History of the Mutiny on the U.S. Somers Part 2

About the history of the mutiny aboard the U.S. Somers in 1842 captained by Alexander Mackenzie.



The next day a topmast crashed to the deck, and Mackenzie labeled it an act of sabotage. He had Spencer's friends Cromwell and Small arrested and put in irons, even though their names did not appear on Spencer's list. Next, Mackenzie noticed the sailors exchanging "suspicious glances"--whether these were "suspicious glances" or expressions of fear and confusion is not known--and ordered the officers to arm themselves.

On Nov. 30, Mackenzie ordered four more sailors arrested who had been late for roll call and whose names were on Spencer's list. That same evening, a council of officers met to try Spencer, Cromwell, and Small on charges of mutiny. The three defendants were not present at their trial, nor were they informed that it was being held. Thirteen witnesses were called, and none gave any concrete evidence except Wales, who mentioned only Spencer.

The following morning, Dec. 1, 1842, Mackenzie and his officers proclaimed Spencer, Cromwell, and Small guilty and sentenced them to death. The gangplank was pushed out over the side of the ship while three ropes with nooses were hung from the yardarms. Mackenzie then went to the three condemned men, who were chained to the deck, and told them that they had been tried, convicted, and were to be hanged in 10 minutes. Realizing he was doomed, Spencer insisted that Cromwell and Small were innocent of any crime. Mackenzie related this to his officers, who reaffirmed their belief in the two men's guilt by voice vote. Reassured that his officers were behind him, Mackenzie ordered the executions carried out. After the three men had been hanged, Mackenzie ordered the crew to give three cheers, which they solemnly did. That night after dinner, the corpses were cut down and buried at sea.

Aftermath. The Somers reached New York City 13 days later, and the incident created an instantaneous sensation. The summary arrest and execution of the three men and the manner of their trial caused many people to accuse Mackenzie of a breach of elementary justice and homicide. In a pamphlet entitled "The Cruise of the Somers," author and naval historian James Fenimore Cooper charged that Mackenzie, in a hysterically paranoid state of mind, had executed three innocent men and that a mutiny had existed only in Mackenzie's unbalanced mind. The navy brought the captain before a court-martial on three counts of murder and a variety of lesser charges. He was acquitted of all charges, but his detractors propounded that the navy court-martial was merely a cover-up aimed at publicly and officially exonerating him and thereby protecting the honor of the U.S. Navy.

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