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First Name: Sylvanus

Last Name: Thayer

Birthplace: Braintree, MA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Date of Birth: 09 June 1785

Date of Death: 07 September 1872

Rank: Brigadier General

Years Served:
Sylvanus Thayer

Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1808

•  War of 1812


Sylvanus Thayer
Brevet Brigadier General, U.S. Army

Sylvanus Thayer was born on 9 June 1785 in Braintree, MA, the son of farmer Nathaniel Thayer and his wife, Dorcas. In 1793, at the age of 8, Thayer was sent to live with his uncle, Azariah Faxon, and attend school in Washington, NH. There he met General Benjamin Pierce, who, like Faxon, was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. In 1803 Thayer matriculated at Dartmouth College, graduating in 1807 as Valedictorian of his class.

Thayer, however, never gave the valedictory address at Dartmouth, having been granted an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy by President Thomas Jefferson at the behest of General Pierce. Thayer graduated from the Academy after only one year and received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in 1808.

During the War of 1812, Thayer directed the fortification and defense of Norfolk, VA, and was promoted to Major. In 1815, Thayer was provided $5,000 to travel to Europe, where he studied for two years at the French École Polytechnique. While traveling in Europe he amassed a collection of science, and especially mathematics, texts that now form a valuable collection for historians of mathematics. In 1817, President James Monroe ordered Thayer to West Point to become superintendent of the Military Academy. Under his stewardship, the Academy became the nation's first College of Engineering.

Colonel Thayer's time at West Point ended with his resignation in 1833 after a disagreement with President Andrew Jackson. He was elected an Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1834.

Thayer returned to duty with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Thayer spent the great majority of the next 30 years as the Chief Engineer for the Boston area. During this time, he oversaw the construction of both Fort Warren and Fort Independence to defend Boston Harbor. Thayer's great engineering ability can be observed in both of the above-mentioned forts. Thayer retired from the Army on 1 June 1863 with the rank of Colonel in the Corps of Engineers.

On 21 April 1864, President Abraham Lincoln nominated Thayer for the award of the honorary grade of Brevet Brigadier General, U.S. Army (Regular Army), to rank from 31 May 1863, the day before he retired, for long and faithful service. The U.S. Senate confirmed the award on 27 April 1864.

As a result of Thayer's enduring legacy at the U.S. Military Academy, in 1869 a notable meeting took place in Braintree between Thayer and the celebrated West Point graduate and Civil War hero, Brigadier General Robert Anderson. An outcome of Anderson's 1869 meeting with Thayer was establishment of the Military Academy's Association of Graduates (AoG).

In 1867, Thayer donated $30,000 to the trustees of Dartmouth College to create the Thayer School of Engineering. Thayer personally located and recommended USMA graduate, Lieutenant Robert Fletcher, to Dartmouth president, Asa Dodge Smith. Fletcher became the school's first-then only-professor and dean.

The Thayer School admitted its first three students to a graduate program in 1871. Also in 1871, at the bequest of his will, Thayer Academy in Braintree, MA, was conceived. It opened 12 September 1877.


• To honor his achievements, the Sylvanus Thayer Award was created by the U.S. Military Academy in 1958.

• He has been honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a 9¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.

Death and Burial

Brevet Brigadier General Sylvanus Thayer died on 7 September 1872 in his home at Braintree, MA. He was re-interred at the U.S. Military Academy Post Cemetery in West Point, NY, in 1877.

Honoree ID: 3140   Created by: MHOH




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