Hugh George Campbell
Dates of Service: 5/30/1806 - 12/8/1807
Birth Date: 1760
Death Date: 11/11/1820
Little is known of Hugh George Campbell’s early life. He was born in South Carolina about 1760. At the start of the American Revolution, he volunteered for service in the South Carolina Navy and was assigned to the brig Defense. In 1775, he saw action with the British off Charleston while attempting to block a channel with scuttled hulks. Campbell likely went into the merchant service at war’s end. When the Revenue Marine was formed in late 1790, he became first mate of the cutter South Carolina. By 1798, he had risen to command of the cutter Eagle. When the ships of the Revenue Marine were taken under the United States Navy’s control during the Quasi-War with France, Campbell was commissioned a master commandant. He was promoted to captain in October 1800.
Campbell subsequently commanded the frigate Adams in Commodore Richard V. Morris’ Mediterranean Squadron in 1802, and then Constellation and Essex in Commodore Barron’s squadron in the summer of 1804. A peace treaty was signed with Tripoli in June of 1805, which concluded this period of the Barbary War in the Mediterranean Sea. In June 1806, with a much smaller U.S. squadron, Campbell succeeded Commodore John Rodgers as commander of Constitution and as commodore of the squadron.
In May 1808, Campbell took charge of gunboat construction in North Carolina, and in the following year assumed command of the “southern station” from Wilmington, North Carolina to the St. Mary’s River, the boundary with Spanish Florida. In that capacity, and until the outbreak of the War of 1812, his main concerns were the many problems with boat design and construction, as well as the administrative oversight of the Jeffersonian gunboat program.
In February 1812, Campbell, with the tacit approval of the Madison Administration, provided support to American residents on Amelia Island, Florida, who were rebelling against Spanish rule. The uprising had considerable success, and the rebels sought acquisition by the United States. Concerned that things were going too far too fast, Madison sought a stalemate. Meanwhile, in March, there was a redistricting of commands; the Carolinas became a separate command, leaving Campbell with Georgia and the border problem. In mid-May, a British war brig attempted to rescue an embargo evader under Campbell’s arrest. Though terribly out-gunned, Gunboat 168 exchanged shots with the brig, and the British finally withdrew empty-handed. At the end of June, when news of the outbreak of the War of 1812 arrived, Campbell’s gunboats captured seven British merchantmen in Spanish waters. He remained in command of the station through the end of the war and into the postwar years beyond the acquisition of Florida in 1819. Campbell died while on a trip to the nation’s capital on November 11, 1820. He was interred in the Congressional Cemetery.