British parliament, seeking to repay debts accrued during the French and Indian war, imposed a new tax called the Stamp Act. This tax required printed materials used in the colonies, such as legal documents, magazines, and newspapers, to be produced on stamped paper produced in London. This legislation was wildly unpopular; colonialists felt it violated their rights as Englishmen to not be taxed without their consent. The Stamp Act gave rise to the immortal phrase, “No taxation without representation.” This was the beginning of the American Revolution. Though the Stamp Act was soon repealed, other taxes followed. These new taxes were accompanied by the occupation of Boston by British troops in 1768, which would lead to the Boston Massacre of 1770. In May of 1769, Washington introduced a proposal in the Virginia Assembly to boycott all goods until the taxes were rescinded. In 1773, a Tea Act giving a British company a monopoly on tea sales was passed by Parliament and again met with great hostility throughout the colonies. Members of a secret resistance group, “The Sons of Liberty,” dressed as Mohawk warriors, snuck aboard a British ship, and dumped 342 cases of British tea into Boston Harbor to protest the Tea Act. The British Parliament retaliated by passing a series of punitive laws known as the Intolerable Acts. This led to the assembly of the First Continental Congress in 1774, with Washington in attendance as a delegate. The Congress had two primary goals. The first was to organize a boycott of British goods and cease exports to Britain if the Intolerable Acts were not repealed. The other was to arrange for a Second Continental Congress to assemble on May 10th, 1775. By the time the Second Continental Congress met, the Revolutionary War for independence had already begun in Massachusetts. To signal his readiness to fight for independence, Washington appeared before the Second Continental Congress in full military dress. On June 14th, 1775, the Congress voted to create the Continental Army, appointing Washington as General and Commander in Chief. In July of that year, Washington arrived outside Boston to take charge of colonial forces and organize the Continental Army. The standoff that then took place with British forces, known as the siege of Boston, continued throughout the fall and winter as Washington was astounded by the failure of the British to attack his poorly armed forces. In early March of 1776, cannons captured at Fort Ticonderoga arrived in Boston, and with American artillery bombarding their position, the British fled. Washington then moved most of the Continental Army to fortify New York City, where he almost lost the war. The largest British force ever sent outside of Europe was ordered to crush the rebellion. Defiantly, Washington had the newly issued Declaration of Independence read to his men and the citizens of New York as the British landed 22,000 soldiers on Long Island. It would be the largest battle of the war. Though Washington’s outnumbered forces were badly beaten, they were not crushed. General Howe, the British Commander, restrained his officers from pursuing the retreating American forces. Washington was able to withdraw his remaining army across the East River on the night of August 29th, 1776, narrowly escaping complete annihilation. Washington then continued his flight across New Jersey. He was forced to employ guerilla tactics since his army had been nearly destroyed in Long Island and many of his troops had since deserted, due to low morale and one-year enlistments. On the night of December 25th, 1776, he staged a daring surprise attack on an outpost in western New Jersey. He led his army across the Delaware River to capture nearly a thousand Hessians, German mercenaries employed by the British, in Trenton, New Jersey. The heroic crossing was dangerous due to the weather, and the fact that many soldiers were without shoes. This made the attack all the more unexpected. Despite the odds, Washington lost only four soldiers, making this a pivotal event in the war as well as Washington’s career. Washington followed with another victory over British troops at Princeton in early January. The turning point of the war came in September 1777: the stunning surrender of British General Burgoyne’s entire army at the Battle of Saratoga in upstate New York. Prompted by the decisive victory, the French joined the war on the side of the Americans. This would lead to the end of the war, when the British Army was surrounded at the Battle of Yorktown by combined French and American forces, in late 1781. Though the Peace Treaty would not be finalized for another two years, the ragtag coalition of states’ militias and their French, German, and Polish allies had defeated the mightiest empire on Earth. Washington’s most important role in the war was the embodiment of the legitimacy of American resistance to the Crown, the representation of the Revolution. His enormous personal stature and political skills kept Congress, the Army, the French, the militias, and the disparate states all focused on a common goal. When the treaty was ratified in 1783, Washington resigned as commander-in-chief and proved his opposition to a military dictatorship, demonstrating his absolute commitment to the idea of an American republic. Furthermore, he permanently established the principle of civilian supremacy in military affairs by voluntarily resigning and disbanding his army, retiring to his estate at Mount Vernon. Historians have called Washington’s voluntary resignation as commander of the army his greatest action. It was an act that stunned aristocratic Europe, and no less than King George III called Washington “the greatest man in the world”. But in his mind, returning to civilian life was necessary to complete the revolution and fulfill the republican ideal, lest a military dictatorship be established. During the war, the Continental Congress made decisions but lacked enforcement powers, particularly regarding taxes. Implementation of most decisions, including modifications to the Articles of Confederation, required unanimous approval of all thirteen state legislatures. The inability of the Congress to redeem the public debt caused by the war, or to foster cooperation among the states to encourage commerce and economic development only aggravated a gloomy situation. Meanwhile, the states acted individually, each conducting its own foreign policy. When some states closed their ports to British shipping, Connecticut opened its ports and profited greatly. By 1787, Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s top aide during the war, realized that a strong central government was necessary to avoid foreign intervention and the stifled progress caused by an ineffectual Congress. Hamilton won Washington’s endorsement and petitioned Congress to call for a new Constitutional Convention. Washington, attending the 1787 convention as a delegate from Virginia, was unanimously elected as its president. Although the Constitutional Convention was only authorized to amend the Articles of Confederation, many of the representatives shared Washington and Hamilton’s belief that a new system of government was needed to replace the ineffective Articles. Secret closed-door sessions produced a new Constitution for a new nation. The new Constitution gave much more power to the central government, but balanced this with states’ sovereign rights. The general populace, however, did not entirely share Washington’s views of a strong federal government binding the states together, comparing such a prevailing entity to the British Parliament that had previously oppressed and taxed the colonies. In order to rally popular opinion in New York on behalf of the new Constitution, delegates Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay authored a series of newspaper columns that have come to be known as The Federalist Papers, which listed the advantages of a strong Federal system of government. They were influential, and the new Constitution was eventually ratified by all thirteen states. The delegates to the convention had designed the presidency with Washington in mind, allowing him to define the office by establishing precedent once elected. When the state delegates met to vote in the first Electoral College, they unanimously elected Washington as the first president in 1789 and again in 1792. He remains the only president to receive every electoral vote. Washington was sworn in as President of the United States on April 30th, 1789 in New York City. He gave a brief speech following his inauguration and insisted on having Barbados Rum served after the ceremony. Aware that everything set a precedent, he declared that he should be addressed as “Mr. President,” rather than other more majestic terms proposed by the Senate, such as “His Exalted Highness”. Congress voted to pay Washington a salary of twenty five thousand dollars a year, a large sum in 1789, valued at about three hundred forty thousand today. Washington was facing personal financial troubles, yet he initially declined the salary. However, he ultimately accepted the salary to avoid setting a precedent whereby only wealthy individuals could afford to serve without any pay. When Washington took office, he had to develop a government from scratch. There was no executive branch, nor judicial branch, and no example on which to rely. One of Washington’s first acts as president was to establish the judicial branch. Through the Judiciary Act of 1789, the Supreme Court was created, which was given the power to settle legal disputes between states, or between a state and the federal government. Washington founded the cabinet system, and created the Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of War, which later became Secretary of Defense, and Attorney General. Each office, excluding the Attorney General, would head an executive department. These four officials, along with President and Vice President, formed the first United States Cabinet. Washington was suspicious of political parties. He worried they would lead to factionalism and conflict. But two members of his Cabinet, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, held diametrically opposing views about the direction the country should take. Arguably, both men were operating out of understandable fear. Hamilton feared the democratic rabble as having the potential for mob rule and anarchy, the very problems that had beset the nation under the Articles of Confederation. He admired the British system of Law and pushed for closer trading with their former countrymen. Alternately, Jefferson feared a monarchy and the centralized power that Hamilton pushed for, rather admiring the revolution in France. While Hamilton correctly believed that the future of the United States lay in its international trade and commercial banking system, Jefferson thought the nation’s future lay in an idealized agrarian or agricultural economy. He feared that urban-based economies were prone to corruption and manipulation, and hoped that the United States could avoid these plagues by remaining tied to the soil. These two conflicting worldviews by two of the most brilliant Founding Fathers would lead to the formation of two ideologically opposed political parties. Hamilton’s Federalists favored a strong Federal government and unified nation, while Jefferson’s Democratic Republicans claimed that all the power of the Federal government was derived from the consent of individual states. These fundamental differences would echo throughout American history, leading to our bloody Civil War, and even remain very much alive with the political parties of today. In perhaps the greatest irony of American political history, the two major parties of the last 150 years – the Republican and Democratic parties, would end up completely reversing their positions. The Democratic Party, initially a champion of the common man, would embrace a strong Progressive activist Federal government, while the Republican Party, originally formed as an Abolitionist movement centered in the North and dominated by Eastern Establishment elites has now become a Southern and Midwestern based agrarian party. Though both parties have become beholden to wealthy elites, each claims to represent the interest of the workingman. Friction between Washington and Jefferson continued throughout his first term, causing Washington to use the first presidential veto. He vetoed legislation drafted by Jefferson outlining a new apportionment formula, which described how many representatives each state would receive. Ironically, Washington thought Jefferson’s bill gave an unfair advantage to the northern states. Washington typically favored Hamilton over Jefferson, and it was Hamilton’s agenda that was implemented. Jefferson bitterly opposed Hamilton’s financial schemes and went behind Washington’s back, trying to sabotage Hamilton’s actions, and spreading rumors that Washington was senile. Jefferson’s attempts to undermine Hamilton led the President to contemplate dismissing Jefferson from the cabinet, though he ultimately left voluntarily. Washington never forgave Jefferson, and would never speak to him again. The nation’s capital had initially been in New York City, but in early 1790, Hamilton devised a plan that established the new national capitol on the Potomac River, in an independent territory bordering Virginia and Maryland. The territory was to be called Colombia, and its capital city was to be named after Washington, though he would not live to see its completion in 1800. The first great test of the new national government came in 1791, and involved a tax on that American essential: alcohol. Congress imposed an excise tax on distilled spirits, which led to protests in the frontier areas, especially Pennsylvania. Washington ordered the protesters to appear in court, but the protests turned into full-scale defiance of federal authority known as the Whiskey Rebellion. Since the national army was too small to be used, Washington summoned militias from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey. The governors sent the troops, with Washington himself initially taking command. The rebels dispersed and there was no fighting, as Washington's forceful action proved that the new government could protect itself. This represented the first instance of the federal government using military force to exert authority over the states and citizens, and is the only time that a sitting U.S. president personally commanded troops in the field. In April 1792, the French Revolutionary Wars broke out between Great Britain and its allies and revolutionary France, and would engulf Europe until 1815. The French government sent representatives to get American support but Washington proclaimed American neutrality and had Hamilton draft the Jay Treaty to normalize trade relations with Great Britain. The Jeffersonians, who supported Revolutionary France, strongly attacked the treaty and accused Hamilton of pro-royalist sympathies. Washington announced his strong support for the treaty, which mobilized public opinion and was pivotal in securing ratification in the Senate. The Jay Treaty not only removed the British from their forts in the West and resolved financial debts remaining from the Revolution but also avoided another war with Britain and brought a decade of prosperous trade. But it so angered the French Revolutionary government that Washington’s successor, John Adams, would nearly be forced to go to war with France near the end of the decade. Washington had only reluctantly agreed to a second term and refused to run for a third, establishing a precedent that would last until 1940 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for a third term. His Farewell Address was issued as a public letter in 1796 and was one of the most influential statements of republicanism, drafted primarily by Washington himself with help from Hamilton. It gave advice on the necessity and importance of national union, the value of the Constitution and the rule of law, the evils of political parties, and the proper virtues of a republican people. He referred to morality as “a necessary spring of popular government”, and said, “Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” The address warned against foreign influence in domestic affairs and American meddling in European affairs, and against bitter partisanship in domestic politics. He called for men to move beyond partisanship, to serve the nation and its citizenry. He cautioned against “permanent alliances with any portion of the world”, saying that the United States must concentrate primarily on American interests. The address guided American values regarding foreign affairs, and Washington’s policy of non-involvement in the foreign affairs of the Old World was embraced by generations of American statesmen until the Cold War era. Washington regarded religion as a protective influence for America's social and political order, and recognized the church’s “laudable endeavors to render men sober, honest, and good citizens, and the obedient subjects of a lawful government.” As commander of the army and as president, he was a vigorous promoter of tolerance for all religious denominations. He believed that religion was important for public order, and human virtue. He often attended services of different denominations, and he suppressed anti-Catholic celebrations in the Army. Washington privately felt that slavery was morally indefensible, and he regarded the divisiveness of his countrymen’s feelings about slavery as a potentially mortal threat to the unity of the nation. Though he never publicly challenged the institution of slavery, possibly because he wanted to avoid provoking a split in the new republic over such an inflammatory issue, he did sign into law the Slave Trade Act of 1794, which limited American involvement in the Atlantic slave trade. He was the only prominent Founding Father to grant freedom to all his slaves in his will. Upon his death, Congressman Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, a Revolutionary War comrade and father of the American Civil War general Robert E. Lee, eulogized Washington as follows. “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in humble and enduring scenes of private life. Pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding; his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. Correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand. The purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues. Such was the man for whom our nation mourns.” One cannot overstate Washington’s importance in the creation of the United States. He was truly the “Father of His Country” and he remains the guiding spirit of a nation.



The winter of 1796–1797 was one of the stormiests of the 18th century.[1] The British Royal Navy lost the ships of line HMS Courageux, wrecked off Gibraltar, and HMS Bombay Castle, foundered in the shoals of the Tagus river's mouth, as well as two frigates.[2] A French expedition sent to Ireland to assist the rebel United Irishmen against the British government failed due to the storms. The Spanish navy also suffered the effects of the winter. The third-rate ship of the line San Francisco de Asís, commanded by Captain Don Alonso de Torres y Guerra, which was anchored in the Bay of Cádiz during a mission to protect the arrival of Spanish commercial shipping from America, was hit by the storms, and having lost her anchor, she was forced to go out to open sea.[2]

Spain and Britain, which had been allies against the Revolutionary France until the Peace of Basel and had cooperated in the Siege of Toulon (1793), became enemies when Spain aligned itself with France by Second Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1796. The British navy, on the outbreak of the war, withdrew from the Mediterranean Sea and was stationed in the Iberian Atlantic coast, from Cape Finisterre to Gibraltar.[3] Sir John Jervis, commander of the Mediterranean Fleet, took its base at Lisbon, having been ordered by the Admiralty to focus on "taking every opportunity of annoying the enemy", asides of protecting the British trade and cutting Spain from its colonies.[4] Among the British ships based in Lisbon, there was a division under the Earl of Galloway which comprised the frigates Lively, Niger and Meleager, and the sloops Fortune and Raven.[5] According to Sir John Barrow, 1st Baronet, Second Secretary to the Admiralty for 40 years, Galloway, later known as Lord Garlies, was "an excellent man, but of a warm and sanguine temperament".[6]


George Stewart as a post-captain. Watercolour on ivory by Anne Mee.
George Stewart as a post-captain. Watercolour on ivory by Anne Mee.

At dawn on 25 January, the three frigates and one sloop of Galloway's division were sighted from the San Francisco de Asís sailing north-eastwards at a distance of 11 leagues from the port of Cádiz, parallel to the city.[7] The lack of response to the signals of recognition made from the Spanish ship put on alert its crew.[7] The British ships began to come close to the San Francisco de Asís relying on their lightness and their advantage, both in number and in artillery, as the division's ships mounted 40 pieces each of the two heaviest frigates, 34 the lesser one, and 28 the sloop.[7] Minerve and Meleager were armed, moreover, with 24-pounder carronades.[5]

At 1 pm the British division had approached enough to open fire on the San Francisco, who had hoisted its flag, ready to engage Galloway's ships,[7] which also hoisted their British flags.[7] The San Francisco then opened fire, and a running battle ensued without intermission until 4 pm. In the process, the San Francisco received the fire of two British frigates which successively shot him with grapeshot.[7] The Spanish ship could only return the fire with the stern chasers of its batteries, although she luffed occasionally to shoot broadsides on the British frigates, inflicting serious damage.[7] The British gunners, noted for their skill through the war, were not particularly accurate during the action, and San Francisco, already hit by the storm, didn't suffer serious damage.[5]

The British frigates left the battle at 4 pm, and although after consulting among themselves the British commanders resolved return to fight at 4:30 pm, they finally withdrew half an hour later.[7][dubious ] The imminence of the nightfall and the possibility of running aground on the coast between Huelva and Ayamonte convinced Alonso de Torres y Guerra to turn back to Cádiz instead of chasing Galloway's division, but trying before to sail between the retreating British ships to shoot upon them two complete broadsides. The British vessels, however, managed to avoid the action by taking advantage of its fasteness and the darkness of the dusk.[7]


Rescue of the Santísima Trinidad at the Battle of Cape St Vincent, by Antonio de Brugada Vila (1804-1863).
Rescue of the Santísima Trinidad at the Battle of Cape St Vincent, by Antonio de Brugada Vila (1804-1863).

The San Francisco de Asís had 2 men killed and 12 wounded in the action. She received a shot at the mainyard, another one awash, and minor damage to the rigging and the hull. The ship had been repaired when, on 14 February, it took part in the Battle of Cape St Vincent. The British fleet, commanded by John Jervis, was victorious over the Spanish fleet under José de Córdoba y Ramos. The San Francisco played a role in the battle, helping at the end of the action to relieve the three-decker Santísima Trinidad, which had been put out of action and was about to be taken by the British fleet.[5] The damage and casualties aboard the British division remain unknown, and the action is not mentioned in English sources,[5][additional citation(s) needed] though the Spanish naval historian Cesáreo Fernández Duro states that one of Galloway's frigates lost its foretopmast.[2]

A success by ship of line fighting alone against a squadron of well armed frigates was not common during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.[8] For example, in the Action of 8 March 1795, the 74-gun HMS Berwick was captured in just 15 minutes by the French frigate Alceste, supported by the frigates Minerve and Vestale.[8] As a reward for his victory, Captain Alonso de Torres y Guerra was given the encomienda of Corral de Caracuel in the Order of Alcántara, which included, asides of the title of knight, an income of 15.800 reales.[5] On the other hand, Galloway's career wasn't damaged by the result of the action, and he was chosen by Admiral Jervis to carry back to England news of the victory of St Vincent.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d San Juan p. 84.
  2. ^ a b c d Fernández Duro p. 82.
  3. ^ Black, Jeremy: The British Seaborne Empire. Bury St Edmunds: Yale University Press, 2004. ISBN 9780300103861, p. 150.
  4. ^ Robson, Martin: Britain, Portugal and South America in the Napoleonic Wars: Alliances and Diplomacy in Economic Maritime Conflict. London: Palgrave Macillan, 2010. ISBN 9780857718846, pp. 36–37.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Rodríguez González, Agustín Ramón: Dos combates afortunados en circunstancias desesperadas. In Revista General de Marina. June 2013, p. 792.
  6. ^ Barrow, John (Sir): An auto-biographical memoir of Sir John Barrow, Late of the Admiralty: including reflections, observations, and reminiscences at home and abroad, from early life to advanced age. London: John Murray, 1847, p. 278.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gaceta de Madrid: no 11, p. 105. 7 February 1797
  8. ^ a b Rodríguez González, p. 793.
  9. ^ Anderson, William: The Scottish nation: or, The surnames, families, literature, honours, and biographical history of the people of Scotland, Vol. II. Edinburgh: A. Fullarton & co., 1867, p. 278.


  • Fernández Duro, Cesáreo (1902). Armada Española desde la unión de los reinos de Castilla y Aragón. VIII. Madrid, Spain: Est. tipográfico "Sucesores de Rivadeneyra".
  • San Juan, Víctor (2005). Trafalgar: Tres armadas en combate. Silex Ediciones. ISBN 84-7737-121-0.

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