Home > Dimas Castellanos > The Capture of Havana by the English

The Capture of Havana by the English

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What Cuba was from 1762 has much to do with the occupation of Havana by England. An event that not only divided our history into a before and after, but that set the future direction of the island

The War of Succession (1702-1714) began by the Bourbon dynasty in Spain culminated in the agreements signed at Utrecht and formed the basis of the first British colonial rule. Thanks to these agreements England got the privilege of importing black slaves and the introduction of hundreds of tons of British products in America. Some decades later, during the Seven Years War (1756-1763) between England and France, the Spanish Crown, linked by blood to the Gauls, participated in the contest and in response the British Army consummated an old imperial dream: occupy Havana, the marine and military center of the defense and communications of the Spanish empire, without which Caribbean naval dominance was incomplete.

The action — the greatest military and naval mobilization in American history until the nineteenth century — took place between 7 June and 12 August 1762. Its main event was the taking of Havana’s Morro. On the one side: the Earl Albermarle with 53 warships, over 200 transport and thousands of men who represented over 50% of English naval forces in the Caribbean.  On the other: Marshall Juan del Prado with 14 ships in the bay, the strengths of the defense system and about 9 thousand troops, including militia of the neighborhood.

On 7 June the British began the attack on Cojimar and Bacuranao to take Guanabacoa, occupied La Cabana and the 27th of that month their first forces arrived at the pit. From that time developed a stubborn resistance. Two days after, a mine that had been placed by the sappers exploded and through the breach came five regiments that fought for an hour until the fortress was seized. On August 11 the attack on the city began and the next day the act of capitulation was signed. The balance: 5,000 deaths from the British side and 3,700 on the Spanish, of which about 800 were black slaves, many of whom were massacred in revenge for their bold action against the British.  In the first of these actions, thirteen of the slaves suddenly left El Morro machetes in hand, jumped at the advancing enemy, killing one of its members, taking seven prisoners putting the rest to flight. In the second, another group left the Puerta de Tierra, killed a captain, a part of the troops and took 47 prisoners, occupying three flags.

On July 6, 1763 the British returned Havana in exchange for Florida, but nothing was the same as before. Once restored to Spanish rule, attempts to restore the old monopolistic controls were insufficient to stem the flow of trade between Santiago de Cuba and the Caribbean. Meanwhile the Santiago and Bayamese landowners raised cattle for producers of coffee, indigo and cotton from Santo Domingo. Hence the importance of the English occupation lies not just in the war but in its influence on the future of the island.

The British occupation suppressed the Royal Trading Company, the Royal Tobacco Factory and opened the port of Havana to international trade, particularly with the thirteen American colonies. According to estimates, within 11 months of occupation some 900 vessels entered the port of Havana. The occupation of Cuba completed its entrance into Western civilization to definitively mark the orientation of the island spirit. With it, Cubans acquired in a practical way the true extent of the geographical situation of the island with regards to maritime trade and found a more tolerant political and religious atmosphere. While the oligarchy remained in politics subject once again to the Spanish colonial power, it now could count on the ability to influence trade and transport more than previously.

Besides having to accept the opening of trade, the Spanish government put an end to some unfair privileges and initiated a public works program designed by Carlos III, the most genuine representative of the enlightened Spanish despotism, that embellished the capital. In a few years, Havana was filled with fountains and boulevards, the Palace of the Captains General and the Second Cape were built and the Cathedral of Havana completed. The Spanish monarch had come to the conclusion, of course after the British presence in Havana, that the best way to preserve the colony was to improve the quality of life of its subjects. A jump unthinkable without the impact of the occupation. The capture of Havana showed the importance of freedom of shipping and the need for shipping and that assured the lifestyle and the political and legal conceptions of the Creole intelligentsia. For example, Father Jose Agustin Caballero proposed, in 1781, local legislation modeled on English public law.

In economic terms, the emerging sugar-tobacco plantation had all the conditions for rapid development. The installed production capacity, the accumulated capital to purchase slaves, and free trade accelerated the plantation trend. The trade in human beings, a fundamental necessity of Havana’s oligarchy, began to be undertaken directly and more cheaply with the British slave trade. It is said that at the time that the surrender was signed, already waiting in Havana Bay to enter the port was the first boatload of “tools that talk.” However, the achievements of the oligarchy, as happened previously with Arrate Felix, were a great injustice to other social sectors, especially to the growing black population, free and slave. The British presence in Havana showed the critical importance of freedoms but also showed how useless and dangerous it is to make changes for one class at the expense of other sectors of society on the basis of “equality in inequality.”

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