Battles of the Caribbean: Fort Rodney, St Lucia – Built by the British to Spy on the French
Today, we think of the Caribbean as a tropical paradise, however, the area was once of strategic importance for the European Empires and a key battleground from the 17 th to the 19 th century. There are a great many fortresses in the West Indies , a reminder of these bloodier times. One of the finest examples in the region is Fort Rodney, located on the island of St Lucia. This fortification is set in a spectacular landscape and is very popular with visitors and locals alike.
A Brief History of Fort Rodney
The island of St Lucia was inhabited by Arawak and Carib tribes until the 17 th century. The island became a de-facto colony of France when the French pirate Jambe de Bois (so called for his wooden leg) was the first to occupy the island and establish a European settlement in the 1650s.
The Arawak of St Lucia ( Pinterest)
St Lucia was one of the centers of conflict between the English and the French in their battle for dominance in the economically important Caribbean. Throughout the 18 th century, the island changed hands several times and at one point was even declared to be a neutral island . It was only in the 1780s that the British were able to fully control St Lucia.
During the American War of Independence , the British and the French fought for control of many strategic islands, including St Lucia. After the Battle of Cape St Vincent, the British were able to capture it.
Admiral George Rodney, who made the island his base, established the fortress in order to protect the main harbor. From there he sailed to meet the French at the Battle of the Saints (1782), which resulted in a great British victory.
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The redoubt was garrisoned throughout the Napoleonic Wars and was used to monitor French activity on their colony of Martinique. Fort Rodney was garrisoned throughout the 19 th century and abandoned in 1901. From the 1920s until the 1950s, part of the complex was used to process whale oil. During WWII, a US communication station was erected near the fort and it was used as an observation post.
The Remains of Fort Rodney, Pigeon Island
In 1780, Fort Rodney was built on the hill of Pigeon Island (formerly an island but joined by a causeway in 1972) on the north-west of St Lucia. The fort measures about 100 feet (30m) by 80 feet (27m). The rectangular building was constructed from local stone with a parapet all around the fort which offered protection to the defenders.
Map of St Lucia showing the location of Pigeon Island on the north-west (Google Maps)
Fort Rodney can best be understood as an artillery platform as it looks out over the sea and its massive 24-pounder cannon could be trained on any approaching ships, although the cannons on site are not the originals as they were sold off in the 19 th century. There are also a number of bunkers to be seen in an around the fort which were used to store gunpowder.
Some way down the slope are two barracks that were built in around 1808. There are also the remains of the commander’s residence and an officers’ mess. The mess now hosts an interpretation center and tells the history of the fort and its key role in the military history of the Caribbean.
The original lime kiln that was constructed on the orders of Admiral Rodney and later used in the whaling industry can still be seen. Today the fort is part of the Pigeon Island National Park and is overseen by the St Lucia National Trust.
Visiting Fort Rodney
A number of tours visit the fort as well as other sites on Pigeon Island and an entrance fee is charged. The climb to the site is quite steep but is not too demanding if you are reasonably fit. It may not be suitable for the aged and the very young. The view from the 18 th century fort is truly amazing.
There are many other things to do on Pigeon Island which include scuba diving and yachting. There is plenty of accommodation near Fort Rodney.
Top image: Soldier’s barracks at Fort Rodney Source: Hunkeler, C / CC BY-SA 2.0
By Ed Whelan
Alleyne, M. C. (1961). Language and society in St. Lucia. Caribbean Studies , 1(1), 1-10
Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25611645
Buisseret, D. (1970). A Brief Assessment of the Chief Military Monuments of: Grenada Saint Vincent Saint Lucia Antigua . Caribbean Quarterly, 16(1), 58-67
Jameson, J. F. (1903). St. Eustatius in the American Revolution . The American Historical Review, 683-708