Builders of our Country Vol. II - G. Southworth

Thomas Macdonough


A year and a day after the battle of Lake Erie, the battle of Lake Champlain was fought. This was on September 11, 1814. The hero of the encounter was Thomas Macdonough.

Thomas MacDonough


In 1814, the English planned to attack 'New Fork by way of Lake Champlain, as General Burgoyne had done more than thirty-five years before. While a British fleet entered the lake, a British army advanced on Plattsburg. The army and the fleet were to make a joint attack.

Battle of Plattsburg


To oppose this, the Americans had a small force at Plattsburg and a few war vessels on the lake under the command of Thomas Macdonough. Reaching Plattsburg, the English troops waited for their fleet to begin the battle. The first broadside had just flashed forth when, on the American flagship, a pet game cock flew upon one of the guns and gave a defiant crow. Macdonough's men raised cheer after cheer and, encouraged by the happy omen, plunged into the fight.

At length not one of the flagship's starboard guns was fit to use. Then Macdonough, with the utmost coolness and bravery, turned his boat around so that the guns on the other side could be brought to bear. The fresh attack was too much for the English. Soon their flagship surrendered, and the other vessels were overcome.

On the defeat of his fleet the British General and his army retreated to Canada. Macdonough by his victory had put an end to the invasions of New York.


Although Thomas Macdonough's fame as a warrior rests on the battle of Plattsburg, that was not the only service he rendered our country. Eleven years before he had distinguished himself against the Barbary pirates. Along the north of Africa lie Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. From their ports for years the Barbary pirates had sallied forth on the Mediterranean, capturing merchant men, confiscating their cargoes, and holding their crews for ransom, or selling them as slaves. England and the countries of Europe had long paid an annual tribute to free their shipping from these piratical pests.

When American ships began to frequent the Mediterranean, the Barbary pirates welcomed them as a new source of profit. And our ships too were plundered, and our crews held for ransom. So for a time the United States likewise paid an annual tribute to Algiers.

This roused the envy of Tunis and Tripoli, and they began to make demands on our Government. It seems now almost amusing to read how the ruler of Tunis ordered the American Consul to furnish him ten thousand stand of arms, as peace depended on compliance. Tripoli went even further and, in 1801, actually declared war on the United States.

In the course of this war, the American frigate, Philadelphia, wrecked near Tripoli, was captured, towed into the harbor, and anchored under the guns of the port. Here she was repaired and fitted up to fight against us. This was adding insult to injury. But how to prevent it?

Stephen Decatur, a gallant officer, asked permission to try, and called for volunteers to go with him. There was a hearty response. And one night Decatur with a few men stole into the harbor of Tripoli, boarded the Philadelphia, and burned her to the water's edge, under the very guns of the enemy. It was a valiant deed, and one of Decatur's little band was Thomas Macdonough.

Battle of Tripoli