naval officer and privateer, was born in North Parish, New London, Conn, on 17 June 1772. His signature is always David Jewett, but in a couple of signatures, written flamboyantly, it can be misread as Daniel. Also, on just two documents out of many others in his Argentine archive file, his surname looks like Jewitt. This is probably how the incorrect version of his name, Daniel Jewitt, came about. Unfortunately Louis VERNET always refers to him as this, in far better known documents written years later. This has misled historians ever since. His true name is David Jewett.
Jewett studied law for a time, but then joined the United States Navy. Commissioned a captain in 1791, he seems to have taken part in the undeclared naval war between the United States and France in 1799-1801 and to have been a successful privateer in the War of 1812-1814*.
In mid-1815 he made his way to South America, where chaos reigned as the Spanish colonies fought, first for independence from Spain and then against each other. Jewett took to Buenos Aires his own ship, the Invincible, a 440 ton, 40 gun frigate with a crew of 180, and offered his services to the United Provinces of the River Plate. On 23 June 1815 he was granted a 'letter of marque'* by the United Provinces to prey on Spanish shipping, with the proviso that Spanish property found under the flags of Britain or the United States was to be respected. After a privateering voyage lasting 27 months, during which he captured four Spanish ships, he returned to Buenos Aires in early 1817, and the Invincible (now spelt Invencible) was sold. Presumably Jewett pocketed the profits from the sale of the ship as well as some of the prize money.
At that time Patrick Lynch, a well-established Buenos Aires merchant of Irish origin, was fitting out a privateer at his own expense, eventually named Heroína. On 15 January 1820, at Lynch's request, Jewett was commissioned as a colonel in the United Provinces navy and placed in command of the Heroína, which thus became a naval vessel as well as a privateer. It is important to note that Jewett's commission made no mention of the Falklands; his purpose was again to attack the shipping of Spain, with which the United Provinces were still at war. The ship had a crew of 200 men, mostly British or American, with a detachment of 42 Spanish-speaking soldiers.
In late March 1820 Jewett left the River Plate: the voyage was a disaster. The Heroína leaked badly, as did the water casks; they had little money, so getting supplies was difficult. They failed to find a single Spanish ship in the entire Atlantic, but on 27 July 1820 they did at last capture a prize, the Portuguese merchantman Carlota. Jewett put a prize crew on board her and took her crew and passengers aboard the Heroína. The two ships then sailed on in company southward. But the United Provinces were not officially at war with Portugal, so capturing the Carlota was piracy on the high seas, and was condemned as such, not merely by a Portuguese prize court in 1822 but by Jewett's own crew at the time. Many of them, being British, regarded Portugal as an ally and planned to mutiny against Jewett, but he discovered the plot and had four men executed on deck by firing squad. There was another mutiny on the prize ship, which Jewett likewise foiled. The crews of both ships began to be severely affected by scurvy and many died. Then on 20 October the Carlota was parted from the Heroina by a violent gale and foundered with the entire prize crew.
Having lost the Carlota, Jewett had to decide what to do. If he returned to Buenos Aires with no prizes and a decimated crew, it would mean the end of his career. He decided to go to the Falklands, which he no doubt regarded as Spanish and therefore fair game, probably in the hope of finding Spanish prizes there. Many accounts, Argentine, British and American, imply that he was commissioned to go there, and Argentine accounts even suggest he was on an official expedition to claim the Falklands. There is no evidence for this. In the first place, no such orders survive, and secondly, he was on a privateering voyage, and had spent seven months hunting for Spanish prizes in the Atlantic before going to the Falklands. If he had captured any prizes, he would have taken them to Buenos Aires rather than to the deserted and distant Falklands. But since he had lost the Carlota, that constraint did not apply; the Falklands were a place where his crew could recover, but could not desert him, and he might find some Spanish prizes there. The Heroína anchored in Berkeley Sound on 27 October 1820. More men died on shore and both ship and crew were in a parlous state. In his subsequent report Jewett said:
The state of the Heroina on entering this port cannot be adequately described and scarcely imagined. Only ten effective seamen calculated to do the duty of the ship, to attend the sick, the dying, and to bury the dead - without the most distant hope of relief.
Berkeley Sound was very probably entirely deserted when Jewett arrived. Many accounts state he found it full of ships, but he mentions no other ships in his letters, and although his ship and crew were in dire straits, he received no help at all on the spot. The only ship he managed to contact was the sealing brig Jane, anchored in Port Salvador north-west of Port Louis. On 2 November Jewett addressed a letter to her captain - her flag told him she was British, but he did not know her captain's name. If there had been any other ships in Berkeley Sound, his men would have had to go past them to take his letter to the Jane, an absurd proceeding. The Jane's captain was James WEDDELL, who walked across to Berkeley Sound to meet Jewett. Weddell, too, mentions no other ships in his account. Weddell helped Jewett move the Heroína up the Sound to the anchorage off Port Louis and then spent the night on board, where Jewett recounted his voyage.
Accounts that Jewett found fifty ships in the Falklands, told them to stop fishing (i.e. killing seals), and leave the Islands are completely untrue. They come from a report written by Louis Vernet at the urgent request of Argentine Foreign Minister Manuel Vicente de Maza twelve years later, in 1832, when Argentina was faced with the aftermath of Vernet's own activities, which had led to the Lexington raid and a diplomatic crisis with the Americans. In this report, Vernet confused his own activities with Jewett's - or perhaps deliberately sought to portray his own activities as no more than something done much earlier by Jewett too. Vernet even named fifteen ships as having been at Port Louis when Jewett was there, though some of them are known for certain not to have been there at that time. Vernet's erroneous account has unfortunately become traditional, and has found its way into several accounts of the history of the Falklands.
In late 1820 there was a rush of British and American ships to the newly-discovered sealing grounds in the South Shetlands. Many of these ships stopped for water and provisions at the Falklands, mostly around the western islands, but a few went to Port Louis. While they were there, on 6 November 1820, Jewett announced he was 'taking possession' of the Islands for the United Provinces: he read out a declaration to that effect under a Buenos Aires flag and the Heroína fired a salute. He clearly regarded the islands as Spanish; 'taking possession' of them continued his anti-Spanish activities. Spain, however, had not abandoned her claim to them, and indeed never formally did so. Some Argentine and American accounts imply that Jewett's 'declaration' was witnessed by a large number of people, but there is no evidence for that - James Weddell was there, and the captains of one or more sealing ships, plus no doubt some of Jewett's own crew, but that may well have been all. On 9 November Jewett sent a letter to Captain William Orne of the sealer General Knox, of Salem, Massachusetts, informing him of the claim, which implies that Orne had not been present at the possession ceremony. The sealing ships then left, including James Weddell in the Jane; Orne continued sealing around the Falklands for several more months, and on his return to Salem on 5 June 1821 he gave Jewett's letter to the local newspaper, the Salem Gazette.
Jewett remained at Port Louis in the Heroína for almost six months vainly waiting for prizes; Argentine accounts say he 'enforced Argentine sovereignty', but that is wide of the mark. In fact his total inactivity led to a near-mutiny when in January 1820 Laureano Ansoátegui, the commander of the embarked troops, challenged Jewett to return to Buenos Aires, on the grounds that they were 'vegetating' at Port Louis, were in no condition to take any prizes, were doing no good to the crew or shareholders, and had reached the end of the eight-month period of service they had all signed on for. Jewett regarded this as mutiny and relieved Ansoátegui of his command.
But not a single Spanish ship appeared at Port Louis; the Heroína and her crew were in much too poor a state to capture anything, and the men dangerously insubordinate. In the end Jewett decided to resign his commission. Since he had been entirely without contact with Buenos Aires for almost a year, his whereabouts and his decision to resign were unknown to the authorities there. In the absence of Spanish ships, he seized an American schooner, the Rampart, captain Thomas Farrin, at anchor at Port Louis, on the grounds that she was carrying Spanish goods. He sent her to Buenos Aires under a prize crew, carrying his resignation and a long report of his activities to the government in Buenos Aires, dated 1 February 1821. This report, written in English, runs to 13 pages and describes the entire voyage of the Heroína - but it does not mention any claim to the Falklands! Jewett kept that to himself, perhaps knowing he had exceeded his instructions and probably not wanting to give any advantage to the Buenos Aires government, whose inveterate enemy he later became. The government would never have known about the claim if it had not been reported months later in American and British newspapers.
The Rampart arrived in Buenos Aires on 17 March 1821, and from her captain the United Provinces government learnt for the first time that Jewett was in the Falklands (but not that he had claimed the Islands). His seizure of the Rampart caused the new American chargé d'affaires, John Murray Forbes, to write to Patrick Lynch protesting about breaches of privateering rules. In his replies Lynch makes no mention of the Argentine claim to sovereignty - like the Buenos Aires government he knew nothing about it. Forbes also denounced Jewett to the US government as a pirate. The Rampart was later released, but her cargo was forfeit.
Jewett was replaced as captain of the Heroína by an Englishman, Colonel William Robert Mason, who arrived at Port Louis on 21 April 1821. Jewett returned to Buenos Aires in the ship that had brought Mason and a new crew, and finally left the service of the United Provinces. He still kept the news of the 'taking possession' of the Falklands to himself, but he could not prevent the publication of his letter to Captain Orne in the Salem Gazette on 8 June 1821. This letter was the first news of Jewett's claim; it was reprinted in the Times of London on 3 August 1821 and its substance (though not its full text) was reported in a Gibraltar newspaper. This was then picked up by a Cadiz newspaper. Its report was finally reproduced, as if it were a foreign news story, in the Argos of Buenos Aires on 10 November 1821. This was the first intimation to the Buenos Aires government of any claim raised by Jewett to the Falklands.
By the time news of his actions reached Buenos Aires, Jewett himself was about to leave. In mid-1822 he went to Brazil in a former Spanish ship named Maipú, which had been captured by his successor William Mason and sent to Buenos Aires. The ship was now Jewett's property, and he sold her to the Imperial Brazilian navy, which renamed her Caboclo. Jewett was commissioned as captain of the frigate Union on 6 October 1822, and served with distinction in the Brazilian navy, chiefly on shore, reaching the rank of Chefe de Divisão, or vice-admiral. On the outbreak of war between Brazil and the United Provinces in early 1826, he asked to be excused from active service on grounds of health - he was now 54 years old. He continued to hold high rank in the Brazilian navy, which blockaded Buenos Aires until peace was declared in 1828. In 1827 he was sent to oversee the building of two warships in the United States, where he met and married Eliza McTiers. Their only child, Augustine David Lawrence Jewett, was born in Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania, on 12 January 1830. The family then returned to Brazil.
During the dispute between Argentina and the United States over the Falklands in 1831-1833, Jewett actively assisted the US government. Francis Baylies, the US chargé d'affaires in Buenos Aires, wrote on 1 January 1833 to Secretary of State Edward Livingston saying:
Jewett - Pirate as he is, having a deadly quarrel with the Govt of Buenos Ayres - is on our side, and has given Captain DUNCAN much valuable information respecting the waters of the Río de la Plata and the best mode of annoying Buenos-Ayres in the event of a naval war.
Jewett retired from the Brazilian service in 1832, but retained his rank in their navy, promoting the introduction of steamships. He retired completely in 1836 and died in Brazil on 26 July 1842; his wife Eliza died only a few months later.
No account of Jewett would be complete without a brief summary of his successor as captain of the Heroína, William Mason, who was born in Britain but had spent many years in Philadelphia before entering the service of the United Provinces. He took over from Jewett as captain of the Heroína on 23 April 1821 and three weeks later on 13 May 1821 he sailed from the Falklands in her, leaving Port Louis deserted. He headed for Manila in the hope of finding Spanish prizes there, but the Heroína was still leaking so badly that he had to turn back from Cape Horn up the Atlantic. He eventually captured the Spanish ship Maipú, which he converted into a privateer; Jewett later took her to Brazil. With these two ships Mason captured a Portuguese ship, the Viscondesa do Río Seco, whose cargo they sent to Buenos Aires in another ship. This too was a breach of the privateering rules, and it was also piracy again, as she was not Spanish. The Heroína and Maipú also fired at the Portuguese naval frigate Providencia, but she outsailed them. The leaky state of the Heroína forced Mason to put into Gibraltar on 21 November 1821, and on leaving again four months later in March 1822, the Heroína was captured by a Portuguese frigate. She was taken into Lisbon, where a prize court condemned her as a pirate ship, both for the seizure of the Carlota under Jewett and the Viscondesa do Río Seco under Mason. Mason spent most of 1822-1824 in a prison hulk in Lisbon until the British ambassador, Sir Edward Thornton, obtained his release.
Francis Baylies sent copies of the court proceedings to US Secretary of State Livingston to back up the protests made earlier in Buenos Aires. He reported:
The proceedings in the Portuguese Court shew that from her papers she appeared to be a national vessel belonging to Buenos-Ayres and commissioned to cruise against the Spaniards, but 45 of her crew 'spontaneously' confessed that her employment was piracy, 'plundering all vessels she could overhaul'... Such is the vessel and such the officers and crew on which Luis Vernet relies, as having taken formal possession of the Falkland Islands in behalf of the Argentine Republic. If his memorial is to be considered as having been adopted by the Government of Buenos-Ayres as a part of the exposition of right and title to the Islands - then it follows that the Heroine is considered by them as a national vessel - and it is equally true that this national vessel of Buenos-Ayres was a common pirate infesting the high seas, and of the same character with those of the Barbary States, and incapable of securing to that nation, by any act, any of those rights which are regarded as legitimate, by nations - which respect the usages which form the law amongst civilized people.
Both David Jewett and William Mason now feature as 'governors of the Malvinas' in Argentine Falklands mythology. In fact neither held any official position in the Falklands; Mason spent only three weeks there, and both were long gone by the time the government in Buenos Aires found out that a claim to the Islands had been made. At various stages in their careers, both were pirates.
August 2019 New portrait added
December 2019 Additional illustration added