Thomas Truxtun



Occupation 1


Occupation 2





NA/Mid-Atlantic region


Maritime Republic (1751-1815)








...Truxtun attended school for two years before he went to sea at the age of twelve aboard the merchant ship Pitt. He sailed in the London merchant trade and was impressed aboard HMS Prudent at the age of fifteen. Obtaining his release, he reentered the merchant trade, and by the age of twenty he was captain of his own ship, the Charming Polly.
...Truxtun was a devoted family man, but he was destined to be absent from his homestead much of the time, especially given the start of the American Revolution in the same year as his marriage. After losing the Charming Polly to a British ship in the West Indies, Truxtun made his way to Philadelphia and entered the privateer service in earnest. He served as lieutenant aboard the Congress and then commanded the Independence, Mars, and St. James. A highly successful privateer, he came out of the revolutionary war with a well-deserved reputation for being a strict captain, one who believed in the merits of the British style of command as epitomized by the captains of the Royal Navy.
In peacetime, Truxtun became a partner in a dry goods store in Philadelphia. Failing in that enterprise, he had the distinction of bringing Benjamin Franklin home from Europe to Philadelphia aboard the London Packett in 1785. He then entered the China trade, which was just starting to flourish, sailing the Canton from Philadelphia to China and back (Sept. 1786-May 1787) and then returning for a second voyage (Dec. 1787-June 1789). He also sailed to India in 1790-1791. Truxtun's reputation as a sailor was enhanced through these voyages, and in 1794 he advanced his name further through the publication of Remarks, Instructions, and Examples Relating to Latitude and Longitude.
In March 1794 Congress authorized the building of a U.S. Navy. Six new frigates were to be built in the major ports, and six new captains were commissioned. Truxtun was among the six chosen, coming behind John Barry, Samuel Nicholson, Silas Talbot, Joshua Barney, and Richard Dale. Truxtun resented his low placement on the list, and a feud developed between Truxtun and Talbot, one that would hinder Truxtun's career development.
Truxtun worked with naval constructor David Stodder in the building of the 36-gunConstellation in Baltimore (1795-1797). The ship was launched on 7 September 1797, and its services were soon required in the Quasi-War (the undeclared naval war with France) that began in 1798. Truxtun sailed as captain aboard the Constellation on its first cruise (1798), and on 9 February 1799 he met and fought the French 38-gun frigate Insurgentein the West Indies. After a fight that lasted for an hour and a quarter, the French surrendered the ship. "Truxtun's victory" as this was called, was the first significant American triumph in the Quasi-War, greatly enhancing Truxtun's reputation both at home and in Europe. On 20 May 1799 he led his own ship and the captured Insurgente into Hampton Roads, Virginia.
Following a summer during which he quarreled with his superiors over his placement on the naval list, Truxtun sailed again to the West Indies. During 1-2 February 1800 he led theConstellation in a furious five-hour battle against the French frigate La Vengeance, near Guadeloupe. Truxtun was prevented from capturing his opponent when the mainmast of the Constellation came down. The French ship escaped into the night and limped into port, but the French had suffered around 150 men killed or wounded to the American loss of eighteen dead and twenty-one wounded. In addition, La Vengeance had been a more heavily armed ship. Truxtun had again proved his skill as a sailor and fighter.
After Congress voted a medal to honor Truxtun's victory, he briefly commanded the frigatePresident, but the end of the Quasi-War in November 1800 effectively ended his active service career. When the Tripolitan War began in 1801, Truxtun had an opportunity to command a squadron that would sail to the Mediterranean, but he came into conflict with the new Jefferson administration over the question of who would serve as captain aboard his flagship. In the dispute that followed, the administration happily accepted Truxtun's intemperate statements as a resignation from the navy. Embittered by this treatment, Truxtun always maintained that Thomas Jefferson's Francophilic sympathies had gone against him, the man who had won the two key battles against the French during the Quasi-War.
Truxtun retired to Perth Amboy, New Jersey. He testified as a state's witness in the treason trial of Aaron Burr (1807) and ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the House of Representatives in 1810. His last public position was that of high sheriff for Philadelphia County (1816-1819). He spent the rest of his life in Philadelphia, where he died.
Truxtun was one of a small group of naval officers who founded and developed some of the finest traditions of the fighting U.S. Navy. Less well known than John Paul Jones, Edward Preble, or Stephen Decatur, he was in fact one of their true counterparts...

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