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Captain Thomas Macdonough

1783 - 1825

Thomas Macdonough, Jr. was born in Trap (McDonough), Delaware on December 31, 1783, the sixth child and second son of Thomas, Sr. & Mary Vance McDonough. Thomas, Sr. was a well respected physician in Delaware. In March of 1776, Delaware elected Dr. McDonough to be a major in a battalion in the Revolutionary War. He served as a commander at the battle of Long Island in August, where he won the praise of General Washington for gallantry, and also in the battle of White Plains, NY. During the battle of White Plains, he received a wound which incapacitated him from active duty. Dr. McDonough later served as a Justice of the Court of Common Pleas. Dr. McDonough died at the age of 48 when Thomas, Jr. was only 12. Thomas, Jr. worked as a clerk in a store in Middletown while a teenage. He requested an appointment to the United States Navy with the help of U.S. Senator Latimer of Delaware. On February 5, 1800, at the age of 16, he received a warrant as a midshipman in the navy. Prior to entering the the Navy, Thomas, Jr., for unknown reasons, changed the spelling of his last name from "McDonough" to "Macdonough." He was ordered to the U.S. Ship Granges, a 24-gun corvette on May 15, 1800. They sailed to the West Indies, where the U.S. and France were fighting. The Granges crew captured three French ships and sent them all back to the U.S. Thomas was assigned to the Constellation on October 20, 1801, for its cruise of the Mediterranean sea. During this cruise they fought with Tripolitanian gunboats at Tripoli. He later served in 1803 on the new ship Philadelphia, a 38-gun frigate. In October of 1803, the Philadelphia was captured and taken to Tripoli. Luckily, Thomas was on shore leave at the time of capture. On December 14, 1803, he was assigned to the Enterprise, a 12-gun schooner. The Enterprise along with the Constitution was sent out to either retake the Philadelphia or destroy it so that Tripoli could not use her against the U.S. They decided it was to risky of an operation too retake her so they set her a fire. Thomas, along with others, volunteered to sail to the Philadelphia and set her on fire. They sailed up to the Philadelphia and stated to the Tripolitanian crew that they were a merchant ship having trouble and requested to tie up to the Philadelphia. They did exactly that....boarded the ship and after fighting with the Tripolitanian crew, set her on fire and quickly left. This was the last action in which he was involved during the war with Tripoli. In 1805 or 1806, Thomas was appointed a lieutenant of the Enterprise. During the coming years the British began impressing American sailors. This act, of course, helped lead the United States into the war of 1812. While in Liverpool, England Thomas Macdoungh was impressed into the English Navy. The story is related that he was taken on board a British Ship and assigned sleeping quarters with the corporal of the guard. Once the corporal fell asleep Macdonough put on his clothes and went out onto the deck. Shortly thereafter, he saw the corporal poke his head out of the hatchway. Macdonough immediately knocked him down, jumped into a small boat, broke loose and was on his way. The sentry shot at Macdonough but he safely made his way to shore. Thomas swore "If I live, I'll make England remember the day she impressed an American soldier." .....and he did! In October of 1806, Macdonough was ordered to Middletown, Connecticut, to work under Captain Isaac Hull superintending the construction of gunboats. It was here that he met and fell in love with his future wife, Lucy Ann Shaler. However it would be six more years before they finally wed. On June 18, 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britian. On June 26, Thomas Macdonough wrote the following note to the Secretary of the Navy, Alexander Hamilton. Sir: The United States now being at war, I solicit your order for service in the navy and hope you will favor me with such a situation as in your opinion I am suited to hold. I have the honor to be, your most obt. (obedient) sert. (servant) T. Macdonough In August, Macdonough received orders to command a division of gunboats, this time in Burlington, Vermont. This division included 6 sloops and 2 gunboats. These vessels were located on Lake Champlain, between New York and Vermont. When he first arrived he saw the gunboats "one was partly sunk and the seams of both were so open as almost to admit the hand." He immediately hired carpenters to prepare the vessels for war. After repairs he took his converted, patched-up warships down the lake to the Plattsburgh, NY area to start patrols of Lake Champlain. On June 2, 1813, Macdonough ordered Lt. Sidney Smith with the sloop Growler and Sailing Master Loomis with the Eagle to sail north to the Canadian border. There they were to block the mouth of the Richelieu River to prevent British warships from entering Lake Champlain. Macdonough gave specific orders not to cross the border. However, Lt. Smith deliberately sailed into British territory where they met up with British warships. After a four hour battle the British captured both sloops and sent all the men to prison. Now that the British could add two more sloops to their fleet, they had complete control of the Lake. At this point Macdonough moved his fleet farther down the lake to Burlington, Vermont. On June 17th, after receiving a full report from Macdonough, the new Secretary of the Navy, William Jones, sent the following orders to Macdonough: ....regain by every possible exertion the ascendancy which we have lost, for which purpose you are authorized to purchase, arm and equip two of the best sloops to be procured on the lake. You have unlimited authority to procure the necessary resources of men, material and munitions for that purpose. I rely upon your efficient and prudent use of the authority vested in you. The naval command is exclusively vested in you and for which you are held responsible. On July 24, 1813, Lt. Thomas Macdonough was designated Master Commandant. He was there after called "Commodore" out of respect or courtesy even though that rank did not exist at that time. The last of July 1813, a British flotilla landed at Plattsburgh's wharf with 1,000 soldiers. They promised the frightened citizens that they would not destroy private property. However, they started burning public property and stole the contents of many of the private homes in the area. They then sailed south and attacked Macdonough at Burlington. After a small battle they sailed on and continued to raid villages. The American fleet was no where near ready to battle on the open lake at this time. After repairs were completed on his fleet, he moved the fleet to Vergennes, Vermont for the winter. There he received authorization in January, 1814 from Secretary Jones to construct a new ship. The brothers Adam & Noah Brown of New York promised to construct a ship within 60 days. To everyone's delight the Browns completed the new ship in 40 days. On April 11, 1814, Lucy Ann Macdonough, Thomas' wife, christened the 26-gun ship Saratoga. Macdonough was not ready to do battle with the enemy..... Commodore Macdonough anchored his fleet in Plattsburg Bay in a line northeast to southwest. The Eagle was at that north end, then Macdonough's flagship Saratoga; next the Ticonderoga and last the Preble at the south end. While Macdonough prepared his fleet, General Alexander Macomb prepared his small army to defend Plattsburgh from the British Army. About nine o'clock Sunday morning, September 11, 1814, British Captain George Downie brought his fleet around Cumberland Head into Plattsburgh Bay. Since his ships had to tack into the north wind, Downie had trouble lining up his vessels between Macdonough's ships and Cumberland Head as Macdonough had expected. The British ships were now in a trapped position. Rodney Macdonough wrote the following description of the scene on his grandfather's ship minutes before the battle commenced: There was now a hushed, expectant moment like the stillness which precedes the storm. Macdonough, whose manly courage was supported by a childlike faith, knelt on the deck of the flagship with his officers around him and repeated the following prayer: "Stir up Thy strength, O Lord, and come and help us, for Thou givest not always the battle to the strong, but canst save many or few....through Jesus Christ, our Lord." Macdonough fired and his fleet opened fire..... British Captain Downey was killed during the battle. Macdonough was knocked down twice due to explosions, once remaining senseless for a few minutes. Another shot cut off the head of the captain of the gun and drove it against Macdonough with such force that he was knocked across the deck and fell between two guns. The Saratoga caught fire twice during the battle. Julius Hubbell, a young lawyer from nearby Chazy, was among the spectators and wrote this description: The firing was terrific, fairly shaking the ground, and so rapid that it seemed to be one continuous roar, intermingled with the spiteful flashing from the mouths of guns, and dense clouds of smoke soon hung over the two fleets..... At 11:20 a.m. the British ships struck their colors. Victory belong to the Americans! However the decks of all ships had torn hulls, masts and spars and they held those that had parished in this terrific battle. It was obvious that Macdonough's foresight, valor, ingenuity and perserverance won the day. The entire country praised Macdonough's victory as equal to Commodore Perry's on Lake Erie September 10, 1813. The Battle of Plattsburgh is one of the decisive battles in American History. It prevented the invasion and conquest of New York State as effectively in 1814 as the surrender of the British under Burgoyne in 1777. Commodore Macdonough continued in the service of his country after the war of 1812 finally ended. On October 20, 1824, Macdonough, commanding the frigate Constitution, set sail for the Mediterranean to take charge of the United States naval force. There in the fall of 1825, he received the news that his wife, Lucy Ann had died. However, Thomas was sick as well with tuberculosis, weighing only sixty pounds. The news devastated him. Thomas was carried from the Constitution to the Edwin for the long journey home, one journey he was not to complete. On November 10, 1825, Commodore Thomas Macdonough, the hero of Lake Champlain, died six hundred miles from his homeland. He was forty-one years old. Thomas and his wife are interred in the Riverside Cemetery in Middletown, Connecticut. Together they had 5 children: James, Charles Shaler, Augustus Rodney, Thomas, and Charlotte.