Commodore Thomas Macdonough
Thomas Macdonough, Jr. was born in New Castle County, Delaware, December 31, 1783.His father was a physician and Major in the Revolutionary War who later gained some fame in Delaware politics. Orphaned by the age of eleven, Thomas obtained a commission as a midshipman in the United States Navy in 1800 through the help of his late father’s powerful political friends.
Macdonoughfirst served on the USS Ganges in the Quasi-War with France. He served several years under Captain Alexander Murray on the USS Constellation, fighting the Barbary States in the Mediterranean. By the time he returned home in 1806, he had gained an impressive education in seamanship, navigation, and gunnery. During his service in the Mediterranean, Macdonough also served under Captain Decatur on the USS Enterprise. He distinguished himself during the destruction of the USS Philadelphia, an American ship that had been taken over by pirates, and the capture of two Tripolitan gunboats. He was subsequently promoted to Lieutenantin January 1806.After winning promotion to Lieutenant for his participation in the raid on the Philadelphia, Macdonough served aboard the 18 gun Brig the 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, Connecticut.
As commander of the 18-gun USS Wasp, Macdonough served patrolling waters near Great Britain and in various points in the Mediterranean before finally returning to America and enforcing the Embargo Act and the Atlantic blockade from 1807 and 1808.
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 Middletown, Connecticut, 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 Middletown for only eight months before requesting a furlough in June 1810. From 1810 to 1812, Macdonough took a leave of absence for two years as the captain of a British merchantman ship that was en-route to India.
Assigned to the USS Constellation as Lieutenant, Macdonough returned to active service just prior to the outbreak of the war in June 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.
Macdonoughrequested a transfer to a more active front and he was given the command of a division of gunboats in Portland, Maine. Hisassignment there was brief. In September 1812, he was ordered to take command of all US vessels on Lake Champlainwith headquarters atthe Army base in Burlington, VT. At this point, the Lake Champlain fleet amounted to two leaky gunboats and three transport sloops.
Taking leave briefly from his assignment at Lake Champlain,Macdonough returned to Middletown, Connecticut and married Lucy Anne Shaler on December 12, 1812. The service was performed by Bishop Abraham Jarvis at Christ Church, Middletown.
On July 24, 1813, Macdonough was promoted to Master Commandant.
On August 2, 1813, a British sortie on Lake Champlain briefly bombarded Burlington. The barrage lasting only 10 minutes had little effect. Macdonough chose not to respond in kind.
To deal with the state of his fleet on Lake Champlain, Macdonough formed a successful association with Noah Brown, a New York shipbuilder. The two men rapidly transformed the squadron. Ticonderoga, for example, was originally a steamer; Brown cleverly turned it into a schooner. In the spring of 1814, Brown also launched the twenty-six gun Saratoga.Then, upon hearing that the British were building a large frigate at Ile aux Noix, Macdonough and Brown managed to build the twenty-gun brig Eagle in a record seventeen days.
General Alexander Malcomb, commander of US forces at Plattsburg and Macdonough, commanding the newly reconstituted Lake Champlain Squadron, jointly prepared for a British invasion of New York and Vermont.
The British Army under the command of General George Provost marched south from Montreal, Canada with 10,000 men toward Plattsburg, New York on September 2, 1814. General Malcomb,vastly outnumbered with only 1,500 regulars and some militia, prepared an ingenious tactical defense to stop the British advance. On September 11, 1814, the British attacked. Because of the constructed defenses and strategy,the attack stalled. General Provost regrouped and waited for word of the arrival of the supporting British naval squadron under the command of Commodore George Downie.
When the British fleet entered the lake in early September, Macdonough was well aware that the enemy outgunned him, especially at long range. He needed to ensure the US forces at Plattsburg would not be surrounded by land and sea. Instead of meeting the British on the open lake, he chose to anchor his squadron inside Plattsburg Bay; the British would be forced to engage him at close quarters. In the heat of the battle on September 11, Macdonough used an ingenious strategy. He had anchored his flagship in a way that enabled him to winch it around without relying on the wind. With his starboard guns battered, Macdonough came around a full 180 degrees and fired a fresh port broadside at the enemy. The move was decisive and the British were quickly pounded into submission, and killing the British commander Commodore Downie.
When word of the naval defeat reached General Provost, he called off the attack and marched back to Canada.
Macdonough’s energy in preparation and vigor in combat won a skillfully executed victory over the British at Plattsburg Bay, 11 September 1814, denying control of the lake to the British and forcing the accompanying invasion army to retire to Canada. While it is known as the Battle of Plattsburg, the naval battle is referred to as the Battle of Lake Champlain and the references are used interchangeably on occasion.
After the victory, the United States showered Macdonough with honors. He was called the hero of the Battle of Lake Champlain. He was even given a nearby farm by the citizens of Plattsburg. He was honored by Congress with the Congressional Gold Medaland a promotion to Captain.
He served as Commandant of the Portsmouth Navy Yard 1815 to1818, before assuming command of USSGuerriere, stationed in the Mediterranean. In April 1818, he was stricken with tuberculosis. He became increasingly ill and returned to the United States later that year.Upon returning he was given the command of the USS Ohio still under construction. He served as her Captain from 1818 to 1823.
He sailed to the Mediterranean again in 1824 as commanding officer of U.S.S. Constitution, but because of poor health he was relieved the next year at his own request in October 1825. Commodore Macdonough died returning to the United States on board the merchantmanEdwin November 10, 1825. He was laid to rest alongside his wife,who had died a few months earlier, in Middletown, Connecticut at the Macdonough/Riverside Cemetery, on Hartford Ave.
The title of Commodore was not an official US Navy rank until the beginning of the American Civil War. Up to that time the rank was honorary and sometimes self-appointed. At the time of his death Macdonough’s rank was Captain, the highest naval rank at the time.Glenn Tucker in his epic two volume account of the War, Poltroons and Patriots, noted that Macdonough was one of the greatest naval leaders of the war.In his honor, several US Navy ships were named after Commodore Macdonough:
DD-9 Commissioned – September 5, 1903; Decommissioned – September 3, 1919
DD-331 Commissioned - April 30 1921; Decommissioned – January 8, 1931
DD-351 Commissioned – March 15, 1935; Decommissioned –October 22, 1945
Dl-8/DLG-8/DDG-39- Commissioned – November 4, 1961; Decommissioned – Oct. 23, 1992
In 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt urgedthat US Postage Stamps be issued in honor of naval heroes. A series of five stamps were issued honoring the US Navy and various heroes. CommodoreStephen Decatur and Commodore Thomas Macdonough were so honored with the issuance of a two cent stamp.
Captain George Coggeshall: Commander of Letter of Marque Schooners
Captain George Henry Coggeshall’s antipathy for the English developed at a young age. His father, William Coggeshall, was a Revolutionary War veteran who was a sailing master’s mate on the brig New Defence. In late 1779, the New Defence, after an extensive engagement with a larger British brig, was forced to surrender and the crew was transferred to the prison-ship Jersey, which was lying in Wallabout Bay on the East River off New York City. During this time, William Coggeshall not only lacked for food and clothing, but eventually contracted smallpox.
Surviving the imprisonment and after the conclusion of the war, William Coggeshall became a captain and owner of commercial vessels that carried cargo from Connecticut to the West Indies. On one such trip, one of William Coggeshall’s vessels, the Laura, was leaving Martinique and was captured by a British cruiser for trading at a French island. Its cargo, sugar and coffee, and the vessel were condemned. As George writes, "These [types of] losses soon stripped my father of his fortune, and threw those dependent on him almost penniless upon the world, to gain their bread the best way they could."
George, born in Milford, Connecticut, came from a seafaring family and, in 1799, at the age of fifteen, began his life at sea as a cabin boy. By the time of the War of 1812, George was a commercial vessel captain. He writes, "there were but three ways for captains of merchant ships to find employment in their ordinary vocations: namely, enter the United States Navy as sailing masters, go privateering, or command a letter of marquee -- carry a cargo and as it were, force trade and fight their way or run, as the case may be; and as an alternative, I chose that of letter of marque."
George first commanded, and was half owner of the letter of marque schooner David Porter. His voyage originated on October 1813 from Providence, Rhode Island, initially to Charleston, South Carolina, and then to France. The schooner had been outfitted, "having a long 18-pounder on pivot amidships, four 6-pounders, with muskets, pistols, etc." The David Porter, under command of Captain Coggeshall, left Providence to Newport, Rhode Island, and under cover of night and a snowstorm, departed Newport avoiding the British blockade. Ten days out, off Cape Romain, South Carolina, a British man-of-war brig, Dotterall, initiated chase. As the David Porter neared Charleston, Captain Coggeshall engaged the enemy and shortly thereafter, two schooners, the privateer, Decatur, and the letter of marque, Adaline, came over the Charleston Bar bearing down on the brig who "squared his yards and ran away to leeward." Captain Coggeshall traded his cargo in Charleston and then embarked for the western coast of France as near to Bordeaux as possible; a voyage he successfully concluded with a landing at La Teste.
Due to the La Teste’s vulnerability to the English advance (a portion of Lord Wellington’s army was nearing Bordeaux), Captain Coggeshall set sail and was soon being chased by a British frigate. He eventually came upon a group of British merchant ships, which he took as prizes and, subsequently, during the night had them hoist their lanterns, which he used to cover his escape. He landed the David Porter at l’Île d’Yeu, an island near the mouth of the Loire River. At the end of March 1814, Captain Coggeshall decided to turn the command of the David Porter over to his first officer for the return voyage to the United States, with the cargo from the prizes. Captain Coggeshall spent the next few months in Paris and Bordeaux attending to his commercial affairs.
In November 1814, Captain Coggeshall took command of the Leo, an American owned letter of marque schooner that was lying in L’Orient, France. The intent was to capture a few British prizes and then proceed to Charleston for a cargo of cotton. The schooner was outfitted with one 12-ounder and four small 4-pounders and some 50-60 old muskets. All but the 12-pounder was required to be removed by the public authorities, but Captain Coggeshall had another 20-30 muskets smuggled on board during the night.
Over the next few weeks, Captain Coggeshall took a number of British prizes, which he ordered his prize masters to sail to the United States. He also engaged an English brig-of-war of sixteen guns using his ‘long twelve.’ The Leo received thirty or forty shot, only one of which hulled the schooner; passing through the bends amid-ships and lodging in the hold.
Without a long, well-mounted center gun, Captain Coggeshall chose to haul off from the engagement. Less than two weeks later, the Leo encountered a strong wind in squally weather, suddenly pitched, and a defective foremast broke, making the ship vulnerable. To avoid capture, Captain Coggeshall decided to go to Lisbon under the cover of night. Four miles short of the port, the 38-gun British frigate, Granicus, captured the Leo, and the schooner was taken in tow to Gibraltar.
The officers and men were sent to England, except Captain Coggeshall and his first and second lieutenants. The latter officers were to undergo examination at the admiralty court at Gibraltar. An attempt to obtain parole from the governor was unsuccessful even after Captain Coggeshall explained the numerous paroles he had provided to their countrymen. The officers of the Leo were to be shipped to England; thereby, necessitating an attempt at escape.
Under guard and waiting questioning at the admiralty office, Captain Coggeshall asked the sergeant whether he “would go a short distance up the street to take a glass of wine.“ The sergeant complied; Captain Coggeshall hastily drank the wine and slipped out of the shop. Removing the eagle from his black cockade, Captain Coggeshall gave the appearance of an English naval officer and successfully passed the sentinel at the gate. He made his way to a Norwegian ship in port at Gibraltar and asked the captain if he “was willing to befriend a man in distress.” After Captain Coggeshall explained his story, the Norwegian captain, having at one time been imprisoned in England, came to Captain Coggeshall’s aid. The captain coordinated with a group of smugglers to take Captain Coggeshall to Algeciras, Spain. Thereafter, Captain Coggeshall made his way to Cadiz; two months later, he sailed to Lisbon and returned to the United States aboard a Portuguese brig in May 1815.
Captain Coggeshall continued to command and own commercial vessels after the War of 1812. By 1841, he began writing books of his voyages and published other books on naval and maritime history. He writes that with the War of 1812 "British invincibility and British supremacy were at an end. The stars and stripes were no longer a theme of ridicule-our commerce was no longer at the mercy and conducted by the permission and sufferance of England." Captain George Coggeshall died in Brooklyn, NY, on 23 August 1861. He was an American patriot in a family of patriots.
Simeon North (1765-1852), the first official pistol manufacturer of the United States Government, made arms for the government for over fifty years. In 1799 he received his first contract and filled the order at his factory on Spruce Brook in Berlin. After President Madison requested him to enlarge his output during the War of 1812, he built a factory at Staddle Hill about a mile and a half southwest of Middletown. At the close of the War of 1812, the State ordered him to make two pairs of gold-mounted pistols: one for Capt. Issac Hull of the frigate Constitution; and the other for Commodore Macdonough, the victor at Lake Champlain.
Jonathan Squire, Jr.
Jonathan Squire, Jr. (1763-1842) was born in Fairfield, Connecticut. He was the son of Jonathan Squire and Elizabeth Morehouse. His father was a veteran of the American Revolution who served as a Captain in the Connecticut Militia. Jonathan, Jr., himself, was also a veteran of the War of Independence. He served as a private in the First New York Regiment Continental Line, and in Col. John Lamb's Continental Artillery. Following the Revolutionary War Jonathan, a farmer, lived in Putnam County, New York. Jonathan married Elizabeth Truesdell (Trusedale) in 1786. At the outbreak of the War of 1812, he volunteered and served in the New York State Militia at Oswego and Plattsburgh. He received a pension of $19.00 per annum. Jonathan Squire died in Matteawann, New York on 10 March 1842.
Jonathan Squire is the fifth great grandfather of Connecticut Society member Robert G. Carroon.
Issac Hull (1773-1843), a son of Capt. Joseph and Sally Bennett Hull, was born at Derby Landing on Commerce Street. At twenty-five he was appointed a lieutenant in the United States Navy and was detailed to the frigate Constitution, then under command of Samuel Nicholson. He was later transferred to the Nautilus and Argus in the Tripolitan War (1802-1805). At the outset of the War of 1812, he was in command of the Constitution and on August 19, 1812, made his brilliant capture of the Guerrière.
Stephen Decatur, Jr
Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr (January 5, 1779 – March 22, 1820) was an American naval officer notable for his heroism in the Barbary Wars and in the War of 1812. He was the youngest man to reach the rank of captain in the history of the United States Navy, and the first American celebrated as a national military hero who had not played a role in the American Revolution. He was responsible for the capture of two British ships, the Mandarin and HMS Macedonian.
Isaac Nichols (1779-1868) was born on April 15th, 1779, in Waterbury, CT. He was the 2nd child born to Joseph and Mary Winter(s) Nichols. Isaac's 4th great-grandfather; Sgt. Francis Nichols was the progenitor of this American line of the Nichols family. He was on the records in Stratford, CT in 1639. His father was a patriot of the American Revolution; involved in the capture of the robbers of Capt. Ebenezer Dayton and kidnappers of Chauncey Judd in 1782. Isaac and his wife, Esther (Sperry) Nichols had 12 children.
Isaac mustered to defend New London and was there from September 8th through October 20th, 1814. He served in Lt. Joseph Bellamy's Detachment, Connecticut State Troops. For his service, he was awarded a land bounty. He lived to the age of 89 and died on August 3rd, 1868, in Naugatuck, CT. He is interred at the Gunntown Cemetery, Naugatuck, CT. Isaac Nichols is the 4th great grandfather of Connecticut Society member Christopher M. Nichols.
Frederick Lee received his commission as a Master in the State of Connecticut on
September 14, 1809, and he took command of the Revenue Cutter Eagle two days later.
During the War of 1812, Lee’s Officers included Daniel P. Augur, first mate; John Hall,
second mate. Lee remained a revenue cutter master through 1829. The Eagle was a
foretopsail schooner that carried four four-pound cannon, two two-pound cannon and a
crew of 25 and was based out of New Haven. Connecticut.
During the War of 1812, the Eagle under Lee’s command carried out a variety of
missions. Despite several orders from the Treasury Secretary to the contrary limiting
the cutter to “protection of the Revenue”, Lee provided valuable service to the US Navy
by relaying intelligence of British and American naval movements, escorting American
vessels to safe harbor, and serving as a prisoner transfer platform with the British
paroling 38 Americans. Lee all the while conducted revenue service duties, most notably
apprehending vessels carrying illegal British goods.
On October 10, 1814, a British sloop captured an American merchantman near New
Haven. Lee took on extra volunteer crewmembers and attempted to intervene. The next
morning, Lee found himself dangerously close to the gun brig HMS Dispatch (18 guns)
and a tender. Lee managed to escape capture and ran the cutter ashore on Long Island’s
north shore. The cutter’s crew and militia men dragged the Eagle’s cannon on shore and
dueled with the British warship without a decisive outcome. After fighting for two days
the HMS Dispatch departed. Lee then patched up and refloated the damaged Eagle. On
October 13 the Dispatch and its tender returned with HMS Narcissus (36 guns) and after
fighting off Lee’s men they captured the damaged Eagle on October 14.
The British sailed in convoy with the revenue cutter as a prize to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
New Haven did not have a replacement cutter until a new cutter named Eagle was
commissioned in 1816.