Captain Hood & the Indians
In 1755, England's great naval hero threatened Charleston seamen with press gangs, leg irons and the gallows. His recruiting practices made Cherokee and Creek diplomats think the English were behaving like savages. . . .
by Terry W. Lipscomb
The Right Hon. Samuel, Lord Viscount Hood, Admiral of the White, master and governor of Greenwich Hospital, sometime commander of His Majesty's fleet at Portsmouth, governor of the Naval Academy and member of the Board of Admiralty, was one of Britain's outstanding naval figures. Historians have neglected him in favor of Horatio Nelson, but during the American Revolution the Continentals could be thankful less competent admirals outranked him.
Take, for example, the September 1781 action off the Virginia capes. The French fleet beat off an attack by Adm. Thomas Graves and Hood. The next day Hood sent Graves a two-page cri-tique of his performance, detailing how aggres-sive leadership could have thrown the French off balance and turned the tide. According to Hood, Graves snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
A few days later, Graves notified Hood the French were blockading the Chesapeake, a move that would force Cornwallis to surrender his army to George Washington. Hood replied, "Sir Samuel would be very glad to send an opinion, but he really knows not what to say in the truly lamentable state we have brought ourselves."
This irascible temperament and "take charge" mentality led Hood into a feud with another monumental egotist, South Carolina Gov. James Glen. The incident happened during Hood's early career in the French and Indian War, when he first attracted notice as a swashbuckling sloop and frigate captain.
In 1754, Hood was given command of the Jamaica sloop-of-war, stationed in the Bahama Islands. His cruises sometimes brought him to Charleston, and there, in 1755, a distress call from the British fleet at Nova Scotia found his sloop riding at anchor.
According to Hood's biographical sketch in the Naval Chronicle, "a putrid, or jail fever, having raged with great violence in the fleet, under the command of Admiral [Edward] Boscawen at Halifax, Captain Hood, with a presence of mind that thus early was visible in his conduct, being then at South Carolina, immediately entered as many supernumeraries as he could possibly accommodate at sea, and carried them without delay to the admiral; for which seasonable supply he received the hearty thanks of that officer."
More than 2,000 sailors eventually died in this typhus epidemic. Boscawen was so desperate for manpower he reassigned 38 of Hood's best seamen to fleet duty. Thus, on November 1, 1755, the Jamaica returned to Charleston harbor seriously undermanned. Hood calculated he would have to recruit at least 20 able-bodied sailors before he could put to sea again.
IMPATIENT TO SET SAIL against French shipping, he immediately advertised for men. But in the following 10 days, he entered not a single new crewman in the ship's roster. Eyewitness stories of the epidemic must have scared off recruits. Hood's second advertisement revised his sales pitch, publicized his orders to capture all French ships (an opportunity for stout-hearted lads to earn prize money) and offered those who enlisted for the cruise the option of being discharged in Charleston at the end of two months. But the suspicion persisted that the Jamaica might be headed for Nova Scotia, not the sunny Caribbean.
Hood decided on a more direct approach and sent his officers "to pick up all Straglers." In less delicate language, he landed a naval press gang in Charleston. Gov. Glen heard from the townspeople that Jamaica sailors "had been lately ashore, and had alarmed many of the inhabitants of Charles Town, going through the streets armed with cutlasses, and without any warrant or authority sweeping indiscriminately all that came in their way, whether seamen or landsmen, hurrying them directly on board without permitting them to see the face of a magistrate."
Without exception, these "straglers" proved to be merchant crewmen, and various captains soon claimed them. Some shipmasters, though, told Hood they had crew members they would be happy to unload on the Royal Navy. Two malcontents charged with mutiny were put aboard the Jamaica. Another nine sailors became the target of a manhunt after they forcibly seized their ship's boat, deserted and left their captain in his rudderless vessel on Charleston Bar. Hood advised the captain to swear out a war-rant and give their descriptions to a constable; the Jamaica would provide an officer and men to aid in the search.
By this time, feelings in town were running high, and this second invasion by armed men from the Jamaica set off a waterfront riot. Along the Cooper River wharves, ringleaders went from ship to ship and gathered a mob. One merchant seaman later testified he took arms against the king's sailors because several men came on board his ship and threatened with terrible oaths to murder him and his mates if they did not come along. Hood's officer tried to tell the mob he was hunting deserters and had no intent to meddle with the merchant crews, but the ruffians began throwing bricks and clubs at the British detail.
The king's sailors retreated but took with them five rioters they'd apprehended in the fray. The next morning commercial shipping representatives once again hauled alongside the warship to collect their missing strays. Hood surrendered all the men but one. He said he detained that fellow because the master of his ship came "with a lye in his mouth, and endeavoured to impose upon me by saying [the sailor] was an indented servant, and in other respects behaved ill." Besides, the man deserved to be punished "for his audacious behaviour, in throwing stones at and arming his self against the King's servants."
On November 24, Hood wrote Gov. Glen for help in recruiting men. He described the extraordinary chain of events that had befallen him, protested that he little expected the treatment his crew had received and swore that "no man could more unwillingly have entered on any scheme for raising seamen not warrantable." Necessity had forced his hand.
Hood considered Charleston a den of roughnecks where it was unsafe to walk the streets. One Saturday night, some of his crew took the ship's boat to town, and as two of them were walking down the street, local toughs accosted them. "Come here, my lads. Don't you belong to the Jamaica?" "Yes," they answered. In an instant, "one was knocked down and the other a pistol clapped to his breast, and then knocked down likewise." The assaulted sailors raised the distress cry, "Jamaicas!" Their boatswain ran to the scene with reinforcements and extricated his comrades, but a crowd gathered as they retreated, and someone yelled, "Tell Sam Hood to come on shore and I'll serve him in the same way!"
Hood concluded his letter on a suitably indignant note: "I have been in many parts of the world, sir, but never in one belonging to the King, my master, where so little regard is paid to His Majesties ships as I have experienced here."
TWO WEEKS PASSED with no word from Glen. On December 9, Lt. Archibald Clevland, Hood's 17-year-old executive officer, went into town to demand a written reply that Hood could send to the Admiralty Board. Glen sent none.
On January 2, 1756, Glen wrote that he had sent constables, armed with warrants and assisted by the town watch, to search all "tippling houses" for fugitive seamen who might be rounded up for the king's service. The constables reported they had found Hood his recruits.
This was the standard (and legal) procedure in South Carolina; it always had produced satisfactory results for the Royal Navy. But in this case, the floating population of deserters who normally inhabited Charleston's waterfront had taken fright at Hood's rash behavior and fled. Large groups of seamen had been seen on the highroads to Georgia. Glen merely had bided his time until they'd filtered back into Charleston.
As to Charleston's alleged disregard for the king's ships, Glen retorted, "There is no part of the King's dominions where the gentlemen and the bulk of the people in general are more hearty and zealous for the King's service or where the captains of the King's ships are more respected, and carressed, a behaviour I shall always endeavour to cultivate and improve so far as is consistent with the known laws of the province and the Liberty of His Majesties subjects residing in it."
Glen considered it his duty as governor to show every civility to the captains of His Majesty's ships, "without minding whether they were stationed for the protection of the province, under my government, or whether they were casually here." (South Carolina's station ship was the Syren, not the Jamaica.) "And I am sure Captain Hood will do me the justice to say so," he concluded, "for I have always endeavoured to convince him that I was his Most Obedient, Humble Servant, James Glen."
Meanwhile, friends and relatives of the sailors Hood had taken captive retained John Rattray, one of Charleston's shrewdest lawyers, as legal counsel. The most desperate case was that of a sailor named Irish, who had attempted to jump ship. Hood had this mutineer in irons and intended to try him for desertion and hang him as an example to others. But someone, presumably Rattray, hit on an ingenious idea for freeing him.
On December 5, a delegation of Cherokee Indians had arrived in town to confer with Glen. Irish's friends reasoned that if they petitioned the Indians, the chiefs might intercede for mercy as visiting diplomats.
The last thing Glen needed in his negotiations with the Cherokees was another complication. Attakullakulla had brought his warriors to Charleston to remind the English they had promised, at the Saluda Old Town treaty talks, to build a fort in the upper Cherokee Nation. With war brewing between England and France, Glen was anxious to avoid offending the Cherokees. In the name of the great King George, he welcomed them and promised that if any of them wanted to go sightseeing in Charleston, he would arrange a guided tour of the fortifications, the armory, the church and the stores where the goods were kept. If the Cherokees wanted to see one of the Royal Navy warships, Glen no doubt gave them a tour.
During Glen's talks with Attakullakulla, he raised the topic of French spies in the Cherokee country. The Cherokees dealt publicly with Charleston and Williamsburg, but like good diplomats, they kept open the back-door communication lines with Detroit and New Orleans. An alleged Cherokee captive named French John was in reality the top French Canadian undercover agent in the Cherokee Nation.
On 18 December, the negotiations reached a breakthrough. Glen made a firm commitment regarding the fort, and Attakullakulla, though evasive at first, promised to surrender French John and several other spies to British custody.
At some point in the talks, Attakullakulla confronted Glen with the issue of Hood's prisoner. Irish's wife and several townspeople had appealed directly to Attakullakulla and another chief. Glen explained that Irish's offense had subjected him to his country's laws, but he could not make the Cherokees understand lines of jurisdiction existed between the governor and the admiralty. He told Attakullakulla he would ask Hood to pardon the man. But Hood was adamant; His Majesty's navy was not to be trifled with.
The night before the Cherokees left Charleston, Attakullakulla made a speech to his warriors and the Cherokee traders. He said he had agreed to deliver French John to the South Carolina government, but since his application had so little weight with Glen that he could not secure a pardon for the sailor, he considered himself absolved from his promise. Ludovic Grant, a trader, vented his dismay in a letter to Glen: "They plainly intimate by their talk, that as they promised to your Excellency twelve French, who are enemies both to the Cherrockees and English, he can not conceive the reason why they should be denied one man who was friend and brother to both."
There may have been a real cultural misunderstanding, or Attakullakulla may simply have used the sailor's case to score points against Glen. In either event, Hood's popularity at the governor's office took another sharp downturn.
A FEW WEEKS AFTER the Cherokees departed, The Gun Merchant and The Wolf King arrived in Charleston leading a large Creek Indian delegation to sign a treaty of friendship with the English. Like the Cherokees, these red diplomats had come with an agenda. The Creeks wanted a better trade deal with South Carolina, and they believed they could get it by showing solidarity with the Cherokees and presenting a united front to the English. When The Gun Merchant heard about Hood's prisoner and Attakullakulla's appeal, he arranged to be taken aboard the HMS Syren, where Irish was confined, and personally talked with the sailor.
On January 23, the day of the treaty signing, an impressive crowd gathered in the council chamber. Glen, the Creek chiefs and leading government officials were all present. The treaty was signed with proper formality, and then The Gun Merchant addressed the assembled dignitaries. The chief first made several remarks concerning the treaty. Then he started talking about the prisoner, who "was to be put to death for an offense that no man would be punished for by the customs of our nation. We put no person to death, but for murder or some other very great crime. . . .
"Suppose your Excellency was to come to our nation, and should ask a pardon for a man who had been guilty of a much greater crime. I would not only pardon him but look upon your coming as a providential event to prevent the shedding of human blood. Besides, I would deny you no favor that you could ask. . . ."
Glen replied that it was not in his power to pardon Irish, "but I will at your desire apply to and solicit those in whose power it is to pardon him, and if I should prevail before you leave the town I will send him to thank you for your good offices in his behalf. If not I will send him up to the nation for that purpose."
The next day Glen met with the council and discussed the case of the prisoner Irish. The council advised Glen to acquaint Capt. Hood in writing of the requests made by both Attakullakulla and The Gun Merchant, and "to represent to him in the strongest terms the many mischiefs and evil consequences his refusal to pardon the said Irish might be productive of."
Glen immediately composed a long letter to Hood reporting The Gun Merchant's "pathetic and moving" appeal. "I assure you," he wrote, "that your pardoning this man will be well taken by every person in the community, and I am persuaded you will receive the approbation of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, who must be convinced, that it is at present more for His Majesty's service to oblige these two powerful nations than to make fifty such examples. . . . Your refusal cannot fail to be productive of much mischief, which if you do not prevent you must bear the blame of."
Within the month, Irish was free. His wife wrote a letter of thanks to Attakullakulla and promised to buy and send him some rum. The records do not say whether Irish thanked The Gun Merchant in Charleston or had to make the long trek to the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers.
EARLY IN 1756, Hood sailed his small sloop to the West Indies and single-handedly shut down French commercial shipping out of Santo Domingo. When he returned to Charleston and tried to unload more than 100 French prisoners of war, he set off yet another dispute between South Carolina and the Royal Navy.
Thirty-seven years later, Lord Hood presided at the HMS Bounty court-martial and dispensed admiralty justice to the mutineers. The court passed a death sentence against six defendants. Three were hanged, one escaped on a legal technicality and two - Midshipman Peter Heywood and Boatswain's Mate James Morrison - received pardons under the king's warrant after Heywood's well-connected family campaigned for his release. Hood's experience with Indian chiefs in South Carolina had shown what appeals to influential persons could accomplish.
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