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First Name: Thomas

Last Name: MacDonough

Birthplace: New Castle, DE, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Date of Birth: 26 December 1783

Date of Death: 10 November 1825

Rank or Rate: Commodore

Years Served:
Thomas MacDonough, Jr.

•  1st Barbary War (1801 - 1805)
•  War of 1812


Thomas MacDonough, Jr.
Commodore, U.S. Navy

Thomas McDonough Jr. (later changed to MacDonough), was born on 26 December 1783 on a farm referred to as "The Trap" (also spelled 'Trapp'), in the County of New Castle, DE, which later was named MacDonough, in his honor. He was the son of a Revolutionary officer, Major Thomas McDonough Sr. Being the sixth child born, he came from a large family of ten siblings and was raised in the countryside.

McDonough, Jr. received a contemporary education but it remains uncertain if he attended any sort of formal schools or was taught by family members or a tutor. McDonough grew into a tall, dignified man with a commanding character which suited him well for military service. He was a devoutly religious man of Episcopal faith, as were his parents and greater family. He was known to adhere to a set of steadfast principles in his personal and military life

He was employed in Middletown as a clerk upon the return of his brother James who lost a leg in a naval battle with a French vessel in 1799 during the Quasi-War with France. Shortly after that, Macdonough requested a commission with the United States Navy with the assistance of Senator Latimer from the State of Delaware. Before joining the Navy, Thomas, Jr., for unknown reasons, changed the spelling of his last name from "McDonough" to "MacDonough.

On 27 May 1800, at the age of sixteen, Macdonough secured a warrant and served as a midshipman aboard the 24-gun USS Ganges, a corvette class ship, converted over from a merchantman vessel and outfitted as a man-of-war.

Under the command of Captain John Mullowny, the Ganges then set sail for the West Indies. During operations there she captured three French merchant ships between May and September. When hostilities between the U.S. and France had finally ended the following year on 20 October 1801, MacDonough was assigned to the, USS Constellation, a 38-gun frigate, commanded by Alexander Murray which was about to embark on its mission in the Mediterranean sea. While serving aboard Constellation he received a thorough education in seamanship, navigation and gunnery from Murray.

First Barbary War

MacDonough served aboard the Constellation in January 1802 under the command of Captain Alexander Murray, and served with distinction in naval operations against Tripoli during the First Barbary War. This was the same ship that his brother James had served on a few years earlier. While serving aboard this ship MacDonough received lessons from Captain Murray in the nautical sciences and on how to improve his service as a junior officer.

In 1803, the Secretary of the Navy selected MacDonough to serve aboard the USS Philadelphia, a 38-gun frigate, commanded by William Bainbridge. MacDonough was aboard this ship when it captured the Moroccan ship, the Mirboka, on 26 August 1803. Shortly before the Philadelphia ran aground and was consequently captured by the Tripolitans, MacDonough had gone ashore on leave. He was reassigned on 31 October to the 12-gun sloop USS Enterprise under the command of Lieutenant Stephen Decatur. MacDonough volunteered to join Decatur's successful raid into the harbor of Tripoli. On 6 February 1804, they succeeded in burning and destroying the Philadelphia. His role in the operation was a crucial one as MacDonough had recently served aboard that ship and knew the layout of the vessel from stem to stern. For his heroic actions he was promoted to acting Lieutenant.

Other Service

After winning promotion to acting Lieutenant for his participation in the raid on the Philadelphia, MacDonough served aboard the 18-gun Brig USS Syren, the same vessel used to assist the Intrepid at Tripoli. Assisting Isaac Hull he then supervised the construction of several gunboats in Middletown, CT. In January of 1806 MacDonough was promoted to a commission of Lieutenant.

As Commander of the 18-gun USS Wasp, MacDonough served by patrolling waters near Great Britain and in various points in the Mediterranean before finally returning to the U.S. and enforcing the Embargo Act and the Atlantic Blockade from 1807-08.

In 1809, he served aboard the USS Essex with Captain Smith but later requested reassignment and was placed in charge of several gunboats located in Middleton, CT, the town where his future wife, Ann Shaler, happened to be living.

With the repeal of the Embargo Act, the role of the Navy became less active, with a fifth of its officers away on furlough at half pay. MacDonough remained in Middleton for only eight months before requesting a furlough in June of 1810. From 1810-12, MacDonough took a leave of absence for two years as the Captain of a British merchantman ship that was en-route to India.

War of 1812

At the beginning of the War of 1812, U.S. Naval forces were very small, allowing the British to make many advances into the Great Lakes and northern New York waterways. The roles played by commanders like Oliver Hazard Perry at Lake Erie and Isaac Chauncey at Lake Ontario and Thomas MacDonough at Lake Champlain, all proved vital to the naval effort that was largely responsible for winning that war.

Assigned to the USS Constellation as First Lieutenant, MacDonough returned to active service just prior to the outbreak of the war in June of 1812. The ship at this time was being outfitted and supplied in Washington, DC, for its next mission but was still months away from being ready. Moreover, it did not escape from the British blockade at the Chesapeake Bay until 1814.

Taking leave from his assignment at Lake Champlain, MacDonough married Lucy Anne Shaler on 12 December 1812 at the Christ Church in Middleton by Bishop Abraham Jarvis.

After he requested transfer to a more active front, he was assigned command of a squadron of gunboats defending Portland, ME. His stay there was brief, as he received new orders from Secretary of the Navy Hamilton and was reassigned to Burlington, VT, to command U.S. Naval forces in Lake Champlain in October of 1812.

On 2 June 1813, MacDonough sent Lieutenant Sidney Smith with the USS Growler along with Sailing Master Loomis with USS Eagle to guard against British advances at the Canadian border at the Richelieu River. The impatient Smith sailed into British waters, an action which was contrary to his orders, and at once found himself overpowered by the British squadron. After enduring four hours of battle, Smith was finally forced into surrendering.

On 24 July 1813 MacDonough was promoted to the rank of Master Commandant.

When the War began in 1812 there were only two U.S. Naval vessels on Lake Champlain; the Growler and the Eagle, each carrying ten guns with a crew of fifty. On 3 June 1813, the two vessels were pursuing a British gunboat but were caught up in a strong current that prevented them from maintaining their heading and position, giving the advantage to British forces and resulting in their capture. The loss of the two and only American vessels on the Lake gave undisputed control of this strategic waterway to the British. This prompted MacDonough to begin the construction of the corvette USS Saratoga, the sloop USS Eagle, and several gunboats at the shipyard in Otter Creek at Vergennes, VT. While construction was underway, the USS Ticonderoga, a steamboat, was being converted to a warship carrying seventeen guns.

In 1814, the ice covering Lake Champlain, which usually lasted well into May, began melting and breaking up early in April and MacDonough feared that the British, who he assumed by now knew of the ship construction going on there, would use the opportunity to capture or destroy the vessels being built. Having learned of MacDonough's ship building activity, the British constructed a heavily armed brig and five large gunboats at 'Isle Aux Noix' over the winter. As MacDonough had predicted, British forces attempted to navigate the Lake but, because of unfavorable winds, British commander Daniel Pring, whose forces were based at Isle Aux Noix in upper Lake Champlain, didn't complete the 65-mile journey to Otter Creek until 14 May.

Upon arrival, Pring situated his squadron in the Lake just off Otter Creek with eight galleys and a bomb sloop, preventing the American forces passage north and to the sea. For one hour Commander Pring maintained a heavy fire. However, MacDonough had already learned of the attack beforehand from his observers on land and had prepared a defense in anticipation of this likely event. Using the guns of his ship, he had landed them on shore at the mouth of Otter Creek, constructing a battery with which he repelled the attack and drove the Royal Navy back to Isle Aux Noix in Canadian waters by autumn. With the way now clear, MacDonough's squadron sailed out of Otter Creek and made their way to Plattsburgh, where they dropped anchor just off shore in anticipation of the next, inevitable, British advance.

Battle of Plattsburgh

By late August 1814, approximately 10,000 British troops under the command of George Prevost had assembled near Montreal at the U.S. - Canadian border. Many of these soldiers were well-trained, regular troops who served under Wellington, already battle-hardened from their recent defeat of Napoleon in Europe. MacDonough himself had little naval combat experience. His service in the Barbary Wars was limited to gunboat actions and the capture and destruction of the Philadelphia. He had yet to experience a ship-to-ship action, being on a vessel that was receiving broadsides and surrounded by dead and wounded men. Regardless of this lack in experience, MacDonough well understood that defending and holding Plattsburgh and not allowing General Macomb's troops to be surrounded by British forces on land and water, was vital to winning the war.

On 3 September, Prevost's army crossed the border and marched into northern New York State and was advancing on Plattsburgh, which was held by General Macomb with less than 2,000 regular troops. Macomb's troops also had the support of the New York Militia, under the command of General Mooers and the Vermont Volunteers, under the command of General Strong. However, Prevost who had arrived in earnest was yet aware of enemy strength and positions and refused to march on the city itself without adequate naval support to divert the American forces. A squadron under the command of Commodore George Downie sailed southward into the open Lake to engage the American fleet commanded by MacDonough. In anticipation of the British fleet, MacDonough strategically positioned and anchored his fleet a short distance off shore from Plattsburgh and made further preparations for Downie's advance.

On 11 September, Downie's forces departed from Isle-aux-Noix and sailed southward along the Richelieu River into Lake Champlain. Upon encountering MacDonough's fleet waiting in Plattsburgh harbor, Downie immediately attacked, achieving the upper hand early in the battle, largely because of the great firepower of the 36-gun British flagship HMS Confiance. As the battle unfolded the British squadron incurred considerable damage from close-range cannon fire. In the process an American cannon shot blasted a British cannon off its mount that crushed and killed Downie. Through the use of anchor and cable tactics, MacDonough, in command of USS Saratoga, was able to swing his ship around the undamaged side of the British flagship, thereby gaining firepower superiority over the British fleet. As the poorly and hurriedly-equipped Confiance with its inexperienced crew attempted the same tactic, MacDonough seized the opportunity and fired a broadside, severely damaging the British vessel and forcing its surrender. Having removed the British flagship from action, the U.S. forces captured or destroyed the remaining larger ships in the fleet. Upon wresting control of Lake Champlain from the British, MacDonough's victory forced the British forces to retire to Canada, the actions of which left no grounds for any claims by the British for any territory when the Ghent Peace Conference convened on 24 December. For his success in forcing the retreat of Prevost into Canada, MacDonough was duly promoted to the rank of Captain. He was also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal at this time. He was also awarded a thousand acres of land in Cayuga County by the State of New York, with another hundred acres awarded to him from the State of Vermont, making the once-modest Commodore a wealthy man.

Later Days

MacDonough relieved Isaac Hull of command on 1 July 1815, and was placed in command of the Portsmouth Navy Yard for three years, after which he returned to the Mediterranean Squadron as Commander of the USS Guerriere, a frigate bearing 44 guns. In April 1818, MacDonough was stricken with Tuberculosis but he still remained on duty for as long as possible. After returning to the U.S. later in the year, he was given command of the USS Ohio a Ship of the line, bearing 74 guns, which at the time was still under construction in New York Harbor. From 1818-23 MacDonough served as her captain.

After submitting several requests for active sea duty, MacDonough finally received command of the USS Constitution a 44-gun frigate, in 1824. However, after he returned to the Mediterranean on 14 October 1825, MacDonough had to relieve himself of his command as his health continued to worsen. Intending to return to New York, Macdonough departed in USS Edwin, but his condition continued to worsen and, on 10 November 1825, he died aboard ship while it was passing Gibraltar.


Several U.S. Navy ships have been named USS MacDonough in his honor.

In 1937, at the urging of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the U.S. Post Office issued a series of five postage stamps honoring the U.S. Navy and various naval heroes in American history. Stephen Decatur and Thomas MacDonough appearing on the two-cent denomination were among the few chosen to appear in this commemorative series.

The annual Commodore MacDonough Sailboat Race, is a nonstop 74-nautical-mile overnighter sponsored by the Lake Champlain Yacht Club located in Shelburne, VT, that has been held every September on the Lake since 1968.

The New York State University of New York located at Plattsburgh, NY, has a dormitory with the name MacDonough Hall; the hall being the oldest dormitory, and initial dorm building.

There is a 135-foot tall obelisk that is located across from City Hall in Plattsburgh, NY, known as the MacDonough Monument which honors the victory of American soldiers and sailors in the Battle of Plattsburgh.

Camano Island (formerly known as MacDonough Island), WA. Charles Wilkes, during the Wilkes Expedition of 1838-42, named the Island in honor of MacDonough in tribute to his victory at the Battle of Plattsburgh (aka Battle of Lake Champlain) that ended the War of 1812.

MacDonough County, IL, is named after Thomas MacDonough, its seat being located in Macomb.

Two elementary schools, one in St. Georges, DE, and one in Middletown, CT, are named in honor of MacDonough.

MacDonough Street in the Stuyvesant Heights section of Brooklyn, NY, is named after Thomas MacDonough. MacDonough Street runs parallel to Decatur Street, one block away, named after Stephen Decatur, with whom MacDonough served during the Barbary War.

Death and Burial

Commodore Thomas MacDonough, Jr. died at sea aboard the USS Edwin on 10 November 1825 while off the coast of Gibraltar. MacDonough's body was returned to the U.S. and buried at Riverside Cemetery in Middletown, CT. He was laid to rest alongside his wife, Ann Shaler, a lady of a prominent family in Middletown, who had died just a few months earlier.

Honoree ID: 2793   Created by: MHOH




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