- Historic Sites
“Mad Jack” And The Missionaries
April 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 3
There was, however, one merchant whom Percival could not win over—Stephen Reynolds. Part of the difficulty seems to have been that Reynolds was a friend of Edwards, and also of Leonard Sistare, the charming master of the American merchant schooner Adonis, who had decamped with his ship, counting on losing himself in the islands and living on the proceeds of Adonis and her cargo. Sistare had been understandably chagrined, therefore, when Percival arrived with orders for his arrest, and his friend Reynolds shared his displeasure. (Apparently Percival solved the problem by impounding Sistare’s strongbox, leaving the culprit himself at the islands.) Another factor in the Percival-Reynolds quarrel may have been simply that Reynolds was, as his diary reveals, a man who liked no one for very long. At any rate, Sistare reported to Reynolds that Percival had accused him of going to Reynolds’ house to consult with “Old Pierpoint Edwards, a bald-headed old rascal. I gave him a good caneing, the damned rascal!” Three days later Reynolds recorded that two female natives had told him that Percival advised them to trade at the wooden house, rather than at Reynolds’ store. “Many other things were told me showing him to be the basest, meanest of men I have ever known.”
Reynolds was therefore prepared to record with the utmost glee the vicissitudes of Percival’s adventures with the native women. One night, while lodging at Captain Grimes’s house, Percival received a tin-pan serenade from some sailors and merchants—something akin to a “shivaree” on the frontier back home. Whether this incident frightened his native “wife” or whether there were other concubinal difficulties is not clear, but on March 19 Reynolds noted a “report” that Percival had “got Black Jo [a Portuguese bravo , or desperado, who resided on Oahu] to go with him to Gov. Boki to demand a young girl who Hero [Percival] fear[s] had run away from him. Boki gave the word and she was sent to him! ! !” The next day, as Captain Peleg Stetson of the whaler Phoenix later recalled, Percival had some guests at his house; he pointed to his bed and observed to Stetson that the girl who shared it with him had run away but had been returned by Boki. In Reynolds’ version, however, Percival had described “his treatment [of] a young girl—too disgraceful to be related.”
Percival had intended to leave the islands early in April, but the petitions of the whaling captains and the persuasion of Consul Jones induced him to stay a few weeks longer. Commodore Hull was already anxious about Dolphin ; having fitted her in August for a six months’ cruise, he had expected her back at Callao by January or February. At last, on the morning of May 11, 1826, Dolphin weighed anchor, exchanged salutes with the fort, and stood out of Honolulu Harbor. She reached Callao on August 24 after a cruise of more than a year. At Oahu she left fond memories in the minds of the trading community and of the whalemen, and rancor in the hearts of the missionaries.
Bingham’s enmity, and that of Edwards, pursued Percival to America, where he was subjected to a court of inquiry in 1828 on charges of unofficerlike and ungentlemanly conduct toward Edwards, of opposing morality at the islands, and of personal lewdness. However, the court, composed of three captains, decided that the evidence against Percival was not sufficient to warrant a court-martial. Subsequently Percival made a cruise on the Brazil station, then sailed under Hull once more as commander of the new sloop of war Cyane in the Mediterranean. By then (1838-39) Percival was afflicted with gout, which made him “snappish as a bear with a sore head,” according to one midshipman. He was sometimes heard soliloquizing in his cabin to the effect that he would probably not live to return to America. He did; but his apprehension perhaps accounts for the fact that on his last voyage in 1844 he carried an oak coffin in his cabin. This cruise took Percival around the world in the frigate Constitution . Returning to America for the last time in 1846, Mad Jack installed the unused coffin as a watering trough at his home in Dorchester, Massachusetts, where he died September 17, 1862, at age eighty-three.
Although Percival’s conduct in Hawaii had drawn no reproach from the government, the pens and press of the missionaries fastened the stigma of bad conduct on him. Measures for the collection of debts, for regulating the conduct of seamen at Honolulu, for preventing desertion, and for rendering aid to London and other vessels in distress were all forgotten in favor of Bingham’s facile characterization of Dolphin as “the mischief-making man of war.” Nevertheless Master Commandant Thomas ap Catesby Jones, who visited Honolulu in Peacock a few months after Percival had left, credited his predecessor for the good order he found among the shipping there. And it is surely to the credit of Mad Jack and his crew that the bloody mutiny aboard Globe was the last in the annals of American Pacific whaling.