On This Day
1797 – Sir Ralph Abercromby attacks San Juan, Puerto Rico, in what would be one of the largest invasions of the Spanish territories in the Americas.
The Battle of San Juan was an ill-fated British assault in 1797 on the Spanish colonial port city of San Juan in Puerto Rico during the 1796–1808 Anglo-Spanish War. The attack was carried out facing the historic town of Miramar.
Spain aligned itself with France by signing the Second Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1796. Britain then targeted both countries’ Caribbean colonies. Admiral Sir Henry Harvey’s fleet picked up Sir Ralph Abercromby’s army in Barbados. Together, they captured Trinidad from the Spanish, before heading for San Juan.
On 17 April 1797, Lieutenant-General Sir Ralph Abercromby’s fleet of 68 vessels appeared offshore Puerto Rico with a force of 7000, which included German auxiliaries and French émigrés. Two of his frigates then blocked San Juan harbor.
The governor, Field Marshal Don Ramón de Castro y Gutiérrez, had already mobilized his 4000 militia and 200 Spanish garrison troops which, combined with 300 French privateers, 2000 armed peasantry, and paroled prisoners, brought his troop strength up to almost equal that of the British. He also had 376 cannon, 35 mortars, 4 howitzers and 3 swivel guns.
Abercromby landed 3000 troops on 18 April and took control of Cangrejos. Castro moved his forces to Escambrón and the Spanish First Line of Defense.
On 21 April, the British started a 7-day artillery duel with the Spanish forts of San Gerónimo and San Antonio, located at the Boquerón Inlet. At the same time, further Spanish forces put pressure on the British positions, the Spanish recaptured Martín Peña Bridge, while militia led by Sergeant Francisco Díaz raided behind British lines, bringing back prisoners. Then, on the 29th and 30th, the Spanish crossed the Boquerón Inlet, and forced the British to pull back.
On 1 May, the Spanish learned the British were gone, leaving behind arms, stores and ammunition.
Born On This Day
1799 – Eliza Acton, English food writer and poet (d. 1859)
Eliza Acton (17 April 1799 – 13 February 1859) was an English food writer and poet who produced one of Britain’s first cookery books aimed at the domestic reader, Modern Cookery for Private Families. The book introduced the now-universal practice of listing ingredients and giving suggested cooking times for each recipe. It included the first recipes in English for Brussels sprouts and for spaghetti. It also contains the first recipe for what Acton called “Christmas pudding”; the dish was normally called plum pudding, recipes for which had appeared previously, although Acton was the first to put the name and recipe together.
Acton was born in 1799 in Sussex. She was raised in Suffolk where she ran a girls’ boarding school before spending time in France. On her return to England in 1826 she published a collection of poetry and released her cookery book in 1845, aimed at middle class families. Written in an engaging prose, the book was well received by reviewers. It was reprinted within the year and several editions followed until 1918, when Longman, the book’s publisher, took the decision not to reprint. In 1857 Acton published The English Bread-Book for Domestic Use, a more academic and studious work than Modern Cookery. The work consisted of a history of bread-making in England, a study of European methods of baking and numerous recipes.
In the later years of its publication, Modern Cookery was eclipsed by the success of Isabella Beeton’s bestselling Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861), which included several recipes plagiarised from Acton’s work. Although Modern Cookery was not reprinted in full until 1994, the book has been admired by English cooks in the second part of the 20th century, and influenced many of them, including Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, Delia Smith and Rick Stein.
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