John Eliot

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John Eliot
Born June 2, 1742
Port Eliot, Cornwall
Died May 2, 1769
Occupation British officer, Governor of West Florida
Parents Richard & Harriot Craggs Eliot

John Eliot (1742-1769) was governor of British West Florida for a one-month period in 1769.

Naval career[edit]

Hailing from a family with considerable political connections, Eliot began his naval career in 1752 as a midshipman. In 1757 he joined the Augusta as a third lieutenant, where he served alongside first lieutenant George Johnstone, who would also become governor of British West Florida. Eliot later served on the sloops Viper, Dreadnought and Hornet, the latter as lieutenant.

In 1759, Eliot's sister Elizabeth married Charles Cocks of Eastnor, which connected their family to George Anson, First Lord of the Admiralty. At the urging of Eliot's brother Edward, Anson soon arranged to have young John made captain of the sloop Hawke.

After only a few months in command of the ship, the Hawke was captured by the French privateer ship Duc de Choiseul, and her crew was taken to St. Malo. Thanks to his family connections, Eliot and a handful of other prisoners were traded for a French pilot in March 1760. At the subsequent court martial, Eliot was praised by members of the Hawke's crew for his "great calmness and resolution" during the attack and was concluded to have "behaved like a gallant officer, and, with his officers and seamen, [taken] every prudent measure in his power to defend and save the sloop." Having been acquitted "of all blame and censure," Eliot was assigned to Baltic convoy duty the next month.

His next commissions were aboard the Coventry and the Unicorn, the latter's captain having died, before taking command of his new vessel, Thames, in March 1761. The ship's complement was reduced after the end of the Seven Years War, and Eliot's next few years were largely uneventful. While transporting Ambassador Henry Greenville home from Constantinople in November 1765, the Thames was waylaid by a severe leak and did not reach Plymouth until February 1766. Thereafter Eliot began an extended shore leave before taking command of the guardship Firm.


When George Johnstone returned to England in 1767 after two years as governor of West Florida, Eliot's brother Edward — now a member of the Board of Trade — and their uncle Robert Nugent arranged to have John appointed to lead the colony, and it was confirmed by the Earl of Shelburne on March 16. Eliot's naval service ended on June 11 of that year, but circumstances delayed his shipment to Pensacola, and Montfort Browne served as governor during the interim.

In January 1769, Eliot departed from his family home in Port Eliot to America aboard the sloop Tyral, making stops in Madeira and St. Kitts, where he apparently purchased two slaves, Susan and Kattie. The Tyral anchored at Santa Rosa Island on April 1, and Eliot arrived in Pensacola and took office as governor on April 2.

During the trip, Eliot had been "afflicted with a violent pain in his head" severe enough to "deprive him the enjoyment of any of the pleasures of his life." After a brief remission, the malady — probably a brain tumor — returned "with greater violence than before" on May 1, giving "great uneasiness" to the British subjects who saw its effects, which included a deterioration of his handwriting. On May 2, Eliot was so wracked with pain that "it totally deprived him of his senses," and he hanged himself in the study of the Governor's House. He received a 21-gun salute from the Tyral and was buried outside the Fort at Pensacola.


  • Robert R. Rea. "The Naval Career of John Eliot, Governor of West Florida." Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume 57, Number 4, April 1979.