A landing of British soldiers and bombardment by British warships put the newly built Castillo San Cristóbal’s defences to the test in 1797.
The defence had been led by Puerto Rico’s governor, Don Ramón de Castro. After hearing of the surrender of the Spanish garrison on Trinidad in February 1797, de Castro immediately began to prepare for a British attack, which came two months later.
The defence fell primarily to the soldier’s of the island’s militia. By the time of the British siege, led by General Ralph Abercromby, nearly 4,000 militia were manning San Juan’s defences and many thousands more approached the British lines from the main island of Puerto Rico to the south.
The Fixed Regiment of Puerto Rico was the best-trained and best-equipped unit defending San Juan during the attack. Free black soldiers served in segregated units of the ‘disciplined militia’ known as The Morenos de Cangrejos and distinguished themselves in an attack on entrenched British forces on the island of Miraflores.
Faced with staggering losses among its European troops due to disease, the British organised local Caribbean units in the hope they might have some immunity to the fevers that were draining their forces. Tobago’s African slaves were recruited into the The Tobago Rangers unit and French prisoners of war were recruited from Trinidad. The local recruitment resulted in a high number of desertions and, after a two-week siege, the British withdrew, finding the defences too strong and the defenders too determined.
- Information signs at Castillo de San Felipe del Morro
- Information signs at Castillo de San Cristóbal