Thomas MacDonough

Thomas MacDonough

Infobox Military Person
name=Thomas MacDonough

allegiance=United States of America
unit=Lake Champlain squadron
family=Thomas MacDonough, Sr. (father)
James MacDonough (brother)
lived=December 21, 1783 - November 10, 1825
placeofbirth=New Castle County, Delaware
serviceyears=1800–1809; 1812–1825
battles=Battle of Lake Champlain

Thomas MacDonough (December 21, 1783November 10, 1825) was an early-19th-century American naval officer, most notable as commander of American naval forces in Lake Champlain during the War of 1812. One of the leading members of "Preble's Boys", a small group of naval officers who served during the First Barbary War, MacDonough's actions during the decisive Battle of Lake Champlain are often cited as a model of tactical preparation and execution.

Major Thomas MacDonough, the father of Captain Thomas MacDonough, was an eminent physician, who resided at a farm called “The Trapp”, in the county of New Castle, Delaware. In the year 1775, he entered the army, and was appointed a major in a regiment raised by the State of Delaware, of which Mr. John Haslett was colonel, and Gunning Bedford, lieutenant- colonel. Major MacDonough retired early from the army, and returned to The Trapp. After the establishment of independence, he was appointed a judge, and held that office till his death, which took place in 1796. He left several children, of whom three were sons.

Thomas MacDonough Jr. was born in New Castle County, Delaware, present-day MacDonough, Delaware, and was was working as a clerk in Middletown when his brother James returned home in late 1799 or early 1800 after losing his leg in a naval engagement with France during the Quasi-War with France. Enlisting in the United States Navy on February 5, MacDonough served as a midshipman aboard a 24-gun corvette in the West Indies, taking part in the capture of three French ships between May and September. With the cessation of hostilities between the United States and France the next year, MacDonough was assigned to the 38-gun "Constellation" as the navy began its post-war reduction.

While serving onboard "Constellation", MacDonough participated with distinction in early naval operations against Tripoli during the First Barbary War, MacDonough was transferred to the 38-gun "Philadelphia" in 1803 shortly before its capture by the Tripolitans. Reassigned on October 31 to the 12-gun sloop "Enterprise" under the command of Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, MacDonough avenged the capture of "Philadelphia," burning the captured warship after volunteering to take part in Decatur's successful raid upon the harbor of Tripoli on February 6, 1804.

Winning promotion to the rank of Lieutenant for his participation in the raid, MacDonough served aboard the 16-gun schooner "Syren" before assisting Isaac Hull in overseeing the construction of gunboats in Middletown, Connecticut, and before earning a permanent Lieutenant's commission in January 1806. Given the command of the 18-gun "Wasp", MacDonough served in Great Britain and the Mediterranean before enforcing the Atlantic blockade from 1807 and 1808.

After a two-year leave of absence as captain of a British merchantman enroute to India from 1810 to 1812, MacDonough returned to active duty shortly before the outbreak of the War of 1812 onboard the USS "Constellation," then being outfitted in Washington, DC. After requesting a transfer to a more active front, MacDonough was assigned to gunboats defending Portland, Maine before being reassigned to Burlington, Vermont as commander of naval forces in Lake Champlain in October. Promoted to master commandant on July 24, 1813, MacDonough prepared his fleet of three sloops and two gunboats (which then included USS "Eagle") despite a lack of supplies, particularly on guns and stores, and inexperienced sailors. With the loss of one of his sloops in August, British forces gained naval superiority in Lake Champlain as MacDonough struggled to rebuild his fleet. With the construction of three sloops and four gunboats, MacDonough was able to drive the Royal Navy into Canadian waters by autumn.

The following year, the British launched a major offensive to control Lake Champlain as General Sir George Prevost invaded New York. Refusing to advance beyond Plattsburgh without adequate naval support, a squadron under Commodore George Downie sailed south to engage MacDonough's fleet. Anticipating British strategy, MacDonough anchored his fleet off Plattsburgh and prepared for battle while awaiting Downie's arrival. As Downie's forces attacked on September 11, they were met with early success mostly due to the firepower of the 37-gun flagship "Confiance". However, the British squadron suffered heavy damage in the close-range fighting and, through the use of cables, MacDonough was able to swing around the undamaged side of his flagship, the 26-gun "Saratoga", gaining firepower superiority over Downie's fleet. As Downie attempted the same maneuver, MacDonough opened fire, severely damaging the HMS "Confiance" and, with the British flagship out of action, Downie was forced to retreat as the remaining major warships of the squadron were either sunk or captured. In denying control of the lake to the British, MacDonough’s victory forced the invading army to retire to Canada, and left no grounds for British territorial claims in the area at the Ghent peace conference.

Forcing the retreat of Prevost into Canada, MacDonough was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for his efforts and promoted to Captain. After relieving Isaac Hull of command on July 1, 1815, MacDonough served as commander of the Portsmouth Navy Yard for three years until his assignment to the Mediterranean Squadron as commander of the 44-gun "Guerriere" in April 1818, despite his suffering from tuberculosis. Returning later that year, MacDonough was given command of the 74-gun "Ohio" (then under construction in New York) serving as captain from 1818 to 1823.

After several requests for sea duty, MacDonough was placed in command of the 44-gun "Constitution" in 1824. However, after returning to the Mediterranean, MacDonough relieved himself of command on October 14, 1825 due to increasingly poor health. Returning to New York, MacDonough departed in "Edwin", and died at sea near Gibraltar on November 10, 1825 and was later buried in Middletown, Connecticut.

For several years before his death, he made his home in Middletown, Connecticut, where he had married Miss Shaler, a lady of a highly respectable family in that place. His wife had paid the debt of nature a few months before him.


*Several ships of the Navy have been named USS "Macdonough" in his honor as has the city of McDonough, Georgia and the town of McDonough in New York. Other place names include McDonough County, Illinois and MacDonough, Delaware. He was also honored with a stamp. The United States Naval Academy has MacDonough Hall named in his honor. A road that leads to Lake Champlain in the Plattsburgh, NY area is called the Thomas MacDonough Highway. At one point there was a Commodore MacDonough Elementary School in St. Georges, DE and there is a still-operational school by that name in Middletown, CT.
*The Commodore MacDonough sailboat race, a nonstop 74 nautical mile overnighter sanctioned by the Lake Champlain Yacht Club, has been held every September since 1968 on Lake Champlain.
*The New York State University of New York at Plattsburgh, Plattsburgh, NY has a resident dorm named MacDonough Hall; the hall is the oldest dorm, and initial dorm building, rumor is that the hall's basement is haunted.


*Frost, John, "The Pictorial Book Of The Commodores; Comprising Lives Of Distinguished Commanders In The Navy Of The United States." Nafis & Cornish, New York, 1845
*Dean, Leon W. "Guns over Champlain" (1948) - New York
*Forester, C.S. "Victory on Lake Champlain", "American Heritage, Vol. 15", 1963.
*McDonough, Rodney. "The Life of Commodore Thomas MacDonough, United States Navy", Boston, 1909.
*Muller, Charles G. "The Proudest Day: Victory on Lake Champlain", New York, 1960.

External links

* [ Commodore Thomas Macdonough - Delmarva Heritage Series]

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