Thomas Truxtun

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Thomas Truxtun
Thomas Truxtun.jpg
Born(1755-02-17)February 17, 1755
Hempstead, New York
DiedMay 5, 1822(1822-05-05) (aged 67)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
AllegianceFlag of the United States (1777-1795).svg  United States of America
Service/branchFlag of the United States Navy (official).svg  United States Navy
Years of service1794–1801
Rank Commodore (USN)
Commands held USS Constellation
USS President
Battles/wars American Revolutionary War (as a privateer supporting the U.S.)

Thomas Truxtun (or Truxton) (February 17, 1755 – May 5, 1822) was an American naval officer after the Revolutionary War, when he served as a privateer, who rose to the rank of commodore in the late eighteenth century and later served in the Quasi-War with France. He was one of the first six commanders appointed to the new US Navy by President Washington. During his naval career he commanded a number of famous U.S. naval ships, including USS Constellation and USS President. Later in civilian life he became involved with politics and was also elected as a sheriff.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe, which is 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Privateer private person or ship authorized by a government to attack foreign shipping

A privateer is a private person or ship that engages in maritime warfare under a commission of war. The commission, also known as a letter of marque, empowers the person to carry on all forms of hostility permissible at sea by the usages of war, including attacking foreign vessels during wartime and taking them as prizes. Historically, captured ships were subject to condemnation and sale under prize law, with the proceeds divided between the privateer sponsors, shipowners, captains and crew. A percentage share usually went to the issuer of the commission. Since robbery under arms was once common to seaborne trade, all merchant ships were already armed. During war, naval resources were auxiliary to operations on land so privateering was a way of subsidizing state power by mobilizing armed ships and sailors.

Commodore was an early title and later a rank in the United States Navy, United States Coast Guard and the Confederate States Navy. For over two centuries, the designation has been given varying levels of authority and formality.


Early life and education

Truxtun was born near Hempstead, New York, on Long Island, the only son of an English country lawyer. [1] He lost his father at a young age and was taken to Jamaica on Long Island with relatives and placed under the care of a close friend, John Troup. [2] Having little chance for a formal education, he joined the crew of the British merchant ship Pitt at the age of 12, [3] against his father's previous wishes for him to pursue a career in politics. [4] [5]

Hempstead (village), New York Village in New York, United States

The IncorporatedVillageofHempstead is located in the Town of Hempstead, Nassau County, New York, United States. The population was 53,891 at the 2010 census,, but by 2017 had reached 55,806 according to the U.S. Census Bureau estimate. It is the most densely populated village in New York. Hempstead Village is the site of the seventeenth-century "town spot" from which English and Dutch settlers developed the Town of Hempstead, the Town of North Hempstead, and ultimately Nassau County.

Long Island Island in New York, United States of America

Long Island is a densely populated island off the East Coast of the United States, beginning at New York Harbor approximately 0.35 miles (0.56 km) from Manhattan Island and extending eastward into the Atlantic Ocean. The island comprises four counties in the U.S. state of New York. Kings and Queens Counties and Nassau County share the western third of the island, while Suffolk County occupies the eastern two-thirds. More than half of New York City's residents now live on Long Island, in Brooklyn, and in Queens. However, many people in the New York metropolitan area colloquially use the term Long Island to refer exclusively to Nassau and Suffolk Counties, and conversely, employ the term the City to mean Manhattan alone.

Jamaica, Queens Neighborhood of Queens in New York City

Jamaica is a middle-class neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens. It is mainly composed of a large commercial and retail area, though part of the neighborhood is also residential. Jamaica is bordered by Hollis to the east; St. Albans, Springfield Gardens, Rochdale Village to the southeast; and South Jamaica to the south; Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park to the west; Briarwood to the northwest; and Kew Gardens Hills, Jamaica Hills, and Jamaica Estates to the north.

Because of his skills, by the time he was twenty, Truxtun had garnered command of his own vessel, Andrew Caldwell. Before the Revolution he was impressed into the Royal Navy and was offered a midshipman's warrant, which he turned down. [1]

American Revolution Revolt in which the Thirteen Colonies won independence from Great Britain

The American Revolution was a colonial revolt which occurred between 1765 and 1783. The American Patriots in the Thirteen Colonies defeated the British in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) with the assistance of France, winning independence from Great Britain and establishing the United States of America.

Impressment Forced naval service with or without notice

Impressment, colloquially "the press" or the "press gang", is the taking of men into a military or naval force by compulsion, with or without notice. Navies of several nations used forced recruitment by various means. The large size of the British Royal Navy in the Age of Sail meant impressment was most commonly associated with Britain. It was used by the Royal Navy in wartime, beginning in 1664 and during the 18th and early 19th centuries as a means of crewing warships, although legal sanction for the practice can be traced back to the time of Edward I of England. The Royal Navy impressed many merchant sailors, as well as some sailors from other, mostly European, nations. People liable to impressment were "eligible men of seafaring habits between the ages of 18 and 55 years". Non-seamen were impressed as well, though rarely.

Royal Navy Maritime warfare branch of the United Kingdoms military

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years' War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.

He operated as a U.S. privateer during the American Revolutionary War, commanding several ships: Congress, Independence, Mars, and St. James. Truxtun was highly successful in capturing enemy ships during this period, not once suffering a defeat.[ clarification needed ]

American Revolutionary War War between Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies, which won independence as the United States of America

The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence, was an 18th-century war between Great Britain and its Thirteen Colonies which declared independence as the United States of America.

After the war he returned to the merchant marine, where he remained for 12 years. In 1786 he commanded Canton, operating from Philadelphia, one of the first American ships to engage in trade with China.

Philadelphia Largest city in Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, known colloquially as Philly, is the largest city in the U.S. state and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the sixth-most populous U.S. city, with a 2018 census-estimated population of 1,584,138. Since 1854, the city has had the same geographic boundaries as Philadelphia County, the most populous county in Pennsylvania and the urban core of the eighth-largest U.S. metropolitan statistical area, with over 6 million residents as of 2017. Philadelphia is also the economic and cultural anchor of the greater Delaware Valley, located along the lower Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, within the Northeast megalopolis. The Delaware Valley's population of 7.2 million ranks it as the eighth-largest combined statistical area in the United States.

China Country in East Asia

China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia and the world's most populous country, with a population of around 1.404 billion. Covering approximately 9,600,000 square kilometers (3,700,000 sq mi), it is the third or fourth largest country by total area. Governed by the Communist Party of China, the state exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four direct-controlled municipalities, and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.


In 1794 and the war with France looming, Truxtun was one of the first six captains appointed by President Washington in the newly formed US Navy. [6] During the Quasi-War with France, Truxtun commanded USS Constellation. For his first assignment he had previously[ when? ] overseen her construction in Baltimore, Maryland, with Silas Talbot. After a rank dispute with captains Dale and Talbot, Truxtun was placed in charge of the ship by President Washington. He commanded her with considerable success. [7] [8]

France Republic with majority of territory in Europe and numerous oversea territories around the world

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.02 million. France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

George Washington First President of the United States

George Washington was an American political leader, military general, statesman, and Founding Father who served as the first president of the United States from 1789 to 1797. He led Patriot forces to victory in the nation's War for Independence. He presided at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 which established the U.S. Constitution and a federal government. Washington has been called the "Father of His Country" for his manifold leadership in the formative days of the new nation.

United States Navy Naval warfare branch of US Armed Forces

The United States Navy (USN) is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. It is the largest and most capable navy in the world and it has been estimated that in terms of tonnage of its active battle fleet alone, it is larger than the next 13 navies combined, which includes 11 U.S. allies or partner nations. It has the highest combined battle fleet tonnage and the world's largest aircraft carrier fleet, with eleven in service, and two new carriers under construction. With 336,978 personnel on active duty and 101,583 in the Ready Reserve, the U.S. Navy is the third largest of the U.S. military service branches in terms of personnel. It has 290 deployable combat vessels and more than 3,700 operational aircraft as of June 2019, making it the third-largest air force in the world, after the United States Air Force and the United States Army.

Constellation engages L'Insurgente

Because of constant French privateering attacks against American vessels, an American squadron commanded by Truxtun was sent to the West Indies to patrol the waters between Puerto Rico and Saint Kitts with orders to engage any French forces they found in the area. Also on board was the young and later famous John Rodgers, acting 1st Lieutenant. [9] On 9 February 1799, while sailing independently of his squadron in his flagship Constellation, Truxtun encountered and engaged the French frigate L'Insurgente, a larger and more heavily armed vessel commanded by Captaine Barreau. After chasing the French ship through a storm, Constellation was able to force L'Insurgente into an engagement that lasted an hour and fourteen minutes. Barreau did not strike his colors until his ship was almost a complete wreck. French losses were 29 killed and 44 wounded, while Truxtun's crew only suffered one killed and two wounded. [10] [11] It was the first battle engagement since the Revolutionary War that an American ship had encountered an enemy ship. [12]

Constellation engages La Vengeance

On 31 January 1800, Constellation engaged La Vengeance , a larger vessel with a broadside of 559 pounds (254 kg) compared to Constellation's 372 pounds (169 kg). [13] [note 1] Constellation had sailed under Truxtun from Saint Kitts on 30 January, and encountered La Vengeance the following day. La Vengeance was bound for France under Capitaine de Vaisseau François Pitot carrying passengers and specie, and initially attempted to outrun Constellation. During the battle Constellation was partially dismasted and was forced to make her way to Jamaica. Thirty six hours after the engagement with La Vengeance, while passing the eastern end of Puerto Rico, Enterprise, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Shaw, arrived and fell in with Truxtun. After a short fall in[ clarification needed ] Truxtun sent Enterprise to Philadelphia with important dispatches. [15] [ clarification needed ]

Command of USS President

USS President was launched on 10 April 1800 and, at the time, was considered[ by whom? ] America's fastest sailing ship. [16] She was the last of the original six frigates launched. After the vessel was fitted out for sea duty, she set sail for Guadeloupe on 5 August with Captain Truxtun in command, relieving Stephen Decatur. She conducted routine patrols during the latter part of the Quasi-War and recaptured several American merchant ships; however, her overall service in this period was uneventful. She returned to the United States in March after a peace treaty with France was ratified on 3 February 1801. [17]

Truxtun's victories made Truxtun a hero of the time; when he arrived home he was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal on 29 March 1800, becoming the eighth recipient of that body's "highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions." [18] [19] [20]

During this period, Truxtun was involved in a dispute over rank with Richard Dale.[ clarification needed ] Truxtun took command of President for a few months in 1800, then retired from the Navy and located first in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and later in Philadelphia. He was offered command during the First Barbary War in 1801 but refused, settling firmly into retirement.


Truxtun had a thorough understanding of the art of celestial navigation and was one among few men of his day who possessed such intimate knowledge of this navigational art. He also designed the original Navy signal manual and wrote the predecessor to the Navy Regulations in use today. [21]

Later civilian life

Truxtun ran an unsuccessful campaign for the United States House of Representatives in 1810. In 1816 he was elected sheriff of Philadelphia County, serving until 1819. [18] He also published several books, well-known at the time, covering navigation and naval tactics.[ clarification needed ]

Truxtun died in Philadelphia on 5 May 1822 and is buried at Christ Church Burial Ground. [18]

Legacy and honors

See also


  1. The French naval historian Onésime-Joachim Troude reports La Vengeances armament as twenty-six 18 pounders (8.2 kg), ten 6 pounders (2.7 kg), and four 36-pounder (16 kg) carronades, a 336-pound (152 kg) broadside, compared to Constellation's twenty-eight 18 pounders (8.2 kg), ten 12 pounders (5.4 kg), and one 32-pounder (15 kg) carronade, a 472-pound (214 kg) broadside.[ clarification needed ] [14]

Related Research Articles

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USS <i>Constellation</i> vs <i>LInsurgente</i> 1799 naval action between the US and France

USS Constellation vs L'Insurgente, or the Action of 9 February 1799, was a single-ship action fought between frigates of the French Navy and the United States Navy during the Quasi-War, an undeclared war that lasted from 1798 to 1800. The battle resulted in USS Constellation's capture of L'Insurgente, after an intense firefight in which both sides exchanged heavy broadsides and musket fire.

USS <i>Constellation</i> vs <i>La Vengeance</i> single-ship action fought during the Quasi-War

The USS Constellation vs La Vengeance, or the Action of 1 February 1800, was a single-ship action fought between frigates of the French Navy and the United States Navy during the Quasi-War. In the battle the American frigate USS Constellation tried to take the French frigate La Vengeance as a prize. Both ships were heavily damaged. Although the French frigate struck her colors twice, she managed to flee only after the main mast of her opponent had fallen.


  1. 1 2 Toll, 2006, p. 120.
  2. McBride, 1815, p. 27.
  3. McBride, 1815, pp. 26–27.
  4. Toll, 2006, pp. 120–121.
  5. Seawell, 1898, p. 43.
  6. Frost, 1845, p. 177.
  7. Toll, 2006, pp. 156–159.
  8. McBride, 1815, p. 30.
  9. Guttridge, 2005, pp. 32–33.
  10. McBride, 1815, p. 31.
  11. Toll, 2006, pp. 115–117.
  12. Harrison, 1858, p. 157.
  13. Toll, 2006, p. 135.
  14. Batailles navales de la France, 1857.
  15. Cooper, 1846, p. 129.
  16. Toll, 2006, p. 15.
  17. Allen, 1909, pp. 217–221.
  18. 1 2 3 Loubat, 1881, p. 129.
  19. Seawell, 1898, p. 51.
  20. "Congressional Gold Medal Recipients". . Retrieved 2015-09-14.External link in |publisher= (help)
  21. Hattendorf, 2011, p. 127.


Further reading