Thomas Macdonough



Occupation 1

naval officer


War of 1812


NA/New England region


Maritime Republic (1751-1815)








Macdonough's older brother James served as a midshipman aboard the Constellation during its engagement with the French frigate L'Insurgente (9 Feb. 1799). During the fight he lost a foot and was sent to convalesce at home. Shortly thereafter Thomas Macdonough asked permission to join the navy. Through family influence he managed to secure appointment as a midshipman on 5 February 1800. On 15 May 1800 Macdonough joined the ship Ganges bound for its station in the West Indies, where it was under orders to protect American shipping from French attack. He stayed with the Ganges for a year, during which time the ship captured three prizes. Also during this voyage, Macdonough came down with yellow fever and had to be hospitalized in Havana. He returned home with his ship in September. In January 1801 Macdonough sailed again on the Ganges for a brief cruise in the West Indies. On its return in June the Ganges was sold, and Macdonough was ordered to the frigate Constellation bound for the Mediterranean, where war had recently erupted in Tripoli. Macdonough spent a year with the Constellation, sailing the Mediterranean protecting American shipping against attacks from the Barbary corsairs. He returned to the United States in May 1803 and was almost immediately reassigned to the frigate Philadelphia under orders to proceed to the Mediterranean. On 23 August en route to its station, the Philadelphia captured the Tripolitan vessel Mirboka. Macdonough was put aboard as part of the prize crew. It was a lucky move: for while he was tending to the Mirboka, the Philadelphia was captured by the Tripolitans. Later, on 16 February 1804, Macdonough was part of the expedition led by Stephen Decatur that successfully boarded and destroyed the Philadelphia in the harbor at Tripoli. During this time Commodore Edward Preble took command of the Mediterranean squadron. Under his tutelage Macdonough and many of his fellow officers came to professional maturity and took pride in being counted among "Preble's boys."
After the peace with Tripoli (3 June 1805) Macdonough remained for some time in the Mediterranean as a lieutenant aboard the schooner Enterprise. He returned to the United States in 1806, and in October of that year he was ordered to Middletown, Connecticut, to superintend the construction of gunboats.

From 1806 to the beginning of the War of 1812 Macdonough held a variety of posts. He served as lieutenant aboard the Wasp, carrying dispatches to Europe as well as patrolling the coast enforcing the Embargo Act. With little prospect of advancement or adventure Macdonough requested and received a furlough from the service to allow him to take command of a merchantman bound on an East Indies voyage. He returned from his voyage and resumed active duty at the opening of the War of 1812.

On 17 July 1812 Macdonough was ordered to the frigate Constellation, then undergoing repairs at the Washington Navy Yard. The work was so far from being completed that he asked for and received a new assignment. The secretary of the navy, Paul Hamilton ordered him to take command of a division of gunboats at Portland, Maine. His stay at Portland was brief. On 28 September 1812 he was ordered to take command of a small naval force on Lake Champlain.

Lake Champlain was a vital waterway. From their base in Canada the British planned to use the western shore of the lake as an avenue of invasion. It was Macdonough's mission to deny the enemy control of the lake. Before traveling north Macdonough stopped in Middletown, Connecticut, where on 12 December he married Lucy Ann Shaler. From Middletown he and his new bride rode to Burlington, Vermont, where he established his headquarters. Through the winter of 1812-1813 he oversaw the construction of vessels for service on the lake. In July 1813 one of Macdonough's subordinates lost two vessels to the British, endangering the American position. Macdonough, however, was able to replace the lost vessels and thereby prevent the British from seizing control.

Oliver Hazard Perry's victory on Lake Erie (10 Sept. 1813) persuaded the British to shift their emphasis from the Great Lakes to Lake Champlain. In the spring, under the direction of General Sir George Prevost, the British began preparations for an invasion. In August 1814 the expedition got underway. Fourteen thousand troops marched south while a naval squadron under the command of Captain George Downie sailed down the lake, covering the advance.

Macdonough prepared to meet the British squadron at Plattsburgh, New York, positioning his squadron in such a way that Downie was forced to attack. Macdonough's dispositions were exceedingly well thought out and the British were overwhelmed in the battle that followed on 11 September. Within the first few minutes of the battle Downie was killed. Macdonough's victory forced Prevost to withdraw and left the Americans in nearly undisputed control of Lake Champlain. It also made Macdonough a national hero. Congress voted him their thanks and presented him with a gold medal.

Following the end of the war Macdonough was posted to command the navy yard at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he remained until 1818 when he was dispatched to Boston to take charge of the frigate Guerriere. He made a voyage to the Baltic and the Mediterranean and returned to the United States in 1820.

From 1820 until 1824 Macdonough remained ashore, spending a good deal of his time with his family in Middletown. On 23 May 1824 he was ordered to the Constitution and assigned as commodore of the Mediterranean squadron. While en route home from the Mediterranean on board the merchant brig Edwin, Macdonough died, apparently from respiratory complications.

Related Images


Related People

Preble, Edward

Related Vessels

Saratoga, USS

Related Events

1814 - Battle of Lake Champlain (UNLINKED)