An incident on the Mississippi River in December 1772, just a few months after the Hoopers arrived in Natchez, resulted in six men, including Absalom Hooper, Innes Hooper, and Charles Holmes (probably a relative of Absalom’s wife) being charged with murder and robbery. Innes Hooper and Charles Holmes were eventually hanged for the crime but Absalom Hooper and the others somehow escaped prosecution and Absalom was eventually pardoned. Contemporary accounts of the incident are sparse, mainly found in old newspapers.
Initial reports of murder on the Mississippi
The following article appeared with a dateline of 29 July 1773 in the August editions of a number of northern colonial newspapers.1 It refers to an attack that took place four months earlier
By letters from the Illinois, we learn that the Spaniards have seized 4,000£ worth of peltry belonging to one Ducharm, a Frenchman who had been trading up the Missouri, a large river that discharges itself into the Mississippi, contrary to the Order of Government, as a Proclamation had been issued, declaring it Death to have any intercourse with the Indians of that Country, and they had committed some Outrages against the Spaniards. He defended his property with great Bravery, but being wounded in the Attack in Places, he made his escape with an Indian.
In late 1772 Jean-Marie Ducharme, a Canadian who had been trading along the Illinois and Missouri Rivers, crossed the Mississippi into Spanish territory to trade guns and supplies with the Osage nation in direct violation of Spanish regulations. The Spanish Lieutenant Governor in St. Louis organized an expedition to capture Ducharme, and in In March 1773 the Spanish found him on the Missouri River. Ducharme was wounded as described, escaping with an Iroquois companion, but the other members of his party were captured.
The story changed in followup articles
A week later the story changed. The New York Gazette published the following item in its issue of 9 August 1773, on page 3. It was subsequently repeated in several newspapers.2 By late August the story had been picked up by Boston and New England newspapers as well. The first publication in the south appears to have been in the Virginia Gazette on 2 September 1773.
The Robbery of one Ducharm, on the River Mississipi (sic), as mentioned in our last, was not committed by the Spaniards, but by the Six following Englishmen, viz. Joseph Howard, Amos Hooper, Charles Holmes, Reason Young, Richard Hollaway, and Absolam Hooper. They not only were guilty of the Robbery, but afterwards murdered poor Ducharm; for which crime the three first are in Confinement, in a Spanish Gaol, having confessed their guilt; and the three latter it was expected would soon be taken, and it is to be hoped will meet with their Deserts. Extract of a Letter from our Correspondent at Pensacola, dated July 12, 1773.
Conflating two separate incidents
These newspaper reports confused two different incidents. The attack on Duscharme by the Spanish took place on the Missouri River — not the Mississippi — in March 1773. The robbery carried out by the six Englishmen had occurred four months earlier and many miles away on the lower Mississippi.
The letter from Pensacola was apparently carried to New York on the Sloop Mississippi returning from Natchez via Pensacola. Aboard that ship was a four-man committee representing a group of “Military Adventurers” from Connecticut who were exploring and subdividing into townships a large grant on the west bank of the Mississippi. Accompanying articles speak of the rapid settlement of Natchez by “above four hundred families that within the last six weeks have come down the Ohio from Virginia and the Carolinas, no less than four vessels have arrived from North-Carolina only, filled with inhabitants.” A party from New Jersey led by Parson Sweezy “are lately arrived” as well.
The following appeared in the Massachusetts Spy (Boston) issue of 26 August 1773, on page 2, and in the New Hampshire Gazette the following day, perhaps subsequently in other papers:
Friday last the sloop Mississippi, Capt. Goodrich, arrived at New York from the River Mississippi but last from Pensacola, in twenty-six days, having passengers Col. Israel Putnam, Capt. Roger Enos, Mr. Thaddeus Lyman, and Lieut. Rufus Putnam, who were a committee for the company of military adventurers (so called) for exploring the lands bounded west on the river Mississippi, and north on the river Yasou… and on Tuesday last Col. Putnam and Lieut. Putnam arrived her by water from New York, after eight months absence.
The following accounts is (sic) received from the above gentlemen, viz. “In the month of December last, as a French boat was coming down the Mississippi, about twenty leagues above the Natches, she was robbed of about 600 skins, 600 dollars, and a large quantity of flour; and all her people were murdered (being three white men and two blacks.) The villains who perpetrated this crime are supposed to be Joshua Haywood, Earnest Hooper, Charles Holmes, Reason Young, Richard Holloway, and Absolam (sic) Hooper, most of whom, if not all, were of the Regulators of North Carolina, except Haywood, who was servant to Col. Fanning. They were all combined in a horrid scheme to rob all French boats t hat should fall into their hands, and the better to secret their villainies, Haywood set out for an Indian trader; in order to dispose of the skins they should get, they all lived near the Natches, and for the above purpose went up the river, where meeting with the Frenchman, they invited them on shore, on pretense of trading with them, where they perpetrated the horrid crime, by each shooting his man. The three whites were killed out right, but the blacks only wounded. These villains propagated a report that this and some other mischiefs were done by the savages; but the above gentlemen found them of quite a different temper, and think themselves bound in justice to those tribes, whom they found very hospitable, to give the above information to the public.”
This account is second or third-hand as these men could not have learned of the robbery until at least three months after the fact. The diary of Lt. Rufus Putnam, which includes his detailed journal of the trip, make it clear that the men and the sloop Mississippi did not depart New York until mid-January 1773 and did not arrive in Pensacola until the first of March 1773, nearly three months after the robbery occurred. 3 His memoirs, incidentally, make no mention of the incident.
Confirmation in British Colonial records
On 1 June 1773 the Spanish Governor at New Orleans, Luis Luis Unzaga e Amezaga, wrote to Peter Chester, the British Governor in Pensacola, that at least some of the culprits had been apprehended. British colonial records include a letter by Chester “responding to Unzaga’s letter to him about the barbarous murders on the Mississippi River; expressing satisfaction that the Spanish apprehended the murderers and cooperated in turning him (sic) over to British authorities.”4
It appears that only three of the culprits had been captured, one of whom evidently was freed after giving evidence against the other two.5 They were not convicted for nearly a year. British Colonial records contain a letter from Governor Chester complaining about the high expenses for prosecution of Innis Hooper and Charles Holmes “who were lately executed for the Robbery which they committed on the Mississippi in December 1772”; 6
20 April 1774 Proclamation by British Governor
A proclamation by the Governor of Florida was published in several issues of Rivington’s New York Gazetteer as early as 21 July 1774 and as late as 21 October 1774, and surely in scores of other newspapers. Due to its length it is reproduced on a separate page.
That document explains that Absalom Hooper, Richard Holloway, and Reason Young were all still at large but had been indicted for murder and robbery. A reward of £100 was offered for their capture.
Innis Hooper and Charles Holmes are hanged
Governor Chester’s proclamation notes that the two were to be hanged on 4 May 1774, and his letter mentioned above confirms that the executions had taken place.
Absalom Hooper is pardoned
Two of the culprits, Reason Young and Richard Holloway, seem to disappear entirely from the records, perhaps vanishing into the wilderness. Absalom Hooper, though, reappeared in West Florida two years later. On 1 November1776 the West Florida Council was entertaining “a pardon request from Absolum Hooper, accused of robbery on the Mississippi River.” 7 The pardon must have been granted, as he subsequently appears in Natchez records and enjoyed some notoriety there.
- Specifically, the early August 1773 editions of the New York Gazette, the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy, the Boston Evening Post, the New York Journal, the Connecticut Journal and several other newspapers. [↩]
- Including the New-York Journal issue of 12 August 1773 on page 3, in Rivington’s New York Gazetteer issues of 12 August 1773, on page 3, in the Pennsylvania Chronicle issue of 16 August 1773, and in the Connecticut Journal issue of 13 August. [↩]
- The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam (Houghton, Mifflin, 1903), pages 37, 38. [↩]
- British Colonial Records CO5, Reel 7, Volume 590, Item 38 as summarized by David Library of the American Revolution at https://www.amphilsoc.org/sites/default/files/2020-01/attachments/CO5West%20Florida.pdf — hereafter referred to simply as “CO5” [↩]
- Anne Goodwin reported via email that one of her correspondents discovered a record that Joshua Haywood had turned on the others. [↩]
- CO5, Reel 7: Volume 591: Official correspondence and documents 1773-1774, Items 85-87. [↩]
- CO5, Reel 8: Volume 592: Official correspondence and documents 1771-1776, Item 107. [↩]