Daniel McNeill



Occupation 1

privateer in the Revolution

Occupation 2

naval officer




NA/New England region


Maritime Republic (1751-1815)






Shortly after the outbreak of the Revolution, McNeill went to sea as a privateer, sailing on vessels holding commissions from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Altogether during the war McNeill commanded six privateers, Hancock, America, Eagle, Ulysses, Wasp, and General Mifflin. The last named was his most important command of the war. The General Mifflin was one of the most successful American privateers to venture into European waters. Under McNeill's command in 1778-1779 it took thirteen prizes. The General Mifflin returned to Boston in February 1779. While McNeill continued to share ownership in local privateers he did not go to sea again during the remainder of the war.
From the end of the Revolution until 1798 McNeill probably owned and perhaps commanded merchantmen sailing from Boston. This was a prosperous period for the port of Boston. Trade with the Northwest coast and China was thriving and was increasing along the traditional routes to Europe and the West Indies, and McNeill would have had considerable opportunity to invest in overseas ventures. With the outbreak of the Quasi-War with France in 1798 McNeill offered his services to the new navy. On 17 July 1798 he was commissioned a captain and assigned command of the Portsmouth, a small 24-gun ship built at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, by James Hackett.
The Portsmouth sailed on 26 January 1799 to join Commodore John Barry's squadron in the West Indies and was assigned to cruise off the French colony of Surinam. Its mission was to protect American vessels in that area from French warships and privateers. McNeill returned to Boston in May 1799. The secretary of the navy ordered him to refit quickly and return to the coast of Surinam. The Portsmouth was back on the coast in July, joined there by the revenue cutter Scammel. On his second deployment to Surinam McNeill was able to blockade the French privateer Hussar. When the port was captured by the British in August 1799 McNeill gave the Hussar over to the Royal Navy. McNeill returned to New York in January 1800.
On 8 April 1800 McNeill received orders to proceed to France under a flag of truce in order to bring home the American ministers who had been in Paris negotiating peace. The Portsmouth arrived at Le Havre on 20 May. With the war at an end, on 1 April McNeill was ordered to remove the Portsmouth's guns and bring the ship to Baltimore to be sold. McNeill himself was furloughed on 19 May and told to await orders.
On 2 July 1801 McNeill was ordered to command the frigate Boston, then at Boston. He was told to bring the Boston down to New York and prepare it to deliver the new American minister to France. On 1 October he received special orders that after delivering the minister he was to take the Boston and join the American squadron in the Mediterranean. Uncertain as to the situation in the Mediterranean, the secretary told McNeill that if peace should have been secured with the Barbary Powers by the time of his arrival, he was to return to the United States. If war still prevailed, he was to remain and assist in suppressing the enemy.
On 25 December the Boston arrived at Gibraltar. Learning that Commodore Richard Dale was at Toulon, McNeill proceeded to that port and arrived on 5 January. Since peace had not been secured Dale ordered the Boston to Tripoli. The frigate departed Toulon on 19 January but not without some controversy. To avoid being put under quarantine, McNeill did not report to the local authorities that his ship had recently visited other ports. In other words, he filed a false report. Perhaps because he feared being discovered, McNeill took the Boston back to sea so quickly that he left several of his crew ashore, including his third and fourth lieutenants, the lieutenant of marines, purser, purser's steward, wardroom steward, and two boys. Indeed, the departure was so sudden that three French officers who were aboard found themselves unexpectedly underway. Dale took serious objection to McNeill's actions and made an unfavorable report to the secretary, in which he questioned McNeill's integrity.
While cruising off Tripoli McNeill captured several small Tripolitan vessels. On 13 July McNeill was ordered to return to the United States with the Boston. One month later the secretary altered those orders. The Boston was to remain in the Mediterranean and McNeill was to make his way home by the best means available. While the secretary's orders did not specifically mention McNeill's conduct at Toulon, it is clear from other correspondence that the captain was being called home in disgrace. After arriving back in the United States McNeill was left to wonder about his future. No charges were ever brought against him for his conduct at Toulon, but on 27 October 1802 he was dismissed from the service under the provisions of the Peace Establishment Act of 1801.
McNeill returned to Boston and slid into obscurity. Although James Fenimore Cooper, in his History of the Navy, refers to McNeill's service in the War of 1812, there is no evidence to support the claim.