Category Archives: American history

Oranges and Treasure

Hermione treasure ship

During the Seven Years’ War of 1756 to 1763, Philemon Pownoll commanded the Royal Navy sloop Favourite, while his friend Herbert Sawyer was in charge of the frigate Active. Cruising near Cape St Vincent (the south-western tip of Portugal) in May 1762, they spotted, chased and captured the Spanish vessel Hermione, bound from Lima in South America to Cadiz.

Captain Pownoll advert at The Sharpham Trust’s open day

The Hermione was brought into Gibraltar and then given a naval escort to England, where the cargo and ship were valued at Continue reading

Reading Matters

For many years, we created newsletters that were emailed to subscribers and were also posted on Our Newsletters website page, fifty-three in all. They contained our latest news, as well as features on anything that appealed to us. We were able to stray well beyond the confines of our published books, or perhaps expand on something in those books, and we were also able to include photographs and other illustrations.

Regrettably, we have now stopped producing newsletters, because of the imposition by the European Union of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which places an onerous burden on small businesses.

From now on, keep an eye instead on the different pages of our website, and take a look at this blog. We will continue to add any news in our Latest News page of the website, and any forthcoming talks or interviews will be listed on the Events page.

If you enjoy these newsletters and blog, then you will probably also enjoy our books!
If you are now at a loss for something to read, we would (of course) suggest that you try any of our books that you haven’t read. Here’s a cut-out-and-keep summary, though Continue reading

The Prudential and the Rock

This is the strange story of not one, but two Prudential insurance companies, and why the American firm chose Gibraltar as its symbol and slogan.

The Prudential in England

In 1848 the Prudential or ‘the Pru’ was set up in London and came to concentrate on life insurance and a means of saving for professional people and, later on, for the poorer working classes who would pay weekly amounts to agents. It is now a multinational life insurance and financial services company.

The Prudential in America

In America John Fairfield Dryden lost his father when a young boy. As a result of his experiences, he set up an insurance company at Newark, New Jersey, in 1875, based on the principles and name of the Prudential in London. This new company was called the Prudential Friendly Society and sold industrial insurance to help American working families provide against sickness, accident and death. The company’s history is told in a fascinating book published in 1950 by Doubleday – The Prudential: a story of human security by Earl Chapin May and Will Oursler. Its jacket depicts the iconic northern part of the Rock of Gibraltar.

Cover of 1950 book called ‘The Prudential, a story of human security’

by Earl Chapin May and Will Oursler

The business struggled, and so in late 1876 Dryden went to London to seek advice on how Continue reading

Gibraltar in America

This is the story of a famous painting by the American artist John Trumbull, which is used on the jacket of the American edition of our book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History, published in hardback in the United States and Canada by Viking (ISBN 9780735221628), 449 pages long, plus prelims and prologue, maps and other illustrations. It is also available as an e-book and an audio download. It is almost the same as the UK edition, though with a few corrections and amendments and a very striking jacket.

The French connection

The publication coincides with the 240th anniversary of France becoming officially involved with the American Revolution (War of Independence). Never having recovered from the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), France was looking to ways of seeking revenge against Britain. From 1777 she had allowed arms and other equipment to be shipped to the rebels in America, while American privateers were permitted to shelter in French ports. In March 1778, France signed a treaty recognising American independence, and the first hostile act between Britain and France was a frigate action in June 1778, when the French Belle Poule fought the British Arethusa. The following month, Britain declared war on France. It took France almost another year to persuade Spain to join in, leading to the start of the Great Siege of Gibraltar in June 1779.

John Trumbull’s finest painting

The UK and American jackets of Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History are very different, but both are based on the work of contemporary American artists. The UK jacket features a painting by John Singleton Copley (see our newsletter 50), while this Viking jacket uses a magnificent painting by John Trumbull.

Born at Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1756, Trumbull became a soldier at the beginning of the Continue reading

The Great Siege: A Quick Summary

For more than 3½ years, from June 1779 to February 1783, the tiny territory of Gibraltar was besieged and blockaded, on land and at sea, by the overwhelming forces of Spain and France. It became the longest siege in British history. We relate this epic tale in our new book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History.

 

 

West side of Gibraltar

 

Located between the Mediterranean and Atlantic, right on the edge of Europe, Gibraltar was a British military garrison and home to several thousand civilians, a place of varied nationalities, languages, religions and social classes. Before the siege, life was particularly pleasant Continue reading

Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History

This 50th issue coincides with the publication on 7th September of our latest book, Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History. It also coincides with Gibraltar’s National Day on 10th September, which this year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum, the first time that Gibraltarians were given the choice of retaining their link with Britain or coming under Spanish sovereignty. They decisively chose to remain British. Another key event is that 2017 is the 300th anniversary of the birth of George Augustus Eliott – the Governor of Gibraltar throughout the Great Siege.

In the UK, Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History is published in hardback (ISBN 9781408708675). It is 449 pages long, plus a prologue, black-and-white and colour plates, and several maps.

“well-researched and briskly written narrative … worthy of the most melodramatic Hollywood blockbuster” (Sunday Times)

E-books and audiobook

It is also available as an e-book in various formats, and there is an unabridged downloadable audiobook produced by Hachette Audio. The narrator is John Telfer, no less – the acclaimed actor Continue reading

Coxheath Camp

We are continuing to work on our new book about the Great Siege of Gibraltar. Generally, publishers specify a word length based on what is felt to be commercially viable and what the authors feel is appropriate. When doing research, we tend to find enough material to fill many volumes, but the trick is to cut it all down to produce something readable. For our Gibraltar siege book, we could easily wander off into countless digressions, leaving no space for the main story, but our newsletters do allow us to indulge in digressions galore – such as Coxheath Camp here.

Gibraltar’s Great Siege was rooted in the American War of Independence. In early 1778 France sided with the rebel colonies and then in July declared war on Britain. The French tried to persuade Spain to unite with them against Britain and even offered to help capture Gibraltar. Eventually, in June 1779, Spain also declared war on Britain, and the Great Siege of Gibraltar began. While all this was going on, Coxheath was turning into an enormous military camp.

Coxheath (marked ‘Cocksheath’) in the centre of this 1783 map of Kent

Early days

Coxheath – sometimes spelled ‘Cocksheath’ – was located just south of the town of Maidstone in Kent, some 30 miles south-east of the City of London. It comprised a stretch of wild heath Continue reading

The Year Without a Summer

The 2016 summer in Britain has been somewhat indifferent – very few scorching hot days, much cloud and below-average temperatures. Exactly two centuries ago, the weather was far worse. As Jane Austen died in July 1817, her very last full summer in 1816 was a wretched one, and she refers to the rain and the cold in a few of her surviving letters. ‘I begin to think it will never be fine again,’ she lamented in early July. On 1st September 1816 William Holland, the vicar of Over Stowey in Somerset, wrote in his diary: ‘The weather has continued in the same uncertain state that it has done for sometime past. Indeed properly speaking we have had no summer, for we scarce have been a week without [a] fire throughout, I have now this very day a fire in the parlour.’ For much of the year his diary had been a litany of bad weather and dashed hopes. In his rural community, he was keenly aware of the effects of the weather on the crops. The constant rain had delayed the hay harvest considerably, and two weeks earlier he had written: ‘Rainy, windy weather confined William [his son] & I within doors – nay we had a fire tho’ in the midst of August. What will become of the corn I know not, for it does not ripen.’

Flooded and frozen

This exceptional weather was not confined to south-west England, but was felt right across the northern hemisphere. Continue reading

A Presidential Duel

Attention is now keenly focused on the presidential election campaign in the United States of America, but over 200 years ago differences of opinion were decided in more traditional ways. On Saturday 11th August 1804, The Times newspaper in London carried the following story:

‘We yesterday received sets of the New York Papers up to the 14th of last month. The intelligence which may be considered of most importance in them respects the death of General Hamilton, who was to have succeeded the present American Ambassador at Paris [Robert Livingston]. He died on the 12th of July, at two in the afternoon, in consequence of a wound received in a duel on the morning of the preceding day. His antagonist was Colonel Burr, who fills the office of Vice-President of the United States. The causes which led to this unhappy catastrophe are not stated in the American newspapers.’

Confusion

The American newspapers also lacked precise information, though there was a great deal of speculation. Continue reading

The Pillars of Hercules

The stretch of water between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean is known as the Strait of Gibraltar, separating Spain and Gibraltar from north Africa (Morocco). The southernmost tip of Spain (and of Europe itself) is at the town of Tarifa, and here the African coast is only 10 miles (16 km) away. Gibraltar lies some 15 miles (24 km) north-east of Tarifa, and the African coast is almost 14 miles (22 km) away. Even though the distance to Africa is greater here, the promontories of Calpe (Gibraltar) and Abyla (Ceuta in Africa) were significant in Greek and Roman mythology, as they were believed to be the mythical ‘Pillars of Hercules’.

This picture shows the Strait of Gibraltar, looking westwards. The African coast with the promontory of Ceuta is on the left. Next comes the seaway of the Strait of Gibraltar that opens into the Atlantic. The right-hand half of the picture portrays the coast of Spain, with the distinctive darker outline of the Rock of Gibraltar in front.

Gibraltar StraitThe Pillars of Hercules looking westwards from the Mediterranean towards the Atlantic

The myth of the Pillars of Hercules originated with the ancient Greeks and was adopted Continue reading