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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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Truxtun

 

Thomas Truxtun was born on 17 February 1755 near Hempstead, Long Island, New York. When his father died in 1765, young Truxtun came under the guardianship of John Troup of Jamaica, Long Island. Two years later, at the age of 12, he embarked upon a seafaring career, sailing with Captains Joseph Holmes and James Chambers in the London trade. At 16, he was pressed into service in the Royal Navy on board HMS Prudent. Truxtun's British commanding officer observed the lad's natural abilities and offered him aid in securing a midshipman's warrant. However, Truxtum declined, obtained his release through the good offices of influential friends, and returned to mercantile service. By the age of 20, he had risen to command of Andrew Caldwell in which he brought large quantities of gunpowder into Philadelphia in 1775. Later that year, his ship was seized by HMS Argo off St. Kitts in the West Indies, an act that caused some natural resentment in the young sea captain.


By the time Truxtun made his way back to Philadelphia, the colonies had reached the point of open rupture with the mother country. He signed on as a lieutenant in Congress, the first privateer to be fitted out for service against Great Britain. During the remainder of 1776, Truxtun participated in the capture of several prizes off the coast of Cuba. In 1777, he fitted out Continental Navy sloop Independence and sailed her to the Azores where he took three prizes. Upon his return, Truxtun fitted out Mars and made a highly successful cruise in the English Channel. Successively, he commanded Independence once more and then, in turn, Commerce and St. James.


In addition to privateering, Truxtun's ships also carried cargoes of military stores to the colonies. On one voyage in St. James, he landed a valuable cargo of gunpowder and military stores at Philadelphia. At a dinner to celebrate the feat, George Washington declared that Truxton's services had been worth those of a regiment. On another occasion, St. James—still under his command—carried Thomas Barclay, the American consul, to France.


Following the Revolution, Truxtun resumed his career in mercantile service and commanded Canton, the first Philadelphia ship to enter the China trade. When the United States Navy was organized, he was selected as one of its first six captains on 4 June 1798. He was assigned command of one of the new frigates then under construction. His ship, Constellation, was completed late in June; and he put to sea immediately to prosecute the undeclared naval war with revolutionary France.


The frigate, accompanied by a squadron of smaller ships, operated in the West Indies between St. Christopher and Puerto Rico. On 9 February 1799, Truxtun scored the first of his two most famous victories. After an hour's fight, Constellation battered Insurgente into submission, killing 29 and wounding 44 of the French frigate's crew. Truxtun brought Insurgente into St. Christopher where she was refitted and commissioned in the United States Navy.


Almost a year later, on 1 February 1800, he sighted the 50-gun French frigate La Vengeance, chased her all day, and finally overhauled her that evening. For the next five hours, Truxtun used superior American gunnery and the prevailing heavy seas to his advantage and, by 0100, completely overcame La Vengeance's initial broadside superiority. During the action, the French warship had struck her colors several times, but darkness had prevented Truxtun from seeing the signal. Accordingly, the engagement continued until every gun on board the Frenchman went silent. The French frigate then sheered off to flee, and Constellation's battle-damaged rigging made it impossible for the American frigate to pursue her escaping victim. After refitting Constellation at Jamaica, Truxtun returned with her to Norfolk late in March.


After commanding frigate President in the West Indies from mid-1800 to May 1801, Truxtun was appointed to command the squadron then fitting out for the Tripolitan expedition. Through a misunderstanding engendered by his request to have a captain appointed to command his flagship Chesapeake, Truxtun's unintended resignation from the Navy was accepted in Washington.


Commodore Truxtun retired first to Perth Amboy, N.J., and thence to Philadelphia, where he was active in local politics for the rest of his life. In 1809, he led the agitation in Philadelphia against the Embargo. The following year, he was unsuccessful in his bid for a seat in Congress under the Federalist banner. From 1816 to 1819, Truxtun served as the sheriff of Philadelphia. Commodore Truxtun died at Philadelphia on 5 May 1822 and was interred there at Christ Church.


I


(Brig: 329 tons; length between perpendiculars 102'6"; beam 28'2"; draft 12'3" (mean) ; depth of hold 13'0"; armament 10 32-pounder carronades, 2 long guns)


The first Truxtun—a brig laid down in late December 1841 at Portsmouth, Va., by the Norfolk Navy Yard-was launched on 16 April 1842; and commissioned on 18 February 1843, Lt. George P. Upshur in command.


On 16 June, Truxtun stood out of Hampton Roads for her first cruise as part of the Mediterranean Squadron. The brig reached Gibraltar on 9 July, received a visit from the American consul on the 16th, and sailed on the 18th to continue her cruise to protect American merchant shipping in the region. On 26 July, she hove into sight of Majorca and, the following day, dropped anchor in Port Mahon. She remained there until 28 August when she resumed her cruise. During the ensuing month, the brig proceeded to the eastern Mediterranean and visited several Aegean Sea ports before putting into Constantinople on 29 September. There, she conducted several missions for the American charge d'affaires before departing the Levant late in October. Sailing via Port Mahon again, Truxtun left the Mediterranean in mid-November and headed for Norfolk where she arrived on 28 December. In mid-January 1844, she moved to Philadelphia where she was placed out of commission on 6 February.


On 13 June 1844, Truxtun was placed back in commission, Comdr. Henry Bruce in command. Two weeks later, she sailed down the Delaware River and passed between the capes into the Atlantic. After visiting Funchal, Madeira, the warship joined the newly formed Africa Squadron. She took up station off Tenerife in the Canary Islands to begin anti-slave trade patrols. For 16 months, Truxtun patrolled off west Africa, visiting Monrovia, Liberia; and Sierra Leone as well as the islands of Mayo, St. Jago, and St. Vincent. She also took at least one prize, a schooner which was taken into the United States Navy as Spitfire. On 30 October 1845, the brig weighed anchor at Monrovia and she headed west for the United States. On 23 November, she arrived at the Gosport Navy Yard where she was placed out of commission once more on 28 November 1845.


In mid-May 1846, war broke out between the United States and Mexico. Truxtun was recommissioned at Norfolk on 8 June under the command of Lt. Edward W. Carpender. On the 15th, she passed El Morro castle and anchored in Havana harbor, Cuba. For the next six weeks, the brig operated off the coast of Cuba. On 2 August, the warship cleared Havana and, on the 9th, joined the blockading American fleet just off the Mexican coast at Sacrificios Island. On the 12th, Lt. Carpender received orders instructing him to relieve sloop of war John Adams on station off Tampico. Early in the evening on 14 August, the brig was heading north in a gale about 100 miles from her destination. She turned in towards land in order to be able to provision ashore the following morning. That maneuver brought her dangerously close to Tuxpan Reef, and she soon ran hard aground, a situation made worse by the continued gale. Still, her officers and crew tried to free her and declined a Mexican offer to surrender. On the morning of the 15th, she dispatched one of her cutters to the anchorage at Anton Lizardo to seek help.


Though stuck fast on the reef, the little warship refused to strike her colors and prosecuted the blockade using her lookouts and cutters. On the 16th, a lookout sighted a sail on the horizon and Lt. Carpender dispatched a cutter to investigate the stranger. The boarding party discovered that she was Mexican and promptly seized her. They sailed the prize toward Truxtun in an effort to help the stricken warship but could not get close enough to assist, owing to the reef. Lt. Carpender finally determined that further effort to save his ship would be fruitless. He sent some supplies to the men on board the captured Mexican and ordered them to Anton Lizardo with the prize and with a message indicating his intention to surrender to the Mexicans.


After putting the Mexican crew ashore at Tuxpan, the prize headed for Anton Lizardo. En route, she encountered a schooner. A long sea chase ensued; but, late in the evening of the 18th, Truxtun's prize claimed one of her own. With a prize crew of four on board the new captive, the two small ships set off for the American anchorage. Though they became separated in the night, both prizes reached their destination—the first, on the 22d; and the second, a day later.


Meanwhile, St. Mary's had entered Anton Lizardo after having previously picked up the cutter and crew Truxtun had dispatched for help on the 15th. In response to the information given him by St. Mary's, Commodore Conner, the commander of the Home Squadron, ordered Princeton and Falmouth to Truxtun's aid. Princeton hove into sight of the grounded brig early in the afternoon of the 20th and sent a landing party ashore under a flag of truce. The landing party learned that Lt. Carpender and the remainder of his crew had surrendered three days earlier. The following day, Princeton sent a boarding party to Truxtun; but they did not succeed in getting on board until the 22d. Finding that the Mexicans had taken all that was salvageable, they set fire to the ship which burned to the waterline and was subsequently struck from the Navy list.


Minor corrections, 07 August 2007