“Mad Jack” And The Missionaries

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The Pacific Ocean is vast and lonely. In the second decade of the nineteenth century, when the American whaling industry was expanding rapidly in that great sea and American merchant ships plied the lucrative China trade, they ventured in an area where no nation’s law extended. The United States naval force in the Pacific totalled at most three vessels, all well occupied in protecting American interests on the coasts of Peru and Chile in the midst of Bolivar’s revolution.

This situation was an invitation to the strong and ruthless. Whalers and traders commonly lost men by desertion at the islands and had to recruit their crews from men who had deserted from other ships. Deeds of violence were not uncommon, but the worst to date was the bloody mutiny aboard the American whaleship Globe .

Globe had sailed from Nantucket in December, 1822. One year later, on her second call at the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii), six of her men deserted and one was discharged. Globe ’s captain, Thomas Worth, filled out his crew with seven men “from the beach” at Oahu. The ship was not more than a month at sea when, on the night of January 25, 1824, four of these men joined Samuel Comstock, a boatsteerer, in seizing Globe and murdering her four officers. The mutineers, with the remainder of the crew afraid to defy them, took the ship to the Mulgrave Islands (now Mili Atoll), where they arrived on February 14. Three days later Comstock was killed by his fellow mutineers. That night, six crewmen who were not involved in the mutiny cut Globe ’s cable and escaped. They left nine men behind on the island, five of whom were nonmutineers. None of the men on Globe was a navigator, but after four months of wandering the ship made Valparaiso. There the United States consul, Michael Hogan, interviewed the sailors and, after manning Globe with a new crew, sent the six men home aboard her to stand trial. The men were exonerated, but the story they told when Globe returned to Nantucket in November, 1824, set off an outcry for punishment of the mutineers and for protection of American vessels in the Pacific. The citizens of Nantucket and New Bedford petitioned first the outgoing President, James’ Monroe, and then his successor, John Quincy Adams, for an increased naval force in the Pacific and for a warship to visit the Sandwich Islands. The latter request was seconded by American merchants trading at the islands, who were experiencing difficulty in collecting their debts from the native rulers.

As a result, Commodore Isaac Hull, commanding the American squadron in the Pacific, ordered the schooner Dolphin to prepare for a cruise among the islands. Her first mission was to visit the Mulgraves and collect any of Globe ’s men who might still be there; her second was to call at the Sandwich Islands, try to put some curb on desertions there, and do whatever could be done to help the merchants and whalers at Honolulu. Since no American warship had yet visited those islands, Hull ordered Dolphin ’s commander, Lieutenant John Percival, to learn something of their government and its attitude toward the United States, and to find out whether American vessels were being granted the same privileges as those of other nations.

Hell broke loose in Honolulu when Captain Percival gave his men shore leave in 1826
 

Dolphin ’s commander was the very person of the sea dog. Massachusetts-born, Percival had gone to sea at thirteen, been impressed into the Royal Navy, and escaped to join the American service in time for the quasi-war with France. Demobilized in. the peace establishment of 1801, he returned to the merchant service, where he earned a remarkable reputation for feats of seamanship including—or so he claimed—the navigation of a ship from Africa to Pernambuco, Brazil, with his entire crew sick or dead of fever.

In 1809 Percival rejoined the American Navy and once again, during the War of 1812, came up “through the hawse-hole” from sailing master to lieutenant. He and Hull had become friends while serving together at Boston, and in 1823 Percival went out as first lieutenant of Hull’s flagship, United States , leaving a new bride at home. In the Pacific he took command of Dolphin . John Percival was then forty-four years old. Although an affable man under most circumstances, he was fiery tempered. His rages, quickly triggered and as quickly ended, had earned him the name of “Mad Jack” or “Crazy Jack” among the sailors. He was a great favorite with-the men, who accepted his swearing as a mark of affection; he shared the cabin wines with the sick, and when there were fresh provisions to be distributed, the men on the gun deck shared equally with the officers.