Battle of Jersey
The Battle of Jersey was an attempt by France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 to invade Jersey
Jersey, officially the Bailiwick of Jersey is a British Crown Dependency off the coast of Normandy, France. As well as the island of Jersey itself, the bailiwick includes two groups of small islands that are no longer permanently inhabited, the Minquiers and Écréhous, and the Pierres de Lecq and...

 and remove the threat the island posed to American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 shipping in the American War of Independence
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

. Jersey was used as a base for privateer
A privateer is a private person or ship authorized by a government by letters of marque to attack foreign shipping during wartime. Privateering was a way of mobilizing armed ships and sailors without having to spend public money or commit naval officers...

ing by the British, and France, engaged in the war as an ally of the United States, sent an expedition to gain control of the island. The expedition ultimately failed, and its commander, Baron Phillipe de Rullecourt, died of wounds sustained in the fighting. The battle is often remembered for the death of the British officer Major Pierson, and a painting based on his final moments by John Singleton Copley
John Singleton Copley
John Singleton Copley was an American painter, born presumably in Boston, Massachusetts, and a son of Richard and Mary Singleton Copley, both Irish. He is famous for his portrait paintings of important figures in colonial New England, depicting in particular middle-class subjects...



Only 14 miles (22.5 km) off the coast of France, and placed on the principal sea-borne supply route to the French naval base at Brest
Brest, France
Brest is a city in the Finistère department in Brittany in northwestern France. Located in a sheltered position not far from the western tip of the Breton peninsula, and the western extremity of metropolitan France, Brest is an important harbour and the second French military port after Toulon...

, Jersey was a location of strategic importance during any war between Britain and France. Large numbers of privateer
A privateer is a private person or ship authorized by a government by letters of marque to attack foreign shipping during wartime. Privateering was a way of mobilizing armed ships and sailors without having to spend public money or commit naval officers...

s operated out of the island, causing chaos amongst French mercantile shipping. Jersey privateers were even operating in support of the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 off the coast of America. The French government were determined to neutralize this threat. Furthermore, at the time, Gibraltar
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. A peninsula with an area of , it has a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region...

 was in the midst of the Great Siege
Great Siege of Gibraltar
The Great Siege of Gibraltar was an unsuccessful attempt by Spain and France to capture Gibraltar from the British during the American War of Independence. This was the largest action fought during the war in terms of numbers, particularly the Grand Assault of 18 September 1782...

: contemporary British newspapers reported that the attack on Jersey was an attempt to distract British attention from Gibraltar and divert military resources away from the siege.

Defences in Jersey

Aware of the military importance of Jersey, the British government had ordered that the island be heavily fortified. Gun batteries, forts and redoubts had been constructed around the coast. The local militia, the Royal Militia of the Island of Jersey
Royal Militia of the Island of Jersey
Formed in 1337, the Royal Militia of the Island of Jersey can claim to be the oldest regiment of the British Army, although, because it is a Militia regiment, and was disbanded for some years in the late 20th Century, it is not the most senior.-History:...

, comprised some 3000 men in five regiments, including artillery and dragoons. They were supplemented by regular army units: the 95th Regiment of Foot, five companies each of the 83rd Regiment of Foot (Royal Glasgow Volunteers) and 78th Highlanders, and around 700 'Invalids' (semi-retired reservists) — the total amounting to about 9,250 troops of all types. A naval force, the 'Jersey Squadron' was also based in the Island, but was on a cruise against the Dutch at the time of the invasion.

The French plan

Despite the misgivings of the French military, who believed that an attack on Jersey would be a futile waste of resources, with any success being short-lived, the government approved a plan put forward by Baron Philippe de Rullecourt. De Rullecourt was an adventurer and a colonel in the French Army
La Grande Armée
The Grande Armée first entered the annals of history when, in 1805, Napoleon I renamed the army that he had assembled on the French coast of the English Channel for the proposed invasion of Britain...

. King Louis XVI
Louis XVI of France
Louis XVI was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and Navarre until 1791, and then as King of the French from 1791 to 1792, before being executed in 1793....

 had promised de Rullecourt the rank of General
A general officer is an officer of high military rank, usually in the army, and in some nations, the air force. The term is widely used by many nations of the world, and when a country uses a different term, there is an equivalent title given....

 and the Cordon rouge
Order of Saint Louis
The Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis was a military Order of Chivalry founded on 5 April 1693 by Louis XIV and named after Saint Louis . It was intended as a reward for exceptional officers, and is notable as the first decoration that could be granted to non-nobles...

as soon as he had control of the town of Saint Helier
Saint Helier
Saint Helier is one of the twelve parishes of Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands in the English Channel. St. Helier has a population of about 28,000, roughly 31.2% of the total population of Jersey, and is the capital of the Island . The urban area of the parish of St...

, the island's capital. The Second Commander
Commander is a naval rank which is also sometimes used as a military title depending on the individual customs of a given military service. Commander is also used as a rank or title in some organizations outside of the armed forces, particularly in police and law enforcement.-Commander as a naval...

 was an Indian prince, named Prince Emire, who had been taken by England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 in wars in India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, had been sent to France with other French prisoners and whom the French had since retained in their service; a member of the British force wrote of him: "He looked quite barbarian, as much as his discourse; if our fate has depended on him, it would not have been of the most pleasant; he advised the French General to ransack everything and to put the town to fire and to blood."

Officially the expedition was a private affair; however, funding, equipment, transport and troops were provided by the government. In order to conceal their involvement, the government went so far as to order the 'desertion' of several hundred regular troops to De Rullecourt's forces.

On January 5, 1781 the expedition, consisting of some 2,000 soldiers in four divisions, set out. January 6 was still celebrated as 'Old Christmas Night' in Jersey, and the French were able to land undetected. The first division, consisting of 800 men, landed at La Rocque, Grouville
-Vingtaines:Grouville is divided for administrative purposes into vingtaines as follows:*La Vingtaine des Marais*La Vingtaine de la Rue*La Vingtaine de Longueville*La Vingtaine de la RocqueThe Minquiers are part of the parish of Grouville....

, and passed close by the guards without being noticed; a French officer
Officer (armed forces)
An officer is a member of an armed force or uniformed service who holds a position of authority. Commissioned officers derive authority directly from a sovereign power and, as such, hold a commission charging them with the duties and responsibilities of a specific office or position...

 even said that he had slept beneath the guards, but that the guards had not heard the French. The guards were subsequently put on trial, where it was found they had abandoned their post to go drinking. The French first division stayed there most of the night. The French second division, consisting of 400 men, was entirely lost, upon landing amongst rocks. The boats that contained the third division, consisting of 600 men, were separated from the rest of the fleet and were unable to join it. The fourth division, consisting of 200 men, landed early in the next morning at La Rocque. The total of the French troops landed on the island was therefore about 1,000, half the number of soldiers that France had expected to take into battle.

French troops in Saint Helier

On January 6, 1781, between six and seven in the morning, the first division set up defensive positions in the market while most of the town was asleep. About at eight o'clock a French patrol surprised the island's governor, Moses Corbet
Moses Corbet
Major Moses Corbet was a British Army officer who served as Lieutenant Governor of Jersey from 4 April 1771 to 6 January 1781.-Early career:...

, in bed in Government House
Government House
Government House is the name of many of the residences of Governors-General, Governors and Lieutenant-Governors in the Commonwealth and the remaining colonies of the British Empire. It serves as the venue for the Governor's official business, as well as the many receptions and functions hosted by...

 (then situated at Le Manoir de La Motte). De Rullecourt convinced Corbet that thousands of French troops had already overwhelmed Jersey and threatened to burn the town and slaughter the inhabitants if the garrison did not capitulate. Corbet, unable to ascertain the true situation, surrendered. He was taken to the Royal Court building in the Royal Square and was persuaded to order the commander of Elizabeth Castle
Elizabeth Castle
Elizabeth Castle is a castle in Saint Helier, Jersey. Construction was started in the 16th century when the power of cannon meant that the existing stronghold at Mont Orgueil was insufficient to defend the Island and the port of St. Helier was vulnerable to attack by ships armed with...

, Captain Mulcaster, and 24-year-old Major Francis Peirson (in command of the troops at Saint Peter
Saint Peter, Jersey
Saint Peter is one of the twelve parishes of Jersey in the Channel Islands. It is in the west central part of the island. It is the only parish with two separate coastlines, stretching from St. Ouen's Bay in the west to St. Aubin's Bay in the south, and thereby cutting St. Brelade off from other...

's Barracks) to surrender as well.

British preparations

The British troops and militia assembled on the Mont ès Pendus (now called Westmount) and Major Peirson soon had 2,000 men at his disposal, with which he resolved to descend the hill and attack. The French, who were camped in the market, had seized the town's cannons and had placed them at the different openings of the market to prevent the British troops from entering. However, the French did not find the howitzer
A howitzer is a type of artillery piece characterized by a relatively short barrel and the use of comparatively small propellant charges to propel projectiles at relatively high trajectories, with a steep angle of descent...

s. The British learned through different people who had been to observe the French troops that their number did not exceed 800 or 900 men. The French sent Corbet to Elizabeth Castle to negotiate a capitulation
Capitulation (surrender)
Capitulation , an agreement in time of war for the surrender to a hostile armed force of a particular body of troops, a town or a territory....

, which was refused. The castle then fired on the French troops and killed two or three men.

The 78th Regiment of Foot was detached and sent to take possession of the Mont de la Ville (now the site of Fort Regent), whence the British could prevent any retreat by the French. Once Major Peirson believed that the 78th had reached their destination, he gave the orders to his troops to descend to the plain and attack the French. However the British were stopped at the plain, where de Rullecourt sent Corbet to offer capitulation terms and to tell the British that if they did not sign, the French would ransack the town within half an hour. Given their superiority in numbers, the British there refused, as did the 83rd Regiment of Foot and the part of the East Regiment in Grouville. When de Rullecourt received their answer he was heard to remark: "Since they do not want to surrender, I have come to die."


The attack began. The British forces in the Grande Rue included the 78th Regiment, the Battalion
A battalion is a military unit of around 300–1,200 soldiers usually consisting of between two and seven companies and typically commanded by either a Lieutenant Colonel or a Colonel...

 of Saint Lawrence
Saint Lawrence, Jersey
Saint Lawrence is one of the twelve parishes of Jersey in the Channel Islands. The parish covers 5,258 vergées and occupies the centre of the Island....

, the South-East Regiment and the Compagnies de Saint-Jean. The 95th Regiment of Foot, with the rest of the militia, advanced down the other avenues. The British had too many troops for the battle, a British soldier later saying that a third of the British troops would have been more than enough to destroy the French army. Many British soldiers, confused and having nothing to shoot at, fired most of their shots into the air.

The French resistance was of short duration, most of the action lasting a quarter of an hour. The French only fired the cannons that they had at their disposal once or twice. The British had a howitzer placed directly opposite the market in the Grande Rue, which at each shot "cleaned all the surroundings of French" according to a member of the British service. Major Peirson and the 95th Regiment advanced towards the Avenue du Marché; just as the British were about to win, Major Pierson was killed by a musket
A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun, fired from the shoulder. Muskets were designed for use by infantry. A soldier armed with a musket had the designation musketman or musketeer....

 ball in the heart, but his saddened troops continued to fight. When de Rullecourt fell wounded, many French soldiers gave up the fight, throwing their weapons and fleeing; however, others reached the market houses, from where they continued to fire.

De Rullecourt, through Corbet, told the British that the French had two battalions and an artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

Company (military unit)
A company is a military unit, typically consisting of 80–225 soldiers and usually commanded by a Captain, Major or Commandant. Most companies are formed of three to five platoons although the exact number may vary by country, unit type, and structure...

 at La Rocque, which could be at the town within a quarter of an hour. The British were not intimidated, knowing that the number of French troops there was less than 200. A guard of 45 grenadiers
Grenadier (soldier)
A grenadier was originally a specialized soldier, first established as a distinct role in the mid-to-late 17th century, for the throwing of grenades and sometimes assault operations. At this time grenadiers were chosen from the strongest and largest soldiers...

 of the 83rd Regiment resisted against 140 French soldiers until the arrival of a part of the East Regiment, whereupon the French were defeated, with 70 prisoners taken and 30 dead or wounded. The remaining French soldiers dispersed themselves throughout the countryside to reach their boats, though several were caught doing so.



The British took 600 prisoners that day, who were subsequently sent to England. The British losses were around 30 dead. De Rullecourt was wounded and died the next day.

It became notorious that there were traitors among the British. De Rullecourt possessed a plan of the fortifications, the towers, the cannons and so on, saying that without good friends in Jersey, he would not have come. The French knew the exact number of British troops and militia, the names of the officers commanding them, and more. In the papers found in the General's trunk was the name of one Mr. Le Geyt, a Jerseyman who was later seized, as was another suspect.

After the battle, thirty coastal round towers
Jersey Round Tower
The Round Towers in the island of Jersey were built from the end of the 18th century. In total 31 towers were built, but now only 24 remain all along the coast....

 were built to improve the defence system of the island.


John Singleton Copley
John Singleton Copley
John Singleton Copley was an American painter, born presumably in Boston, Massachusetts, and a son of Richard and Mary Singleton Copley, both Irish. He is famous for his portrait paintings of important figures in colonial New England, depicting in particular middle-class subjects...

 painted a dramatized version of the death of Major Peirson. That painting now appears on Jersey's 10 pound note
Jersey pound
The pound is the currency of Jersey. Jersey is in currency union with the United Kingdom, and the Jersey pound is not a separate currency but is an issue of banknotes and coins by the States of Jersey denominated in pound sterling, in a similar way to the banknotes issued in Scotland and Northern...

 and is in the Tate Gallery
Tate Gallery
The Tate is an institution that houses the United Kingdom's national collection of British Art, and International Modern and Contemporary Art...


External links

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