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Commodore Melancthon Taylor Woolsey, USN (1782-1838), Contemporary portrait., USN. Naval History & Heritage Command, Art Collection.



Commodore Melancthon Taylor Woolsey, US Navy
1782 - 1838


Melancthon Taylor Woolsey was born in 1782 near Plattsburg, New York. After studying law for a time, he entered the Navy as a Midshipman on 9 April 1800. His first assignment was the frigate Adams in which he made a cruise to the West Indies in 1800 and 1801. He served briefly in the Tripolitan War just before its end in 1805. In 1807, newly promoted Lieutenant Woolsey received orders to Washington, DC, where he developed a code of signals for the Navy. From there, he was ordered to the shores of Lake Ontario in 1808 for the purpose of supervising the construction of Oneida. At the same time, he received a concurrent assignment as the commanding officer of the shore facilities located there. When the United States went to war with Great Britain in 1812, he was still in command of Oneida and the shore station at Sackett's Harbor. On 19 July 1812, a British squadron of five ships appeared. Woolsey attempted to escape to open water with Oneida, but the enemy squadron sealed off that avenue. Instead, he returned to Sackett's Harbor, landed half his battery, and repelled the British convincingly after a sharp two-hour exchange.

Early in October, Commodore Isaac Chauncey arrived on the scene and assumed overall command of American naval activities on the Great Lakes. Woolsey stayed on as second in command and remained commanding officer of Oneida. During the fall of 1812, Woolsey concentrated upon the construction, purchase, and outfitting of additional war vessels. Throughout the entire war, a construction race caused naval dominance on Lake Ontario to alternate between the British and Americans. Woolsey enabled America to grab the lead in the fall of 1812 by acquiring eight schooners to augment Oneida and the three-gun Julia. On 8 November, he commanded Oneida when the 19-gun warship and four of the newly acquired schooners encountered HMS Royal George - a large, 24-gun, ship-rigged sloop-of-war off Kingston and chased her into that port. Later, they followed her in and subjected her to bombardment. In May 1813, Woolsey commanded Oneida as her guns supported the capture of York (Toronto) and the assault on Fort George.

Woolsey was promoted to master commandant in July 1813 and by August was in the new schooner Sylph. Late in September 1813, he commanded his ship in a running fight between the American lake flotilla and Commodore Yeo's British force. That series of skirmishes resulted in another period of American dominance of Lake Ontario. On 5 October, his ship participated in the capture of the enemy cutter Drummond and the sloops-of-war Elizabeth, Mary Ann, and Lady Gore off False Ducks. In May 1814, after a winter of feverish preparation for the third summer of campaigning, Woolsey went to the supply depot at Oswego to pick up guns, cables, and other supplies needed at Sackett's Harbor. While he was there, the British squadron appeared off Oswego. By spreading false intelligence about his destination, Woolsey was able to take advantage of a dark night and make good his escape. The British learned of their mistake and sought to overhaul him which they did at Sandy Creek. Woolsey, however, had prepared an ambush in concert with Major Daniel Appling and his 150-man contingent of the United States Rifle Regiment. The British landing force was soundly trounced by Appling's riflemen and 200 Indian allies. Woolsey, in turn, brought his guns to bear on the squadron itself. The Americans defeated the enemy convincingly, killing 10, wounding 52, and capturing the rest. Woolsey then proceeded to Sackett's Harbor with his ordnance and supplies. Soon thereafter, he assumed command of the new brig, Jones, and retained that command until the end of the war in 1815.

After the war, Master Commandant Woolsey remained at Lake Ontario in command of the naval station at Sacketts' Harbor. In 1816, he was promoted to captain. He left Sackett's Harbor in 1824 to assume command of the frigate, Constellation, which he took on a West Indies cruise until June of 1827. He took command of the navy yard at Pensacola, Fla., late in 1827 and held the position until 1831. Between 1832 and 1834, Woolsey served as commodore in command of the Brazilian Station. His last active duty took him to the Chesapeake Bay where he supervised surveys from 1836 until his health began to decline in 1837. Commodore Woolsey died at Utica, N.Y., on 18 May 1838.

Ships named for Commodore Melancthon Taylor Woolsey

The first Woolsey (Destroyer No. 77) was named in honor of Commodore Melancthon Taylor Woolsey, and the second Woolsey (DD-437) commemorated both him and his son, Commodore Melancthon Brooks Woolsey.

Dates of Service

1800 12 May Appointed and warranted a Midshipman in the US Navy from 9 April 1800. Directed to take oath and return it to the Department with his letter of acceptance, from the date of which his pay would commence. To hold himself in readiness for immediate service when called upon. In a postscript ordered to repair immediately to New York and place himself under the command of Captain Robinson, commanding the US Frigate New York.
  24 May Accepted appointment at Whitestown, New York.
  30 August Transferred to USS Adams, which had returned to New York in July from the West Indies, particpating in Naval War with France, and was ordered in October to the San Domingo Station for further participation in the war.
1801 Retained in the naval service under the Peace Establishment Act of 3 March 1801.
  2 July Ordered to USS Boston, which sailed from New York 28 October 1801, and after landing the American Minister to France at L'Orient proceeded to the Mediterranean to participate in the War with Tripoli. Transferred from the Boston to the Adams in the Mediterranean, from the Adams to the New York, from the New York to the Chesapeake, and back to the New York. Returned home in Commodore Rodgers' squadron, apparently on the New York, which arrived at Washington 9 December 1803.
1803 16 December Permitted to go on furlough until called upon.
1804 19 March Ordered to repair immediately to Washington and report at the Navy Department. Addressed at Albany and Plattsburg, New York.
  20 April Order of 19 March repented; addressed at Plattsburg. Directed as he passed through New York and Philadelphia to report to recruiting officers for possible duty. If not needed in either place to repair immediately to Washington and report.
  28 May Attached to USS Essex, which sailed from Washington 27 May for the Mediterranean, to particpate in the War with Tripoli; joined the ship at Alexandria, Virginia, as an acting Lieutenant.
1805 15 March Commission as Lieutenant issued, dated 18 May 1804, and sent to the Commanding Officer in the Mediterranean to be numbered and delivered; not delivered.
1806 28 May Transferred from USS Essex to USS Constitution in the Mediterranean.
1807 14 February Commissioned Lieutenant, No. 29 on list. Appointment confirmed by Senate 8 January 1807; commission sent to Mediterranean by USS Chesapeake 20 April 1807; returned to Department by Commodore Decatur. Returned to the United States in the Constitution, arriving at Boston in October, at New York in December 1807. Commission sent to New York in December 1807.
1808 5 February Ordered to Washington, bringing all the informationon the subject of telegraphy in his possession; letter enclosed to Commodore Chancey, Commanding Officer at New York, and forwarded to Plattsburg, NY; received 3 March during his absence on a trip for his helath; replied to in explanation of the delay and forwarded to him.
  4 April Orders of 5 February revoked.
  2 July Appointed to superintend the building of one large gunboat on Lake Ontario and two samll gunboats on Lake Champlain. The vessel built on Lake Ontario was the brig Oneida, built at Oswego, New York, the first US naval vessel built on the Great Lakes, and commanded by him when completed. In command when the War of 1812 began.
1812 5 September Informed that Commodore Isaac Chauncey was expected in a short time to take command on the Lakes; in the mean time to be making every preparatory arrangement to obtain the mastery on Lake Ontario and Erie. In a previous letter he had been informed that the conduct of himself and his officers was highly approved by the President. Took an active part in the War of 1812.
1813 24 July Commissioned a Master Commandant (Commander) under confirmation of the Senate, No. 7 on list.
1815 11 March Informed that he was to remain in command at Sacketts Harbor on the withdrawal of Commodore Chauncey.
1816 27 April Commissioned Captain.
1825 5 January Detached from command at Sacketts Harbor and ordered to Norfolk, Virginia, to take command of the USS Constellation. Carried the Honorable Joel R. Poinsett, Minister Penipotentiary to Mexico, to his destination in April, returning to Norfolk in September, after which he visited his family at Sacketts Harbor.
  21 September Addressed at Sacketts Harbor and granted 3 weeks' leave from date; at expiration to return command of Constellation at Norfolk. Served in the West Indies and the Gulf of Mexico.
1826 27 Ocotber Appointed to the command of the Navy Yard at Pensacola, Florida; to assume command when relieved from the command of the Constellation.
1827 14 May Granted a months' leave; at expiration to resume command at Pensacola.
1830 19 March Detached from command at Pensacola and granted leave until further orders.
1832 16 August Ordered to take passage on the first convenient vessel for Brazil and on arrival assume command of the squadron on that station. Served with distinction on the station, the Secretary several times informing him of the President's approval of his conduct in circumstances connected with the protection of American citizens and commerce.
1834 10 Febraury Requested to be relieved from his command on account of the severe illness of his wife.
  18 April Informed that Captain James Renshaw had that day been appointed to succeed him in command of the squaron; on his arrival to consider himself relieved. The Secretary expressed regret for the circumstances that made him wish for an early return to the United States.
  18 September Reported his return. Letter acknowledged by the Secretary on 20 September, and congratulated on his safe return. Addressed at Utica, New York.
1835 Waiting orders. Address, Whitestown, New York.
1836 9 July Appointed President of a Board to make surveys of harbors south of Chesapeake Bay and report in time for the next session of Congress.
  23 July Ordered to join the USS Porpoise in Boston by 1 August to perform the duty required.
  20 November The Board reported their arrival at New York, the survey completed; would now proceed to prepare the report.
  20 December The Board submitted their report of the survey of southern harbors. No further duty found.
1838 18 May Died at his residence at Utica, New York at 12 o'clock midnight, of general dropsy. His death reported to the Secretary of the Navy by Dr. John McCull, the attending physician, in letter of 19 May.
 


Source: Adapted from 'Melancthon Taylor Woolsey, US Navy,' ZB file: Woolsey, Melancthon Taylor, Navy Department Library.



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