Neptune's Militia: The Frigate South Carolina during the American Revolution

Neptune's Militia: The Frigate South Carolina during the American Revolution

Neptune's Militia: The Frigate South Carolina during the American Revolution

Neptune's Militia: The Frigate South Carolina during the American Revolution


The virtues of the citizen-soldier are prominent in the history of the American Revolution, but less attention has been given to the citizen-sailor. Under the leadership of Commodore Alexander Gillon, a prominent and colorful Charleston merchant, the South Carolina navy secured the services of the largest warship under any American's command, the frigate South Carolina. Built in Holland and designed to combine speed with firepower, this frigate is best known for its capture of the British Bahamas in 1782 in the only American military manuever to seize and hold foreign territory outside the borders of the Thirteen Colonies.


I need to blame this book on my computer. Little did I imagine when I finished my graduate work in colonial Latin American history, several decades ago that I would attempt a book essentially in American history. Yet, here I am, guilty as can be. And it was that devil computer that made me do it.

I had just started using a computer during my last book, The Final Campaign of the American Revolution:
Rise and Fall of the Spanish Bahamas
, which, in spite of its title, really is a book about colonial Latin American history. My editor insisted that the title emphasize the American history aspect in order to sell more copies. At any rate, in order to keep track of the hundreds of individuals who had something to do with the Spanish occupation of the Bahamas from 1782 through 1783, I began to create a reference bank of names on my Macintosh. Since the South Carolina played a role in my Bahamian story, I soon realized that I had a portion of the crew in my computer. At first, only a couple of hundred entries, then more than five hundred, then a thousand, and finally nearly thirteen hundred.

I was not sure what to do with this collection. It was fun just to find new members of the crew, and I had no intention of ever writing about them. I toyed with the idea of just printing up the list and sending it to the South Carolina State Archives and the South Carolina Historical Society for their use. In collecting the names, however, I had also dug up all sorts of collateral information, particularly that from state and national pension records. These were so rich and so informative that I just became hooked on the story.

The saga of the South Carolina has been an enjoyable yet frustrating journey for me. It has allowed me to meander through the historiography of the American Revolution and puzzle over the question of Commodore Alexander Gillon's reputation. How could a man so successful, commanding the largest warship under any American during the war and conqueror of an entire British colony (New Providence), have such modest, even unsavory, fame in the scholarly literature of the Revolution?

In addition to the Spanish sources so important in The Final Campaign part of the story, I have also had the leisure to poke around in the French and . . .

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