September 10, 2012
by Jim Salemi
MIDDLETOWN — Members of the Society of the War of 1812 in the State of Connecticut and the Connecticut United States Daughters of 1812 honored Commodore Thomas Macdonough, a War of 1812 veteran who lived and died in Middletown and oversaw the building of Navy gunships that were built here.
Macdonough Elementary School is named for Thomas Macdonough.
The ceremony was held at the commodore’s grave in Riverside Cemetery on Saturday.
The Society of the War of 1812 is made up of descendants of the War of 1812, and part of its mission is to educate and raise awareness of the war, as well as honor those who fought and died in it.
The society honored Macdonough since the battle that brought Macdonough to prominence, the Battle of Lake Champlain, took place on Sept. 11, 1814.
Kenneth Roach, society president, said the society’s education mission is a little difficult, since the 150th anniversary of the Civil War is overshadowing the War of 1812’s bicentennial.
“Why we selected September and this weekend was to have a dual commemoration — honoring him during the bicentennial and his leadership during the Battle of Champlain. Historians argue that it was because of Macdonough’s strategies during the battle that the British got serious about engaging in peace negotiations,” Roach said.
Roach said about 15 members of the Society of the War of 1812 and the Connecticut Daughters gathered at the grave after an informal dinner at the First and Last Tavern.
The Rev. Canon Robert Girard Carroon presided over the religious ceremony.
While there are no known descendants of Macdonough, an Episcopalian, it was discovered through genealogical research by the society that Carroon is the sixth grand-nephew of War of 1812 veteran Lt. Peter Gamble, who served under Macdonough.
Gamble was killed during the Battle of Champlain, and Macdonough personally penned a letter to Gamble’s family informing them of his death.
Those gathered for the ceremony each laid a white carnation on Macdonough’s tomb and placed a War of 1812 grave marker with an American Flag beside it.
Roach has studied Macdonough extensively and began his research before he was aware Macdonough lived in Connecticut.
An extensive biography about Macdonough by Roach can be read at the Society of the War of 1812 in the State of Connecticut’s website at http://www.1812ct.org/veterans.htm.
Macdonough was born in New Castle County, Del., on Dec. 31, 1783.
Macdonough first served on the USS Ganges in the Quasi-War with France. He served several years under Captain Alexander Murray on the USS Constellation, fighting the Barbary States in the Mediterranean. By the time he returned home in 1806, he had gained an impressive education in seamanship, navigation, and gunnery. During his service in the Mediterranean, Macdonough also served on the USS Enterprise. He distinguished himself during the destruction of the USS Philadelphia, an American ship that had been taken over by pirates, and the capture of two Tripolitan gun boats. He was subsequently promoted to lieutenant in January 1806.
Assisting Isaac Hull, he later supervised the construction of several gunboats in Middletown.
Macdonough married Lucy Anne Shaler on Dec. 12, 1812. The service was performed by Bishop Abraham Jarvis at Christ Church, Middletown.
Several US Navy ships were named after Commodore Macdonough. In 1937, President Roosevelt urged that U.S. Postage Stamps be issued in honor of naval heroes. Macdonough was so honored with the issuance of a two cent stamp.