We will begin at a most likely place to begin - the beginning. According to the Gillon family Bible, "Alexander Gillon was born in Rotterdam, Holland, on the north side of Wine Street, August 13, 1741..." (Middlebrook, The Frigate South Carolina: A Famous Revolutionary War Ship, page 25. He was christened ten days alter, on August 23, 1741 in the English Presbyterian Church in Rotterdam (RootsWeb.Ancestry.com, entry for Alexander Gillon, accessed 12/12/2014, pp. 1-2). According to family records, his father, for whom the younger Alexander was named, was a Scotsman by nationality and a sea captain by trade (RootsWeb. Ancestry.com, p. 2). The older Gillon was born about 1689 in Borrowstowness, Linlithgow, West Lothian, Scotland. He supposedly immigrated to Holland in 1726 (Lewis, Neptune's Militia, page 13). Evidently, the father had married an Englishwoman, Jannet Matthew, in Rotterdam in 1712 (RootsWeb.Ancestry.com, p. 2). There was a single daughter from this union, Jannetje. At some point after his marriage to his first wife and the birth of their daughter, Jannet Matthew died. The elder Gillon eventually remarried to Mary Harris, who had been born in Rotterdam around 1703 (Lewis, Neptune's Militia, page 170, n. 2). According to the "Wikipedia article, entry on Alexander Gillon, accessed 11/21/2014", both of Commodore Gillon's parents were of Scottish extraction, the implication being that Mary Harris was Scottish also (Wikipedia, article on Alexander Gillon, accessed 11/21/2014, p. 1). The first of the couple's eight children was born in 1729, with Alexander Gillon being the last and youngest. Of these eight children, only three of them reached adulthood - Robert, Susannah (later Susannah Hooderpyl) and Alexander (of Revolutionary War fame and object of this post )(RootsWeb.Ancestry.com, p. 2).
(Note: The language of his Rotterdam home must have been English as illustrated through the still extant letters from Commodore Gillon to his sister, Susannah Hooderpyl of Rotterdam, Holland (Lewis, Neptune's Militia, page 13) A further citation notes that Gillon's "...European, more significantly Dutch, background left him with a gift for languages. Family history maintained that he spoke seven and wrote five European tongues. While this may be a slight exaggeration, he certainly spoke English, Dutch, French and German and wrote in the first three. (Lewis, Neptune's Militia, page 14). Each of these languages would come in useful at crucial moments during his travails in acquiring and sailing the frigate South Carolina to America, right up to the point when he left her decks for his adopted home state of South Carolina in 1782.)
According to the "Wikipedia article, entry from Alexander Gillon, accessed on 11/21/2014", the younger Gillon "...pursued an education in London and stayed there for some time." But, another source goes into more detail when it states that "...as a teenager Gillon worked for four years in a Dutch counting house in London..." The older Gillon died around 1761 and at some point after this, around 1764, the younger Gillon became a sea captain and sailed a vessel to Philadelphia. History does not record the name of this vessel that he captained as it journeyed to Philadelphia, PA, - "The City of Brotherly Love". Gillon would have been twenty-three years old at the time. The following year, in February 1765, Gillon sailed the brigantine Surprize to Charleston, SC. The next year, in 1766, as the Master of the brigantine Free Mason, Gillon again returned to Charleston, SC. At some point on one of these visits to Charelston, SC, "...Gillon encountered Mary Cripps, widow of the prominent Charlestonian merchant, William Cripps..." (Lewis, Neptune's Militia, page 13). On July 13, 1766, the two were joined in matrimony. "Gillon was clearly a young man of substance when he left Europe, and he added to his wealth through marriage. He was soon viewed as one of the wealthier men in Charleston" (Lewis, Neptune's Militia, page 13-14).
The first child of Alexander and Mary Gillon would be born on January 20, 1768 in Charleston, SC. A healthy daughter, she would be named for her mother, Mary Gillon.
(Note: Mary Cripps's maiden name was Mary Splatt . She had been born in England about 1727 (RootsWeb.Ancestry.com, page 12). From her earlier union with William Cripps, she had born a son named John Splatt Cripps, who was still alive at the time of the marriage of Alexander Gillon to Mary Cripps. Evidently, William Cripps had originally been from the County of Kent, England but, had permanently settled in Charleston, SC. Mary was the daughter of Richard Splatt and his wife, Ann Mellish, both of Charleston, SC. Richard Splatt was a wealthy merchant of Charleston, SC. Upon his marriage to Mary Cripps, Alexander Gillon found himself as the step-father to John Splatt Cripps (RootsWeb.Ancestry. com, page 2).
One of his initial business ventures was a store specializing in English and Dutch merchandise located along Broad Street in Charleston, SC. He lived in the East Bay section of Charleston and "..owned land on the water front and a wharf on the river" (Middlebrook, The Frigate South Carolina, page 26). Another source states that "...at the outbreak of the Revolution he owned in Charles Town a residence on East Bay with a front on the river of hundred feet, and a parallel water lot running to the channel; also a dock on the river, The positions of these properties is marked even now by the name of Gillon Street. He also owned fifteen lots on Meeting, Hasell, and King Streets, and a plantation or tract of 5500 acres on the Congaree River. Upon all these pieces of real estate, with their appurtenances and other property, he set a valuation of thirty thousand pounds sterling. At that time also he was a merchant in active trade, with a correspondence and credit not surpassed in South Carolina, or perhaps on the continent" (Smith, D.E. Huger. "Commodore Alexander Gillon and the Frigate South Carolina", The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Oct., 1908), page 189). As his life progressed, he "... ran a plantation, owned a tavern, loaned and borrowed money, traded in real estate - not untypical business ventures for many affluent Charlestonians" (Lewis, Neptune's Militia, page 14). His plantation was known as "Gillon's Retreat" and was located along the Congaree River in Orangeburg District between Big Beaver Creek and High Hill Creek, near Totness, SC and valued at 30,000 pounds sterling (RootsWeb.Ancestry.com, pages 3, 7). According to the 1790 South Carolina Census, as head of family, his household consisted of three free white males (himself included), four free white females, and 106 slaves (RootsWeb.Ancestry.com, page 3). Not only had Alexander Gillon become a successful businessman but, he had also become a major slaveholder in South Carolina, or anywhere else, by those standards.
(Note: Alexander Gillon had another source of wealth also - one from Europe. In 1766, his older brother, Robert, was listed as "missing". Being that the older Alexander Gillon had been a sea captain and the younger Alexander Gillon (object of this post) had become a successful sea captain, it stands to reason the Robert Gillon may have also followed the sea and at some point been tragically lost at sea. This left only the younger Alexander Gillon; his sister, Susannah; and their half-sister Jannetje. Indications are that this older half-sister never married or survived her husband and/or children and died as a widow. When their half-sister died, her estate was left to be inherited by the younger Alexander Gillon and his sister, Susannah. Jannetje's estate was worth 540 guilders.)
Thus, this Dutch-born, ethnically Scottish immigrant had, in a short period of time established himself as a "man of means" in the society of South Carolina. He had strategically married into the upper echelon of society, established viable business interests, and started a family. For so recent an immigrant, his place within society was well established. It would be this man, so skilled in the arts of business and human interactions, who one day would be so integrally connected to the largest warship under American command in the struggle for the independence of the thirteen colonies from Great Britain.