Captain John "Mad Jack" Percival

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John Percival

Also Known As: "Mad Jack"
Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Son of John Percival and Mary Snow

Managed by: Private User
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About Captain John "Mad Jack" Percival

John Percival known as Mad Jack Percival (3 April 1779, – 7 September 1862) was a legendary officer in the United States Navy during the Quasi-War with France, the War of 1812, the campaign against West Indies pirates, and the Mexican-American War.


Born in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, Percival left home at thirteen to work as a cabin boy on a Boston coaster. He later served in the U.S. Navy in the Quasi-War as a master’s mate and midshipman. Released in a major demobalization, he then entered the merchant service. He was impressed by the Royal Navy and sent to HMS Victory under Lord Jervis. When placed on a Spanish prize, Percival led an uprising and escaped to the American merchant ship Washington.

In 1809, he returned to the U.S. Navy as a sailing master and was assigned to the Syren, part of the New York flotilla under Captain Jacob Lewis. He commanded Gunboat No. 6 and borrowed the fishing smack "Yankee" on the Fourth of July in 1812, using it to capture HMS Eagle, tender of 74-gun HMS Poictiers. Percival joined Peacock, on 9 March 1814, and made three cruises capturing nineteen merchantmen and two warships, HMS Epervier and Nautilus. For his gallantry in the capture of HMS Epervier, he was promoted to Lieutenant and awarded a special sword by Congress, shown in the accompanying portrait.

In 1826, he sailed the USS Dolphin into the far reaches of the uncharted Pacific to track down the mutineers of the whaleship Globe. He returned by way of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), the first American naval visit to that location. Promoted to captain in 1841, he first saved and restored the USS Constitution and then sailed the fabled warship around the world in 1844-46, Old Ironsides' only circumnavigation.

Percival's legendary reputation is enhanced by the fact that his first naval ship - the Victory - and his last naval ship - the Constitution - remain commissioned and national shrines in Britain and the U.S., respectively. Herman Melville and James Michener based characters in their novels on this colorful skipper, and Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about him. One of his admiring midshipmen, Henry A. Wise, using the pen name Harry Gringo, embellished the legend by publishing the fanciful "Tales for the Marines." Percival appears as the book's central figure under the nom de guerre "Jack Percy." Percival was known by the nickname of Mad Jack, sometimes Roaring John (attributable to his intense command style). The folk band Schooner Fare wrote and performed "The Ballad of Mad Jack", which relates incidents from his life. Despite his gruff nature, he nurtured in a fatherly manner a generation of midshipmen who rose to prominence in the U.S. Navy of the American Civil War era. Influential fathers of young midshipmen often requested their sons be assigned duty under Percival. As to seamanship, he was without a peer.

Percival married Maria Pinkerton of Trenton, New Jersey in 1809. The couple was childless. He died with the rank of Captain 7 September 1862 in Dorchester, Massachusetts and is buried near his birthplace in West Barnstable.


Two ships have been named USS Percival for him. Also, Percival Drive in West Barnstable, MA.

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Captain John "Mad Jack" Percival's Timeline

Age 83