THE RED-RIBBONED COMMODORE
WHILE JOHN PAUL JONES never could pull the right strings to secure command over L'Indien, a fellow countryman, Alexander Gillon -- whom Jones once derisively dismissed as "the red ribboned commodore" -- did.1 Jones's disparaging reference to his rival has led many later hero-worshippers to adopt the same attitude. This phrase certainly reflected Jones's resentment and jealousy toward Gillon, who always bested the Scotchman-turned-patriot whenever they competed head to head. Doors tended to open for Gillon even as they shut for Jones. Moreover, Gillon did not quit after momentary frustrations. Gillon's background is critical in understanding how he gained control of L'Indien, soon to be renamed the South Carolina.
Gillon was born in Rotterdam, Holland, on August 13, 1741. His father was a Scotchman, and his mother seems to have been a Scot as well. His father irnnugrated to Holland in 1726.2 Although Gillon family genealogists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries tried to claim aristocratic French ancestry for the Commodore, the language of his Rotterdam home was English, judging from extant letters of the Commodore to his sister Susannah Hooderpyl (variously also Hodenpyl, Holdenpyl, or Holderpy).3 As a teenager Gillon worked for four years in a Dutch countinghouse in London, after which, in 1764, he commanded a ship in a voyage to Philadelphia. A year later he was master of a ship en route to Charleston. He returned to that city on a permanent basis the next year, 1766. On one of his voyages, probably that from Philadelphia to Charleston, Gillon encountered Mary Cripps, widow of a prorminent Charlestonian merchant, William Cripps. He married her on July 13, 1766. Gillon was clearly a young man of substance when he left Europe, and