Saucy Shrimp of South Carolina

On June 18th, 1812, the President of the United States of America declared war on Great Britain in what is now known as the War of 1812. Nearly 2 months later, on August 6th, a private boat by the name of the “Saucy Jack” was launched off the coast of South Carolina and used to defeat around 40 British ships- making it the most successful privately owned ship involved in the War of 1812. Several years later, in 1855, a man closely tied to this ship by the name of Dr. John Phillip Chazal would donate a few marine animals such as fish and shrimp to the Charleston Museum. These specimens would eventually end up in the hands of a crustacean-loving curator at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves…

Around 1793, the Haitian Revolution was in full swing and refugees were fleeing to the United States in search of a better, more promising life for themselves and their families. Among those refugees was a French couple by the names Jean Pierre and Elizabeth Chazal. In the midst of this insurrection, the Chazal family settled in Charleston, South Carolina and several years later, doubled the size of their small family with the addition of two beautiful baby boys. Meanwhile, from 1807 to 1812- right in the midst of this migration- the United States was having disagreements with the giant Great Britain over economics and power. On June 18th, 1812, President James Madison responded to pressures from Congress and declared war on Great Britain. What began as a battle over maritime rights, quickly became a land and sea battle between rookie “American” soldiers, power-hungry Brits, and the Native Americans who wanted them all gone. One very crucial aspect of this mess was the sailors who were doing their best to protect the coast and prevent the arrival of even more British soldiers. These sailors became known as “legal pirates” and one of the most notable, was Captain Jean Pierre Chazal.

The Chazal Residence: 66 Anson St. Image courtesy of Historic Charleston Foundation.

Which brings us back to the Chazal family… Jean Pierre very quickly made a name for himself as captain of a privateer by the name of the “Saucy Jack”. This ship- owned by John Everingham- was a 90 foot long unstoppable beast. When the war ended in February of 1815, the “Saucy Jack” and Captain Jean Pierre had conquered around 40 ships and proved to be not only an asset to the United States, but also extremely profitable for Everingham. Unfortunately, not long after the war’s end Jean Pierre passed away, leaving Elizabeth and her two sons to make a life for themselves in Charleston and cutting his legacy short.

Nearly a decade later, the Chazal family (now sadly missing Jean Pierre) purchased what is now a historic landmark in Charleston, SC- a beautiful home for Jean Pierre’s widow and 2 sons. Sources say that Elizabeth Chazal purchased this land for $1, and though some would like to believe a man must have been behind this business deal, Elizabeth’s name is on all of the receipts involving the purchase of this land and the construction of the home which was finally completed in 1839. Today, Charleston visitors can walk by the three-story colonial-style brick home on Anson St. and imagine what life for Elizabeth and her sons- John Phillip and Peter Augustus- would have been like.

saucy jack article
Article from the New York Sun about the Saucy Jack. Circa 1913. Image courtesy of Chronicling America.

Now at this point you may be wondering why in the world a few scientists from the NCMNS’s Non-Molluscan Invertebrates Unit care about a friendly pirate from the 1800s. To be honest… we don’t- or rather, we wouldn’t have- if not for his oldest son John Phillip. After his father’s death, John Phillip went on to become a physician, stayed in the Charleston area and after the death of his mother, Elizabeth, inherited the infamous house on Anson St. From our research we have found that John Phillip was an intelligent doctor and benevolent man. Following the 1886 earthquake that (quite literally) rocked Charleston’s people, Chazal volunteered as one of the physicians who would aid those impacted by the disaster. Dr. Chazal spent some of the later part of his life serving as the dean of the Medical College of South Carolina and lived in the house on Anson St. until his death in 1893. It is clear to us that Dr. Chazal inherited his father’s love of the sea or at the very least, his talent for ocean activities, because around 1855 Dr. Chazal donated several shrimp to the Charleston Museum. More than 160 years later, those shrimp are now the oldest specimens in the NCMNS’s Non-Molluscan Invertebrate Collection.

Dr. John Phillip Chazal. Image courtesy of FindAGrave.

The shrimp that Dr. Chazal donated are commonly known as White Shrimp. Their scientific name is Penaeus setiferus and they were first described by Linnaeus in 1767. Even in 1855, this species of shrimp was quite common- it was the first species of shrimp caught commercially and this was done as early as 1709. So, we aren’t really sure why Dr. Chazal felt compelled to bring this particular lot of specimens to the Charleston Museum. These shrimp fall under the Phylum Arthropoda, which we have mentioned more than a few times in our blog (are you sensing a theme?). In addition to these shrimp, Dr. Chazal also donated a few specimen lots of fish (which proved to be very useful in trying to dig up more information on this man). Obviously we have no way of knowing what was going through his head, but it is fun to speculate. Perhaps he went fishing for dinner and brought those specimens that he didn’t think would taste very good?

So is it making a little more sense now? We set out on a mission to find our oldest specimen in the collection, and in doing so uncovered an absolutely fascinating story about a legal pirate, a fearless widow, a kind doctor, and a few saucy shrimp from Charleston.

by Andie Woodson.

One of the specimens currently residing in the NCMNS NMI Collection. Image courtesy of Dr. Bronwyn Williams.
One of the specimens currently residing in the NCMNS NMI Collection. Image courtesy of Dr. Bronwyn Williams.
Note written by Dr. John Phillip Chazal regarding health of local enslaved woman. Image courtesy of Digital Commonwealth.

Thanks for joining us on this Natural History Deep Dive! If you would like to follow the everyday adventures of our lab, check us out on Twitter and Instagram at @BWWilliamsLab. We hope you enjoyed this awesome story as much as we did. If so, please share it with your friends and let us know in the comments! Signed, the NMI Lab.



4 thoughts on “Saucy Shrimp of South Carolina

  1. What a cool article! Dr. John Phillip Chazal is my great great Grandfather. He was indeed a very interesting and loving man. Reading this I learned yet another fun fact about him! Shrimp! Who knew?!

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