Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Death of Captain George Cannon: By Mutiny?

According to the Cannon Family Historical Treasury, Captain George Cannon “died at sea on board his own ship, July 19, 1811, being the victim of a mutiny which he was endeavoring to suppress among his crew…” (George Cannon Family Association: 1995, p. 13). I have spent quite a bit of time over the last four years trying to learn more about Captain Cannon’s death. What was the name of the ship he was on? Where was the ship when the mutiny occurred? Were the mutineers brought to justice?

Death and Burial of Captain Cannon:

Edmund Goodwin, in the Goodwin Papers, handwritten notes in the Manx National Heritage Library, indicates that George Cannon died July 8, 1811. He gives no other insight. George Cannon’s probate record indicates he died “on or about 13th July”. According to the burial register for the Parish of German in 1811, he was buried at St. Peter’s Church in Peel (an old photo below)
on July 22nd.
A closeup of the entry for Captain Cannon:
In a letter to me dated July 20, 2007, Priscilla Lewthwaite, a genealogical researcher in the Isle of Man, indicated that there would be no entry in the parish register if the body was not there. If Captain Cannon died at sea, it is very unlikely they would have a body to bury unless he died near the Isle of Man, because people who died at sea were interred at sea. The gravestone has not survived as St. Peter’s Church is in ruins, just the clock tower remains (the clock tower was built after the time of Captain Cannon)
and all the gravestones that could be salvaged have been put around the walls of the churchyard.
It is laid out as a garden now with grass and flower beds, with just the outline of the floor of the church visible.

Up until 1803, I can find quite a bit of information about Captain Cannon and his sailing endeavors. After that, there is very little information about him and virtually nothing about him and sailing. One of the most exciting finds during my research was a Lloyd's List entry on May 22, 1810. It indicated that the ship Caesar, with a Captain Cannon, had arrived back in Liverpool from Africa. The Caesar had been taken by a French Corvette from the Isles of France, "with Dispatches" and allowed to proceed. The Ile de France, or Isle of France, was a French colony off the southeast coast of Africa which is now known as Mauritius.
I thought this was an important piece in putting together the mutiny puzzle. It showed Captain Cannon was still involved in sailing. And maybe it is and maybe it does, but there is nothing else to substantiate it. Lloyd's List for April 27, 1810 reported that the Caesar, with a Captain McCannen, arrived in Sierra Leone (West Africa) from Liverpool. So was it a Captain Cannon or Captain McCannen on the Caesar? Or someone else? Errors are common in the shipping records. Lloyd's Register for 1810 lists a number of Caesars, but none with a Captain Cannon or McCannen (see below).  
At the end of this post I go into some detail about the research steps I’ve taken so that someone else researching this same issue in the future does not have to duplicate the efforts I’ve made. Despite my initial optimism, I now question whether he was even sailing at that time in his life. The only thing that keeps me thinking that there may be some truth to it is that there is no reason the family would dream up the story: it does not put Captain Cannon in a positive light. I am hopeful that a family member may have information tucked away in an attic somewhere or that future research may be more fruitful in uncovering a source.

A Mutiny About the Same Time:

I did find the following about a mutiny that occurred about the same time (it was provided by two research sources). It was in the Liverpool Mercury, dated Friday, September 6, 1811 (page 75, column 1):

“The following is a copy of a letter from Mr. Furse, late Midshipman of the Semiramis, dated Brest, July 19, 1811: ‘No doubt you will be surprised at the date of this, from Brest. Being very lucky in the Semiramis last cruise, in the way of taking prizes, I was sent from her on the 6th inst. to take charge of an American brig, which Captain Richardson detained, having with me six men from the Semiramis, as also five belonging to the brig – the Captain, Mate, and three boys. Out of six that came with me, two were Americans; these, and two other of our crew, having most of their friends living in New York, joined with the Captain of the brig to take her from me, on the 9th inst. About twelve o’clock, binding me and two more with cords, hands and feet. The next morning they hoisted out the long-boat, giving us our clothes, and some bread and water; still keeping our hands tied, they put us into the boat, which was then very leaky, and sent us adrift in the Western Ocean, about 300 miles from land. One of my men, whose name is Rowlinson, untied me with his teeth; which was the means of getting us all free. Not knowing the distance exactly, at the time they let us go, I did not know what course to shape; the wind being W.S.W. I shaped my course E.S.E. supposing it to be, as near as I could guess, for the Eddystone; but unfortunately for me, and the others, the first land we made was Ushant; the wind then blowing very fresh, and we in an open boat, and on a lee shore, thought it best for our safety to run into a small island, called Morlaix, after being six days drifting about in the Western ocean, almost dead with fatigue, and having nothing to eat, our bread being spoiled with salt water. On our landing we were immediately made prisoners, but exceedingly well treated. After stopping one night, we marched to Brest, where, at present, we remain in the hospital, and expect in the course of four or five days, to be conducted about 200 leagues in land, where I shall be on parole. I forgot to state, that at the time we were seized, we were asleep, having but a short time previously left the deck. Those that succeeded us in the watch on deck were those that were bribed. There was one of our Lieutenants then in a brig close to us; but he did not see us bear up, or otherwise I think he would have made sail after us. There are cartels arriving here generally once a month, with sick and infirm prisoners. I am sorry to add, there is not the least hopes of my return to England unless it comes a peace, of which there is not the least prospect at present. I will thank you to publish the above in the Newspapers as soon as possible, in order that the Captain of the brig and the men may be taken into custody.’

The original, from which the above letter is copied, has been sent to the Admiralty, in order that proceedings may be instituted against the four mutineers, who seized their officer, and assisted the Americans to run away with the ship: out of our frigates having fallen in with, and captured them, the day after they committed the atrocious act. Had not Mr. Furse and his two companions so miraculously escaped, the crime of the other four would not have been known, as, previously to the American being boarded a second time, they sent our four men down into the hold, and gave out that they had been confined there when the ship was seized.”

Lloyd’s List, dated Friday, July 19, 1811, states: “The Fortune, Dannen from Bordeaux to New York is detained by the Semiramis Frigate and arrived at Plymouth.” Lloyd’s List, dated Tuesday, July 23, 1811, states: “The American Brig Alert, Nichols from Bordeaux to Newbury Port, was detained on the 6th inst by the Semiramis Frigate, and put in charge of an officer and 6 men but the crew took possession of her, she has been since detained by the Vestal Frigate, and sent in to Portsmouth.”

The story is confusing. After a close look at it, and with the information from Lloyd’s List, I think this is what happened: The Semiramis, a British Naval frigate, stopped and detained the American brig Alert on July 6, 1811. It was manned by a captain, mate and three boys. Captain Richardson of the Semiramis sent Mr. Furse, a Midshipman [the rank of a young British naval officer], along with six other men from the Semiramis, on board the Alert. Two of the six men from the Semiramis were Americans. After Midshipman Furse and two of his men went to sleep, about midnight on July 9, 1811, his four other men standing watch, including the two Americans, were bribed by the Captain of the Alert to allow him to take over the brig. Furse and the two men were seized, while asleep, and tied, hand and foot, by cords. The next morning, on July 10th, Furse and his two men were put, still hand-tied, into a leaky long-boat and set to sea adrift, about 300 miles from land. They were given bread and water which was spoiled by salt water. A man named Rowlinson, untied Furse with his teeth and all three were freed from their cords. On July 16th, after six days adrift, they landed on Ushant [a French island in the English Channel], and then thought it best to go to Morlaix [not an island, but an area on the Brittany coast of France]. On landing, they were imprisoned, but treated well. The next day they were marched to Brest [another city in Brittany], and placed in a hospital, where the letter was written from. Mr. Furse apparently died after writing the letter. After setting Mr. Furse and his two men adrift, the brig Alert was detained by the Vestal Frigate. Before being boarded by the men of the Vestal, the four men from the Semiramis went into the hold and claimed they had been confined there when the Alert was seized by the Captain. The newspaper sent Furse’s letter to the British Admiralty so that the four mutineers could be tried for their crime. Without the letter, no one would have known of their complicity. The Alert was sent to Portsmouth, England.

Mutiny, in General:

Peter Earle, in his book, Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650-1775 (Methuan: London, 2007), p. 175, cites Marcus Rediker who found evidence of sixty mutinies on English and American ships in the first half of the 18th century, an average of just over one a year, although he believes there were more than that. In about half of the cases, the mutineers succeeded in taking control of the ship. Mutinies generally occurred in one of two ways. One way was by passive resistance without violence. For example, one crew led by the mate took over a ship because the captain ordered a change of course they believed would result in shipwreck. Other crews refused to weigh anchor and set sail because the ship was leaking and they believed dangerous, or they wanted to wait for a convoy. The other way was through violence, usually with one or more murders. Most of the crew had some sort of weapon, if only a knife, and the ship had other potential weapons, such as handspikes, guns and small arms. Excuses given by the crew for such takeovers included mistreatment of the crew, over-work, a shortage of water or provisions, or an unseaworthy ship. The unrest was often fueled by alcohol.

John Newton, a slave boat captain who later became a clergyman and wrote the words to the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” found out in 1752 that his crew was planning a mutiny. One of his crew informed Newton he had been solicited by Richard Swain to sign a “round robin,” a sheet of paper on which two concentric circles were drawn. Within the inner circle, the sailors would ‘write what they have a mind to have done’ and between the two circles they would write their names. ‘No one can be said to be first, so that they are all equally guilty’ and ‘no one can be excused by saying he was the last that signed it, and he had not done it without great persuasion.’ Captain Newton was quite surprised because the sailors had all been quiet on the voyage and he did not remember any complaints. Captain Newton quickly had Swain put in ‘double irons’ and transferred Swain and other mutinous sailors to another ship whose captain agreed to ‘deliver them to the first man of war that offered.’ This cut-short the mutiny. (Sailors, pp. 177-178).

Captain Cannon’s Probate Administration:

Captain Cannon died intestate (without a will) and his probate was opened in “Peeltown” at a meeting of the Ecclesiastical Court held in the Parish of Kirk Patrick on August 3, 1811: “George Cannon of the Town of Peel and Parish of German having departed this life on or about 13th July last past Intestate and this Court having received Intelligence thereof Hath for the preservation of the Rights of Creditors and all other Persons interested in his Estate, upon the humble petition of Leonora Cannon committed unto her the said Leonora Cannon the Administration of all and singular the Goods, Rights Credits Chattels and Effects of the said Intestate and she is thereupon sworn well and truly to Administer the same to exhibit into the Episcopal Registry [a full born and ______ (?)] Inventory thereof to pay all his just debts so far forth as his goods and Effects will extend and the Law bind her and John Taubman of Peeltown and the said Leonora Cannon are sworn to take care of the Children under age of the said George Cannon that they sustain no injury in their Persons Property or Education so far as they can prevent it, and she the said Leonora Cannon is sworn to render a fair and just account of her said Administration when Hereunto Lawfully required and to these Ends she hath given Pledges in Form of Law namely Caesar W. Kettleworth [Frances Wilkins says “Cesar Wattleworth”] and Thomas Garrett both of the Parish of KK German.”

The following were claims against the estate:
Jany 17th Mess Bridson & Harrison claim brot Pounds 45.10.0
25th James Parr Crane Ditto 3. 0.0
July 23rd John Caley Ditto 30. 0.0
Augst 24 Messrs Grundy Sons & Wood Ditto 27.04.0”


In an effort to find more about Captain Cannon’s sailing activities later in his life, I completely reviewed Lloyd’s Register, Underwriters, for 1811 and Shipowners, for 1811 and Lloyd’s List for 1805 to 1811. The muster rolls do not exist for 1811. The following are leads that came from the review, but which I do not believe will yield fruit or have not had time to review further. My recollection is that Lloyd’s Register does not exist for some of the years in question, so it is not possible to double-check the name of a captain from Lloyd’s List.

(1) Lloyd’s List, February 12, 1805: ship John & Elizabeth, Captain Cannon, arrived in Southampton on February 8, 1805, from Youghall. However, no Captain Cannon was listed in Lloyd’s Register, 1805, Underwriters, for this ship.

(2) Lloyd’s List, April 16, 1805: ship Emerald, Captain M Cannon, arrived in Liverpool on April 14, 1805, from Tortola.

(3) Lloyd’s List, June 11, 1805: ship Egyptian, Captain Cannell, arrived in Liverpool from Jamaica on June 10, 1805. He sailed from Jamaica on March 25, 1805. Lloyd’s List, January 21, 1806: Egyptian, Cannell, arrived in Bonny from Liverpool. Lloyd’s List, April 15, 1806: Egyptian, Cannell, arrived in Jamaica from Africa January 29, 1805.

(4) Lloyd’s List, June 25, 1805: ship Providence, Captain Cannon, arrived in Gravesend from Memel on June 20, 1805.

(5) Lloyd’s List, May 14, 1805: ship Lusitania, Captain Carmen, sailed for Oporto from Deal on May 13, 1805.

(6) Lloyd’s List, September 17, 1805: ship Minerva, Captain Campbell, sailed from Gravesend for Dublin on September 15, 1805.

(7) Lloyd’s List, October 18, 1805: ship Hannah, Captain Connell, arrived in Liverpool from New Orleans on October 16, 1805. Lloyd’s List, November 1, 1805: Hannah, Connell, arrived in Liverpool from New Orleans & Hoylake. Lloyd’s List, April 1, 1806: Hannah, Connell, arrived in New York from Liverpool.

(8) Lloyd’s List, October 18, 1805: ship Euphrates, Captain Connell, arrived in Clyde from Honduras on October 13, 1805. Lloyd’s List, December 31, 1805: Euphrates, Cannell, sailed for Honduras from Clyde on December 24, 1805. Lloyd’s List, February 28, 1806: Euphrates, Connell, sailed for Honduras from Cork on February 20, 1806, as part of a large convoy.

(9) Lloyd’s List, November 29, 1805: ship Pitt, Captain Cannon, arrived in Gravesend from Jamaica on November 27, 1805. Large group of ships, part of a convoy. Lloyd’s List, December 3, 1805: Pitt, Campbell, sailed for Jamaica from Clyde on November 26, 1805. Lloyd’s List, April 15, 1806: Pitt, Campbell, arrived in Jamaica from Clyde on January 29, 1806.

(10) Lloyd’s List, December 20, 1805: ship Fanny, Captain Connell, sailed for Jamaica from Cork on December 18, 1805. Lloyd’s List, March 18, 1806: Fanny, Connell, arrived in Jamaica from Liverpool on January 21, 1806.

(11) Lloyd’s List, January 7, 1806: ship Roebuck, Captain Channon, arrived in Falmouth from Cork on January 2, 1806.

(12) Lloyd’s List, January 17, 1806: ship Experiment, Captain Cameron, arrived in Limerick from Liverpool on January 11, 1806.

(13) Lloyd’s List, March 25, 1806: ship James, Captain Cannon, arrived in Gravesend from Newry on March 23, 1806.

(14) Lloyd’s List, August 7, 1807: ship Douro, Captain Connor, arrived in Hull on August 4, 1807, from Oporto. Lloyd’s List, November 13, 1807: Douro, Conner, arrived in Falmouth on November 9, 1807, from off Oporto. Lloyd’s Register, 1807, Underwriters, shows the Douro as a brig of 204 tons with a captain Conner, sailing from Hull to Oporto. Other instances of Captain Conner and the Douro have not been kept, but have been noted.

(15) Lloyd’s List, October 2, 1807: ship Fortune, Captain Kennan, arrived in Bonny from Liverpool. Lloyd’s Register shows A Kennan on the Fortune with a trip from Liverpool to Africa.

(16) Lloyd’s List, November, 8, 1808: ship Sisters, Captain Cannon, arrived in Clyde, on November 2, 1808, from Demerara. Lloyd’s Register for 1808, Underwriters, does not list a Sisters with a Captain Cannon.

(17) Captain Connell of the ship Anna, from Liverpool to the Baltic [Lloyd’s Register, Shipowners, 1811]

(18) Captain Connor of the ship Duke of Montrose, from London to Guadl [Lloyd’s Register, Shipowners, 1811]

(19) Captain Connell of the Brig Recovery, from Cork to New York [Lloyd’s Register, Shipowners, 1811]

(20) Captain Connell of the Rosamond, from Grennock to Charleston [Lloyd’s Register, Shipowners, 1811]

Gill Evans, a researcher from Liverpool, indicates that the Liverpool Mercury started in July 1811. She reviewed it from the beginning to December 1811. The Liverpool Courier started February 1808, but there are no copies for 1810. Gore’s Advertiser is from December 1765 to 1780 and 1781 to January 1, 1856, but 1810 is missing. Williamson’s Advertiser starts May 1756 to February 5, 1856, but 1810 is missing. There are no Liverpool newspapers for 1810.

Frances Wilkins reviewed Gentleman’s Magazine and found nothing on George Cannon’s mutiny.

Steve Behrendt has indicated he does not think George Cannon would sail from a port other than Liverpool and he doubts he would have worked in the illegal slave trade (the slave trade was abolished in England in 1807). Most books about the illegal slave trade concern the U.S. He does not think that the Caesar reference with McCannen and Cannon are to our Captain George Cannon. For primary sources, he says the best bets are Liverpool newspapers and muster rolls (neither of which are available). Admiralty documents are also of use, but they are only in manuscript form at the British National Archives in Kew Gardens (High Court of Admiralty – HCA) series. Sailor’s wage disputes often went before an Admiralty judge in London. George Cannon is the only Captain Cannon in the Liverpool Muster Rolls from the 1780s to 1808. However, the ship Minerva’s 1802 Liverpool register also lists a Robert Cannon as captain when the boat was surveyed. Steve has done his own search of Liverpool newspapers and research in Kew and found nothing.

I have had assistance from the following in trying to located information on Captain Cannon: Wendy Thirkettle, Assistant Archivist at the Manx National Heritage Library in Douglas, Isle of Man; Frances Wilkins, author of various books relating to the Isle of Man, including Manx Slave Traders: A Social History of the Isle of Man’s Role in the Atlantic Slave Trade, 2,000 Manx Mariners, The Isle of Man in Smuggling History and The Smuggling Trade Revisited; Gill Evans, a researcher located in Liverpool; Priscilla M. Lewthwaite, a researcher located in the Isle of Man; Ken Cozens, a researcher with a Masters degree in Maritime History from the University of Greenwich, located in London; and Stephen D. Behrendt, a professor at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, with a PhD from the University of Wisconsin, one of the foremost authorities on the slave trade and author of The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A History, Revised Edition, The Transatlantic Slave Trade (book and cd-rom), The Diary of Antera Duke, an Eighteenth-Century Slave Trader, and numerals articles on the slave trade, including “The Captains in the British Slave Trade from 1785 to 1807,” in Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire and “Human Capital in the British Slave Trade” in Liverpool and Transatlantic Slavery.


  1. Wow, Bob... the amount of research you have done on this is staggering! 8-)

  2. Hi there, I habe a coin/pendant that has a picture of a man on one side with the name captain cannon and a ship on the other, I forget what it says, the pendant is bronze and is dated in the 1800's, I have never knew what it was as it was given to me when I was young by my great-grandmother. Would it be possible if I could somehow send u a picture of this to see if it has any connection to the captain cannon you have researched?

  3. Katie, I would love to see the pendant. If it is a photograph of Captain Cannon, then it would not be Captain George Cannon, but I should be able to tell by looking at the ship if it is from the right time frame. If you take some digital photos of the pendant, particularly showing the date, the man and the ship, and email them to robertcannon@roadrunner.com and rcannon@mechlaw.com, I'll look at them and get back to you.

  4. Hi Bob,

    I was wondering if you were able to see a photo of the pendant that Katie referred to, and maybe identify the Captain Cannon. What an awesome thing to have.

    1. Leslie,
      I can't remember if I got a photo or it or not (I can't find it in a search of my emails). If I did, it did not turn out to be significant. Do you have any genealogy on the descendants of Elizabeth Piggott? I was thinking just a couple of days ago about contacting you for it because the family files I have don't include any information.

  5. Has there been any follow-up to the Captain Cannon research? There is a story in our family that Angus Cannon, my great-grandfather, went to the Isle of Man when he was older (and wealthier!) and found his grandfather's ship's log in a shop there. Is this just one of those unsubstantiated family stories?

    1. The ship log was found and I've done a post on it. See http://cannundrum.blogspot.com/2010/04/captain-george-cannon-logbook-of-iris.html

  6. I had heard about your research and was so glad to learn all the resources you have checked minutely. Thank you. Ancestors of my father, Kenneth Lynn Cannon, were Mary Alice Cannon Lambert and Angus Munn Cannon, siblings; Dad's parents were 1st cousins once removed. I'm sending your website to my own siblings.

  7. would love to see more of this please, cheers Gary Cannon, Australia

  8. John Cannon was my Great, Great, Great, grandfather

  9. https://www.easyliveauction.com/catalogue/lot/23ec1c3b2fa5dd9c7e6e78614926f77f/0af8d24542e81eb9357e7ef448a6646f/furniture-clocks-rugs-lot-1289/ Might this have belonged to your Capt Cannon? It appears to have been bought by my relative around 1812

    1. (Bob) Mr. Colclough, I'm just seeing your comment. It very well could have belonged to our Captain Cannon. 1812 would have been shortly after his death and could have been a sale by his wife to get some money. Any idea where it was purchased?