I just got back from a short cruise to Nassau, where I spent my time on land exploring the fort built by the British to protect the island. It’s an interesting set of buildings and walls, dating back to the late 1700s, but it wasn’t very effective in defending the island: apparently every time anyone invaded, they managed to take over the island without a battle.
The Americans invaded. The Spanish invaded. Anybody who invaded got the island, though nobody seemed to care enough to keep it for very long.
If you google Fort Charlotte, you’ll find that most tourist guides say simply that the cannons were never fired, but, according to the displays at the fort, the reason they weren’t fired was because the fort was built in the wrong place and likely commanded by officers without a good sense of how to do their job. Apparently the fort was built too far from the settlement at Nassau to actually defend the city, and also too far from the coast to prevent invaders from landing.
The soldiers pressed into service — many of them free blacks, though all the officers were white — died in shocking numbers, but of disease, not from warfare. Yellow fever was rampant, and sanitation in the fort itself was dreadful. Plus the soldiers wore wool uniforms! In late October, the temperature there was in the upper 80s, with humidity to match and the sun pouring down. I was sweating in a cotton t-shirt; I’m sure a wool uniform would have given me heatstroke!
The history displays also noted that a lot of the ammunition stored in the fort — especially the magazines of powder for the cannons — was ruined by the dampness in the underground area where it was kept.
After wandering through the fort and reading some of this history of incompetence, I turned to Diane Silver, my traveling companion, and asked, “How on earth did the British Empire last as long as it did?”
“Their navy,” she said. “They controlled the seas.”
I guess that must be it. Or perhaps they did a better job of defense in some of their other colonies — though studying the many British mistakes in the American Revolution makes me think the bad decisions at Fort Charlotte weren’t isolated examples.
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