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History of Delaware
St Jones River, Near Dover DE ca 1925
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Local History Notes:
Delaware and the War of 1812
Delaware contributed three distinguished officers to the
naval service in the war of 1812: Commodore Thomas
Macdonough, the hero of Lake Champlain, was born in St. Georges
Hundred, New Castle County, this State, on December 31,
1783, on the farm on which his father and grandfather lived
before him. He received an appointment from John Adams,
President, in 1800, as midshipman in the navy through the
intercession of Henry Latimer, then a United States Senator
from Delaware. For his gallant services in the bombardment
of Tripoli, August 3, 1804, he was promoted to the rank of
Lieutenant, His services in the Mediterranean showed his
superiors the spirit that was in him.
"The Almighty has been pleased to grant us a signal victory on Lake Champlain."
To which the Secretary of the Navy replied:
"Tis not alone the brilliancy of your victory in a Naval view, but its importance and beneficial results that will fix the attention and command the gratitude of your admiring country. "Accept, sir, the assurance of the high respect and warm approbation of the President of the United States which I am commanded to present, and my sincere congratulations."
Commodore Macdonough won by this victory a place in the hearts and esteem of his countrymen second to none. The whole country did him homage. The State of Delaware, the State of his birth, by resolutions of its General Assembly had his portrait painted, which still graces the walls of the State Capitol, and presented to him a silver service, still in possession of his family, in recognition of the distinguished services which he rendered to his country in this war.
Some of those historians whose function it is to explain everything, may eventually be able to tell us why Delaware has said so little in praise of Macdonough. To this day his name is less known to the general public than Perry's, although in the navy his memory as an officer and a man stands higher than that of Perry. Rhode Island's laudations of her son who triumphed on Lake Erie have exceeded Delaware's eulogies of the gallant seaman who won the greater triumph of Lake Champlain in a ratio of several times sixteen to one. It is a safe assertion that of all the men in the United States who take the slightest interest in their country's history, there is not one who does not know that Perry was born in Rhode Island, while there are many intelligent readers who do not know that Macdonough was born in Delaware. However, James Macdonough, the grandsire, settled in Delaware before George Washington was born, and Thomas Macdonough, the sire, after practicing medicine in his native colony, fought for independence under George Washington. After the Revolution, Colonel Macdonough sat on the bench in Common Pleas and Orphan's Court, and died in 1795, at which time Thomas the younger, born in 1783, had not yet begun his teens.
Scarcely anything is known of the Commodore's boyhood, but research has discovered that he was for a time clerk in a store at Middletown. His professional career begins with his appointment as a midshipman on February 5, 1800. A cruise in the West Indies showed him the smooth and the rough side of sea life, for he earned some prize money and caught the yellow fever. In 1803 he was one of the midshipmen of the "Philadelphia," the ill-fated vessel which ran on the Tripolitan reefs, and gave Decatur a chance for his immortal bonfire. The "Philadelphia" recaptured an American brig which a Moorish corsair had siezed, and young Macdonough was ordered to take the prize into Morocco. A midshipman naturally regarded such an appointment with pleasure, as it showed that his captain regarded him as trustworthy; but in Macdonough's case, this cruise was a rare specimen of "midshipman's luck." It meant that Macdonough was the only officer on the "Philadelphia" who escaped capture; it transferred him to the "Enterprise," Decatur's famous schooner; it gained him Decatur's favor; it gave him a chance to cruise, to fight, and to climb the ladder of fame, while Bainbridge, Porter, Jones, Biddle and the others were behind the walls of the Basha's prison. Macdonough was one of the party that burned the "Philadelphia," and in the subsequent attacks on Tripoli, he did his share of the fighting.
The Mediterranean, with pirates on the water and bandits on the shore, was full of dangers, and on an evening walk Captain Decatur and Midshipman Macdonough were attacked by these men. It was a bad night's work for the ruffians, for the Americans drove them off, and Macdonough chased one of the three until the man jumped from a roof and died in consequence. An incident of this kind would not be forgotten by Decatur, and we may be sure that he was ready to say a good word for Tom Macdonough whenever the midshipman wanted a friend.
After the Tripolitan war, Macdonough served along our coast in the enforcement of the Embargo, Mr. Jefferson's pet measure for suspending our commerce with foreign nations. The law was one of the most unpopular measures ever passed, and nowhere was its unpopularity better understood than in the navy. On the other hand, the Embargo led some excellent seamen to ship on board our cruisers, and the constant vigilance necessary in the enforcement of a law which all New England hated and feared, developed the qualities of an officer.
The navy of that day was small, the pay was scanty, and officers frequently sought furloughs in order to cruise in the merchant service. Macdonough, while in command of the merchant brig "Gallion," stopped at Liverpool, and was impressed by an English press gang, despite his protest that he was a lieutenant in the American navy. He was carried on board a British frigate, but made his escape, knocking down a corporal who sought to intercept him. So far as known, Macdonough is the only renowned officer of the American navy who was ever impressed by the British. Porter was impressed, but it was before he had entered the navy. Bainbridge, Stewart, Lawrence, the unfortunate Barron, and most of our commanders had trouble with the British over the impressment of their men, but Macdonough knew by personal experience the brutality of the press gangs. His captivity, brief as it was, exposed him to the danger of the gag and the cat-of- nine-tails, and it is a highly probable tradition which represents him as saying that he would pay off the score.
On a former occasion, Macdonough, at great risk to himself, had rescued an impressed American from a British boat. Now he had, like Caesar, private as well as public wrongs to remember. History need scarcely glance at Macdonough's passing quarrels with the Navy Department or his unfriendly relations with General Dearborn, for such things must be. Jealousies, wranglings, questions of rank and dignity, will continue so long as there are wars and rumors of war.
Macdonough, in 1812, took command of Lake Champlain. Like Perry on Lake Erie, like Chauncey on Lake Ontario, he had virtually to build a fleet in a forest. Yet he eclipsed Chauncey by fighting a decisive battle, and he surpassed Perry by conquering a superior force. After Cooper and Roosevelt told the story of Lake Champlain and its victory, there was little left to tell. The British were superior in number of men, in the tonnage of their vessels, and in their battery; but Macdonough had additional resources in his cool pre-arrangements and his quickness of adaptation. He so adjusted his anchors that he could turn his vessels and bring fresh guns to bear on the enemy. Quietly and with prayer he awaited the conflict, and a bloody fight of two hours and a half ended in his triumph. The details of the combat cannot here be given, but it is rarely an easy task to conquer British seamen, and Macdonough is one of the few who ever did beat them when the odds were on their side.
His success on the water practically meant that a commander, though with inferior forces, can take a long step towards victory if he secures the best position and forces the enemy to expose himself to the broadsides of the defensive fleet. It also meant and effected a land victory, for the British soldiers retreated from an inferior American force. They were not beaten, and probably could not have been beaten by troops so few in comparison to their own, but naval ascendancy was essential to the proposed invasion, and with Macdonough in command of the lake, the British army had nothing to do but fall back to a place of safety.
From: History of the State of Delaware by Henry Clay Conrad, 1908
The 1854 Gazetteer of the United States by Thomas Baldwin shows:
DELAWARE, one of the Middle States, and one of the original thirteen, is bounded on the N. by Pennsylvania, E. by the Delaware river and bay, (which separates it from New Jersey,) and the Atlantic ocean, and S. and W. by Maryland. It lies between 38° 28´ and 39° 50´ N. lat., and between 75° and 75° 45´ W. lon., being about 96 miles in length, and 37 in its greatest breadth, including an area (the smallest except Rhode Island in the Union) of 2120 square miles, or 1,356,000 acres, of which 580,862 were improved in 1850.
Biography of Joshua Hopkins Marvil
Joshua Hopkins Marvil, governor of Delaware, was born in Little Creek hundred, Sussex county, Del., Sept. 3, 1825. After his father's death in 1834 he worked on the farm, obtaining but a limited education, and in 1845 he became a sailor. He engaged in the shipbuilder's trade 1846-53, and in 1853 began the manufacture of agricultural implements, which he continued with success until 1870, when he opened a manufactory for fruit crates and baskets, using in their manufacture inventions of his own and so perfecting the process as to make his establishment capable of manufacturing 2,000,000 baskets per annum. He was elected governor of Delaware, Nov. 6, 1894; was inaugurated in January, 1895, and died in Laurel, Del., April 8, 1895.
Biographical Sketch of Joseph Haslet
Joseph Haslet, governor of Delaware, was born in Kent county, Del.; son of Col. John Hasler, a soldier in the Revolutionary war, who fell at the battle of Princeton. Joseph was left under the guardianship of William Killen, chief-justice and chancellor of Delaware, and when he became of age he removed to Cedar Creek Hundred, in Sussex county. He was governor of Delaware, 1811-14, and 1823. He died in Sussex county, Del., June 23, 1823.
Biography of Charles Polk
Charles Polk, governor of Delaware, was born near Bridgeville, Sussex county, Del., Nov. 14, 1788; son of Charles, and grandson of Charles Polk. His father died when he was a boy, and he studied law under Kensey Johns, but never practised. He represented Sussex county in the state legislature in 1813 and 1815, removed to Kent county, Del., in 1816, and subsequently represented that county in the state legislature. He was Federalist governor of Delaware, succeeding David Hazzard, 1827-30; president of the state constitutional convention, 1831; a member of the state senate, 1832, and its president in 1836, when by the death of Gov. Caleb P. Bennett, he again became governor and served through that year. He was made register of wills for Kent county in 1843, and was appointed collector of the port of Wilmington by President Taylor in 1849. He was married to Mary Purnell of Berlin, Ind., and of their sons, William A. Polk was register of wills in Kent county, and Dr. Charles G. Polk was assistant surgeon, U.S.A. Governor Polk died near Milford, Kent county, Del., Oct. 27, 1857.
John McKinly - A Biography
John McKinly, 1st president of the Delaware state, was born in Ireland, Feb. 24, 1721. He immigrated to the United States in 1742 and settled at Wilmington, Del., where he was a practitioner in physic. He was married about 1761 to Jane Richardson. He was sheriff of Newcastle county, 1757-60; chief burgess of Wilmington, 1759-77, and on Feb. 21, 1777, he was elected the first president of Delaware. He held this office until Sept. 11, 1777, when the British troops fresh from the battle of Brandywine entered Wilmington and took him prisoner, and he was succeeded in office by Thomas McKean . He was exchanged in October, 1778. He was brigadier-general of the state militia during the Revolution, and in December, 1782, he filed a statement showing that he had sustained a loss of ?1,055 in damage to his property at the time of his arrest. He was a founder of the Delaware Medical society in 1789; and was a trustee of the First Presbyterian church, 1789-96. There is supposed to be no portrait of him in existence. He died in Wilmington, Del.. Aug. 31, 1796.
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