Captain John Eliot Banner

John Eliot (1741 - 1769)

John was the eighth child and third son of Richard Eliot and Harriot Craggs, known to family and friends as "Jack".

Harriot Craggs meticulously recorded the births and baptisms of her children in the family Bible. Jack was born at Molenick (a farmhouse near Port Eliot), on 12 Jun 1741, at the very early hour of one o'clock in the morning, and was baptised at St. German's the next day. (Some transcriber has misread Jack's birth year as 1742, but 1741 is the correct date.) Extant family letters offer a few glimpses into Jack's childhood; e.g., his recovery, at the age of two years, from a cold and, at the age of six years, his survival following a smallpox inoculation*.

Little Jacky's childhood was not without sorrow. As Jack was nearing his sixth birthday, his older brother died, quiet unexpectedly and away from the family. Eighteen months later, his father died, leaving a bereft family to cope with a struggling estate. The year after that, Jack was sent to Mr. Graham's school in Hackney (London), and his mother married Captain John Hamilton, dear family friend and officer in the Royal Navy.

Divider Line

Most of what we know about Captain Eliot's career was researched by Professor Robert Rea of Auburn University, who published his findings in two fabulous magazine articles. The piece published in 1979 by "The Florida Historical Quarterly" centers on the naval career of Captain John Eliot. The one published in 1977 by "The Alabama Review" concentrates on Eliot's early life in Cornwall and governorship in Florida. Click on the buttons to read the original articles.

Click to Read Professor Rea's 1977 Article

Click to Read Professor Rea's 1979 Article

Divider Line

Jack's naval career officially began in 1752, when he signed on as Midshipman aboard the HMS Penzance, but he soon after returned home to finish his schooling in England. His first command was the 12-gun sloop Hawke, his last the 12-gun gun-brig HMS Firm. He rose to the rank of Captain, but his naval career ended abruptly when, in 1767, he received the appointment of Governor of West Florida.

It was nearly two years before Captain Eliot set sail from Plymouth to assume command of the fort at West Florida. Between the time of his appointment and his departure, John spent time at Port Eliot with the family and, apparently, in Plymouth with a woman named Mary Wyatt. On 23 Jul 1768, at St. Andrew's Church in Plymouth, John Wyatt, baseborn son of Mary Wyatt, was baptised. Whether Captain Eliot ever saw his son before he left for America is unknown, but the boy was well provided for, as evidenced by the wills of the Captain's sisters.

During the three-month passage to Florida (January-April 1769), it was recorded that John began to suffer from violent headaches, each worse than the last. More symptoms of serious illness began to manifest, until he could no longer stand up under the strain of it all. During the night of May 1, 1769, Governor Eliot hanged himself in the study of the Governor's House at Pensacola. (It is now assumed by some that he was, unbeknownst to anyone, suffering from a brain tumour.)

In the short month of John Eliot's governorship of West Florida, the people of Pensacola grew to love him. He was well-suited to the job, and his premature death was considered a great loss to the work underway at Pensacola. His body was laid to rest in a parallel, outside the fort stockade, in what was then referred to as the "Burial Ground of the Fort at Pensacola", and a twenty-gun salute was fired, in tribute, from the Tryall. Unfortunately, the Governor's final resting place was only a short distance from the shore, and it was not long before the grave was undermined by the encroaching waters of the Gulf and the Spanish marauders who carried away the bricks from the enclosure surrounding the grave. Nothing now remains, above water, of the last resting place of Governor John Eliot. His belongings were sent back to his brother in England, which box is now lurking in some dark corner in the family house of Port Eliot, just waiting to be discovered.

Known Likenesses of Captain John Eliot, R.N.

*April of 1748 found Edward, the eldest Eliot son, away on his continental tour and the rest of the family in their London home on Jermyn Street. In a letter to Edward, Richard conveys the news that four of the children had recently been inoculated with a live smallpox vaccine. "Your Momma received last night your kind epistles, just as she sat down to play a rubber at whist with Mr. Hamilton, Nancy, and Harriot, for the first time after their recovery of the smallpox." He went on to explain that Jack and Kitty had also been inoculated, in what a favorable manner they'd had the distemper, how it turned on the seventh day, and how their beauties remained.

1764 Drawing of the Fort at Pensacola