David Jewett, c.1825
|Born||June 17, 1772
New London (North Parish), Connecticut
|Died||June 26, 1842
Rio de Janeiro
|Cause of death||Natural causes|
|Known for||Commander of the USS Trumbull in the Quasi-War with France. Claiming the Falkland Islands for the Republic of Buenos Aires in 1820. Service in the Brazillian Navy.|
|Spouse(s)||Eliza Lawrence Mactier|
David Jewett (June 17, 1772 – June 26, 1842) was an American Colonel who played a notable role in the history of the sovereignty dispute between Great Britain and Argentina. Accused of piracy by both the USA and Portugal, he commanded the pirate Frigate Heroína that visited the Falkland Islands (Spanish: Islas Malvinas) in 1820, raised the first Argentine flag on the islands, and claimed the islands for the United Provinces of South America (one of the precursor states of Argentina). Argentine authors including José María Rosa claim he was ordered to do so by Manuel de Sarratea, as Jewett himself proclaimed; other researchers such as Pascoe and Pepper point out there is no documentary evidence to support this. He did not inform Argentina in his report.
Jewett was born in New London (North Parish), Connecticut (presently the town of Montville, Connecticut), United States, on 17 June 1772, and died 26 June 1842. He studied for a career in law and joined the United States Navy.
Jewett, with the rank of Master Commandant, commanded the 18 gun sloop-of-war USS Trumbull in the Quasi-War with France. Following fitting out, Trumbull departed New London, Connecticut in March 1800 under his command. Its first mission was to escort the provisions ship Charlotte from New York to the West Indies, replenishing the American Squadron operating against the French. Trumbull later joined the American Squadron commanded by Silas Talbot in the USS Constitution, where the main duties in the area were protection of American shipping and the interception of French privateers and merchantmen.
In early May, the armed French schooner Peggie was captured. On August 3, while off Jeremie in Haiti, Trumbull captured the French schooner Vengeance, armed with eight or ten guns (not, as is sometimes found, the 38-gun frigate Vengeance that tangled with the USS Constitution and was later taken into the Royal Navy). The ship had fled Haiti with 130 people aboard, crew and refugees together, as Toussaint's troops took possession of the island. Talbot ordered Jewett home with Vengeance as a prize, Trumbull arriving back at New London in late summer. The Vengeance was later condemned as a national vessel and was returned to France under the treaty soon afterwards concluded with that country.
Trumbull then returned to patrol off Santo Domingo, before later transporting Navy Agent Thomas T. Gantt to St. Kitts to relieve Thomas Clarkson. Following the end of hostilities with France as a result of the Treaty of Mortefontaine, Trumbull returned to the United States in the spring of 1801, was sold later that year and her crew discharged. Jewett left the Navy but rejoined during the War of 1812 against Britain, when he acted as a privateer.
Service to the United Provinces
After the War of 1812, Jewett offered his services to the newly independent United Provinces of the Río de la Plata (later Argentina), which accepted his proposal and authorized his corsair activities against the Spanish; he was appointed a Colonel in the Argentine Navy.
He was given command of the frigate Heroína as a privateer and in March 1820 and set out on a voyage marked by misfortune, a mutiny, scurvy and piracy against Portuguese and American ships. Some 80 of his crew of 200 were either sick or dead by the time he arrived on 27 October 1820 at Puerto Soledad (later renamed Puerto Luis by Argentine settlers, it was the one-time Spanish capital of the Falkland Islands). At anchor there he found some 50 British and U.S. sealing ships.
Captain Jewett chose to rest and recover in the islands seeking assistance from the British explorer James Weddell of the British Brig Jane. Weddell reports only 30 seamen and 40 soldiers out of a crew of 200 fit for duty, and how Jewett slept with pistols over his head following an attempted mutiny for which he had executed 6 members of his crew.
Declaration of Possession of the Islands
Sir, I have the honour to inform you of the circumstance of my arrival at this port, commissioned by the supreme government of the United Provinces of South America to take possession of these islands in the name of the country to which they naturally appertain. In the performance of this duty, it is my desire to act towards all friendly flags with the most distinguished justice and politeness. A principal object is to prevent the wanton destruction of the sources of supply to those whose necessities compel or invite them to visit the islands, and to aid and assist such as require it to obtain a supply with the least trouble and expense. As your views do not enter into contravention or competition with these orders, and as I think mutual advantage may result from a personal interview, I invite you to pay me a visit on board my ship, where I shall be happy to accommodate you during your pleasure. I would also beg you, so far as comes within your sphere, to communicate this information to other British subjects in this vicinity. I have the honour to be, Sir Your most obedient humble Servant, Signed, Jewett, Colonel of the Navy of the United Provinces of South America and commander of the frigate Heroína.
Many modern authors report this letter as the declaration issued by Jewett. Captain William Orne of the American Schooner General Knox seems to have missed Jewett’s possession ceremony, and Jewett gave him a letter informing him of the claim. On returning to his home port, Salem, Massachusetts, Captain Orne gave Jewett’s letter to the local paper, the Salem Gazette, which published it on 8 June 1821, and it was reprinted by The Times in London on 3 August 1821. If it had not been for the publication of that letter, and an account in a book by James Weddell five years later, the Jewett claim would be unknown today. The Times reprint of the Orne letter was then repeated in a Gibraltar paper and was picked up by the Spanish paper Redactor de Cádiz. It was only when the Cadiz report reached Buenos Aires, as a foreign news story, that Jewett’s claim to the Falklands became known in Argentina. It was published in the Buenos Aires Argos on 10 November 1821, over a year after the event.
Weddell did not believe that Jewett was acting with the interests of the United Provinces of South America in mind, rather that he had merely put into the harbour in order to obtain refreshments for his crew, and that the assumption of possession was chiefly intended for the purpose of securing an exclusive claim to the wreck of the French ship Uranie that had a few months previously foundered at the entrance of Berkeley Sound. Weddell left the islands on 20 November 1820 noting that Jewett had not completed repairs to the Heroína.
Jewett did not mention his declaration in his 13 pages report to the government of Buenos Aires, nor did the government gazette the sovereignty claim although 'La Gazeta de Buenos Ayres' was founded by Decree 2 June 1810.
Piracy of Portuguese and US ships
Jewett had earlier crossed the line between privateer and pirate by taking the Portuguese ship Carlota as a prize, as Argentina and Portugal were not at war. He would probably have taken the Carlota to Buenos Aires, but he lost her in a storm. Jewett may have visited the Falkland Islands for other reasons apart from claiming sovereignty over them. Firstly to repair his vessel which Weddell viewed as barely seaworthy, secondly to prevent his crew from deserting him, thirdly to replenish his supplies and lastly, to seek any Spanish ships that might be anchored there as prizes. When Jewett found none, he seized the American Schooner Rampart as a prize, as it was carrying cargo for Spain. This second act of piracy caused a diplomatic incident as the United Provinces was not at war with the United States of America.
Jewett wrote a long report to Buenos Aires dated 1 February 1821, describing his voyage but not mentioning any sovereignty claim to the Falklands, and asked to be relieved. He left the islands in April 1821; his successor as captain of the Heroína, the Englishman William Mason, left Port Louis three weeks later, leaving the Falkland Islands uninhabited again. Mason also captured a Portuguese ship, but was caught by the Portuguese in March 1822, convicted of piracy by a Lisbon prize court, and sentenced to imprisonment; the court also accused Jewett of piracy, though he was by then in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Jewett subsequently entered the services of the Brazilian navy, ironically later in his career he found himself fighting against the forces of the United Provinces of South America. Jewett died in Rio de Janeiro in 1842.
- Getting it right: the real history of the Falklands/Malvinas, by Graham Pascoe and Peter Pepper, 2008, pp. 9-10, http://www.falklandshistory.org/gettingitright.pdf
- Historia argentina: Unitarios y federales (1826-1841) by José María Rosa
- Jewett’s report of 1 February 1821 in Archivo General de la Nación, Buenos Aires, Marina Corsarios 1820-1831, 10-5-1-3.
-  Silas Talbot Collection (Coll. 18)
- Allen, 1909 p.190
- Weddell, James, A Voyage Towards the South Pole, London, Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1827
- Laurio H. Destéfani, The Malvinas, the South Georgias and the South Sandwich Islands, the conflict with Britain, Buenos Aires, 1982
- Child, Jack. Geopolitics and Conflict in South America: Quarrels Among Neighbors. New York; Praeger, 1985, pp. 112–115.
- Gough, Barry. The Falkland Islands/Malvinas: The Contest for Empire in the South Atlantic. London: Athlone Press, 1992, pp. 55–59.
- Strange, Ian J. The Falkland Islands. London: David & Charles Press, 1983, p. 194.