The Royal Navy and Caribbean Colonial Society during the Eighteenth Century
The Caribbean lay at the economic heart of the British Atlantic empire. As a result, British naval strategy focused heavily on the region, and the navy’s resources were deployed to protect its valuable sugar industry. Rather than focus on the operational history of the navy in the Caribbean, however, this chapter explores the navy’s social and political interaction with the colonial society there. Royal Navy seamen were part of the white Caribbean social fabric ever since the establishment of permanent West Indian squadrons in the 1740s. The hospitality shown to them by wealthy sugar planters expressed the colonists’ loyalty to the Crown, and allowed sailors and officers to socialise with island inhabitants. Conversely, the navy provided planters with a direct connection to Britain and, as a respected imperial institution, it contributed to metropolitan debates about the Caribbean and about slavery, the region’s defining institution.