Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Reading Notes: The Somers Mutiny

(No Japanese connection.)

In 1842 a Navy captain suspected mutiny on his ship. He executed three sailors without trial, including the son of the Secretary of War. The ensuing public debate concerned (1) whether there was actually a mutiny conspiracy and not just a few jokes about one, and (2) if so, whether it was necessary to execute the men immediately, rather than imprisoning them until the ship reached shore and then instituting a court-martial, as the law required.

A contemporary newspaper editorial: "It would seem...that a panic or mania prevailed...concocting mutiny out of Greek letters and nothing. It is probably the greatest farce, ending in an awful tragedy, that ever was enacted since the creation."

A few random notes:

Captain Mackensie wrote in his report that Spencer, alleged chief mutineer, "was in the habit of amusing the crew by making music with his jaw, he had the faculty of throwing his jaw out of joint, and by the contact of the bones playing with accuracy and elegance a variety of airs." With "elegance"?

Note to self: "I have learned by experience and observation, that nine-tenths of all the scrapes men get into are occasioned by writing or saying too much." Philip Hone, diary, 12/29/1842.

It's refreshing to see that some of our expressions are not recent Hollywood inventions: "I told him that if I saw him making any further signs I would blow his brains out." 12/30/1842 testimony.

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