Admiral Duncan Quells a Mutiny
During the spring of 1797 a series of mutinies swept through
the British Fleet, sparked by poor living conditions and hard duty on blockade
against Revolutionary France, and fanned by agitators in sympathy with the
enemy. The North Sea Squadron, however,
remained largely free of disorders because its commander, Adm. Sir Adam Duncan,
paid careful attention to any hint of disorder.
If he received word that there was some unrest in a ship, Duncan would pay a
visit. Once aboard, he would make a
little speech, pointedly reminding the men of their duty and of the inevitable
punishment that would result from any acts of disloyalty. The force of his argument was coupled with
the impact of his appearance. Duncan was by far the
largest admiral in the fleet, 6’ 4”, well-built and very vigorous despite his
65 years. It was a combination that
never failed to impress the men of the fleet.
Well, most of them, anyway.
Alas, the men of HMS Adamant, a 50-gun ship, were
particularly restive. As a result, they
had been honored by several visits from the admiral, though these had done
little to alay the unrest for long. Then,
on May 14, 1797,
mutinous disorders occurred in Adamant.
Apprised of the incident, Duncan promptly had himself rowed over to the
troublesome vessel. Boarding Adamant,
he ordered the ship’s company mustered.
The men, still bound by the shreds of discipline, complied, and Duncan addressed them from
My lads, I am not in the
smallest degree apprehensive of any violent measures you may have in
contemplation; and though I assure you I would much rather acquire your love
than incur your fear, I will with my own hand put to death the first man who
shall display the slightest signs of rebellious conduct.
paused, and then asked if there was anyone present who wished to dispute his
authority, or that of the ship’s officers.
A voice rang out, “I do,” and a seaman stepped out
of the assembled ranks to stand before the Admiral.
Hardly had the man stepped forward than Duncan reached down,
grabbed him by the collar, and lifted him into the air. Holding him at arm’s length, Duncan walked over to the
ship’s bulwark. As he dangled the man
over the side, Duncan
turned to the rest of the ship’s company and said, “Lads, look at this fellow,
he who dares to deprive me of the command of the fleet.”
With that, the mutiny dissolved in laughter, and
HMS Adamant was shortly deemed to be one of the most reliable ships in
The “Mexican Spy Company.”
During the 1840s Manuel Dominguez was a noted – or notorious – highwayman who made his living terrorizing the Mexican countryside between Vera Cruz and Mexico City at the head of a gang of 200 bandidos. Dominguez, like many of history’s more notable bandits, whether real or fictional – Robin Hood, Marco Scauro, Dick Turpin – had style; after robbing someone, he gave them his business card, which they were to use as a sort of pass in the event that they were accosted by other brigands.
Dominguez viewed the outbreak of war between Mexico and the United States in 1846 as good for business, for not only did it mean that the Mexican Army would be too busy to undertake routine patrols against highway robbers, but the arrival of the American Army would provide additional pickings. And in fact, during the early part of Winfield Scott’s campaign in Mexico, Dominguez and his merry men several times robbed American troops, including some officers. By chance, shortly after Scott’s army began its march from the coast toward Mexico City, Dominguez and a few of his men had been caught by a Mexican Army patrol – apparently the war hadn’t diverted as many resources from constabulary duties as he had anticipated. As a result, when Scott marched into Puebla on May 15, 1847, Dominguez was a guest in the local jail.
Now Scott’s chief of intelligence was Col. Ethan Allen Hitchcock, grandson of the famed “Green Mountain Boy” of the American Revolution. Shortly after the army occupied Puebla, Hitchcock learned of Dominguez’s whereabouts. As resourceful as his famous ancestor, Hitchcock made Dominguez an offer, essentially “We’ll let out of jail if you work for us.” Considering his options, Dominguez readily agreed. On June 26th Hitchcock sprang Dominguez and a dozen or so fellow-bandidos from jail. True to his word, in a short time Dominguez recruited most of his old gang for American service. They became the “Mexican Spy Company,” wearing a wonderfully colorful uniform, complete with green dragoon jackets and lances. The company served as guides, scouts, and couriers, while performing occasional guerrilla and anti-guerrilla operations. Dominguez’s extensive contacts in the underworld and the not-so-underworld – after all, bandits often have well-placed patrons, sympathizers, and partners – provided Hitchcock with an information conduit that reached right into Mexico City itself.
Manuel Dominguez and the men of the Mexican Spy Company, who eventually numbered perhaps 2,000, were immensely valuable to the American campaign, not only providing invaluable information, but also helping to protect the army’s very long lines of supply. Nor did they refrain from conventional combat, playing a role in the Battle of Churubusco (August 20, 1847), one of the fights that led to Scott’s capture of Mexico City. So important were they in this regard, that that Mexico’s “President-General” Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna – surely one of the sleaziest characters in history – tried very hard to hire them away from the Americans, offering a general pardon for all prior crimes and a substantial bribe, including a commission as a colonel in the Mexican Army. An honest crook, Dominguez refused.
After the war, Dominguez and several hundred of his men moved to the United States, where they settled in Texas and Louisiana. Dominguez himself became something of a minor celebrity, and was invited to visit President Polk in the White House. Even before that, Dominguez had met a certain future president, having worked with a certain junior officer who, in a later war, would display some skill at intelligence, skill perhaps learned from his experiences working with the Mexican Spy Company, Ulysses S. Grant.