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Samuel Barrington letterbooks

Call Number: OSB MSS 85

Scope and Contents

The Samuel Barrington Letterbooks consist of correspondence and supporting documents received by Barrington during his service as Rear Admiral of the White in the West Indies.

The letterbooks document British naval strategy and policy in the West Indies from the French recognition of the United States in February 1778 through the Battle of Grenada (July 6, 1779). Contents include orders, secret orders and commands received by Barrington from the Royal Admiralty and its offices; communications and intelligence reports from junior officers in the British fleet, and from Admiral John Byron; letters, petitions and memorials by members of the governments of several West Indies islands; and letters from French commanders and an American agent concerning prisoner exchange and prisoner welfare. The letterbooks have been disbound and the letters have been kept in the order in which Barrington arranged them, which was by correspondent or group of correspondents and then chronologically. There are two series: Series I, Letterbook One, and Series II, Letterbook Two. The major topic of each letter is generally indicated in the box and folder listing for that letter.

Series I, Letterbook One , opens with "Admiralty Orders and Letters," consisting largely of letters from the Admiralty and the Admiralty Board. Many are signed by Philip Stevens, Admiralty Secretary; other orders and instructions are signed by the full Admiralty Board, which included the Earl of Sandwich, the Viscount of Lisburne, and others. In addition to the official letter of appointment, located in folder 2, the subseries contains copies of Barrington's secret instructions to take the island of St. Lucia; an extract of a letter from Lord George Germain detailing British hopes for the speedy surrender of Martinique and Guadalupe; copies of petitions from West Indies residents to Germain; and business correspondence regarding provisioning, supplies, prizes, and changes in command.

Letters from Barrington's subordinates are principally concerned with intelligence of d'Estaing's fleet and of other French troop movements in North America. Folders 38-49 contain letters from Admiral John Byron, who replaced Barrington as commander in chief in the West Indies. A letter written January 28, 1779 offers Barrington the option of staying in the West Indies under Byron or returning to England; several folders contain charts of the line of battle and the lists of signals used during the Battle of Grenada on July 6, 1779. The final letter from Byron, written on July 10, directs Barrington to return to England at once to inform the Admiralty of "the true state of these Islands."

Series II, Letterbook Two , opens with letters from General James Grant concerning the logistics of the attack on St. Lucia. These are followed by correspondence concerning prisoner exchange, primarily from the Marquis de Bouillé, although there are two from d'Estaing himself. Folder 61 contains a letter from William Bingham, U.S. agent for the West Indies, proposing a prisoner exchange between the British and American forces; there is no reply noted.

Folders 79-119 hold letters received by Barrington from governors and representatives of various islands, including William Mathew Burt, governor of St. Christopher; Edward Hay, governor of Jamaica; Valentine Morris, governor of St. Vincent's; and George, Lord Macartney, governor of Grenada. Subjects include the repeated demands of the island governments for better defense by the British Navy; reports of skirmishes and attacks and intelligence concerning the French fleet; the collapse of the defenses on Domenica; shipping schedules and provision requests; and prisoner exchanges and prison living conditions. The letters by Morris give his version of the fall of Domenica and his view of the future defense of St. Vincent's. Letters from Edward Hay, Governor of Jamaica, are much concerned with the French prisoners being held at Bridgetown in the wake of a riot and attack on them by some Jamaicans, "white and black."

The letterbook concludes with routine correspondence from the Admiralty's Victualing Office and the Office of Sick and Hurt Seamen.


  • 1778 - 1779


Language of Materials

Correspondence from de Bouillé and d'Estaing in French.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Samuel Barrington Letterbooks are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from the William Reese Co. on the James Marshall Osborn Fund, 1997.

Associated Materials

Barrington, Samuel, A Journal of the Proceedings....1778-1779: Osborn Shelves fc.147.


1.04 Linear Feet (4 boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Two letterbooks of incoming correspondence kept by Admiral Samuel Barrington during his command in the West Indies as Rear Admiral of the White. Correspondents include members of the Admiralty Board; junior officers; Admiral John Byron, who superseded Barrington as commander; officers of the French Navy, including Admirals de Bouillé and d'Estaing; government officials from various West Indian islands, including Valentine Morris of St. Vincent's and William Mathew Burt of St. Christopher; and Lord George Macartney, governor of Jamaica.
Subjects include Barrington's secret orders to attack St. Lucia; intelligence on the French fleet and preparations for the battle of Grenada; prisoner exchanges with the French Navy; the defensive requirements of the British West Indies and the fears of the inhabitants; and Barrington's plans to return to Great Britain in July 1779. Other correspondence includes routine messages concerning provisions, shipping, and the welfare of Barrington's sailors.


Samuel Barrington, the fifth son of John Barrington, first Viscount Barrington, entered the Royal Navy at age 11 under the tutelage of Lord George Gordon and received command of the frigate the Lark in 1747. After a distinguished career during which he captured several French vessels, in January of 1778 Barrington was promoted to Rear Admiral of the White and sent to the West Indies as commander in chief of the fleet there. While Barrington's official command was to guard the British West Indies against the expected arrival of the French fleet under the command of the comte d'Estaing, his secret mission was to take the French island of St. Lucia. He accomplished the capture despite many difficulties, but he lacked the force necessary for an adequate defense of the British West Indies; St. Vincent fell to the French in June of 1779, and Grenada surrendered on July 3.

Barrington's command was superseded on the arrival of Admiral John Byron from North America in early 1779, and he sailed for England shortly after taking part in the inconclusive Battle of Grenada on July 6 of that year. He refused command of the Channel fleet, and remained out of service until April 1782, when he was appointed to the Channel fleet as Lord Howe's second in command. In 1787 he was promoted to Admiral, and served for the last time in 1790, again as Howe's second in command. Admiral Samuel Barrington died in 1800.

Processing Information

This finding aid was produced in part from a previously existing card set in the Manuscripts Catalog, or from another inventory. All pertinent bibliographical information has been retained.
Guide to the Samuel Barrington Letterbooks
Under Revision
by Beinecke Staff
May 2003
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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