Melancthon Taylor Woolsey was born in 1782 near Plattsburg, N.Y. 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 Lt. Woolsey received orders to Washington, D.C., 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 Maj. 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.
Melancthon Brooks Woolsey, the son of Commodore Melancthon Taylor Woolsey, was born at Sackett's Harbor, N.Y., on 11 August 1817. He entered the Navy as a midshipman on 24 September 1832. After duty at sea and a tour at the Naval School, Woolsey became a passed midshipman on 16 July 1840. He progressed through the rank of master to that of lieutenant by 1847. It was in that rank that he was placed on the reserve list by the retiring board in September 1855. Lt. Woolsey returned to active duty in 1861 as a result of the Civil War. Assigned initially to the receiving ship at New York, Woolsey had assumed command of the steamer Ellen by late 1861 and began patrol duty with the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. During that tour, his ship fought Confederate forces on three separate occasions. In May 1862, he engaged Fort Pemberton at Wapper Creek, S.C. On 1 June, his ship repelled a Confederate cavalry attack at Secessionville. Three days later, he commanded Ellen during the attack on James Island.
In July 1862, he was promoted to commander and placed in command of the sloop Vandalia. That duty lasted until early 1863, at which time he was transferred to command of the steamer Princess Royal. That ship was assigned to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron and patrolled the coasts of Louisiana and Texas. On 28 June 1863, Princess Royal helped to defend the town of Donaldsville, La., against a determined Southern attack, and Comdr. Woolsey received high commendation from his superiors for his ship's contribution to the successful defense of the town. He remained with the blockade through the end of the war and, by July 1866, saw his name returned to the active list in the rank of captain.
Following the Civil War, Capt. Woolsey commanded the sloop-of-war Pawnee on the South Atlantic Station in 1867 and 1868. In 1869, he took command of the South Atlantic Station flagship Guerriere. In 1871, Woolsey was promoted to commodore, probably as flag officer in charge of the South Atlantic Station. His last tour of duty came in March 1873, when he took over as commandant of the navy yard at Pensacola, Fla. Commodore Woolsey received orders detaching him from command of the navy yard in the summer of 1874. At the time, an epidemic of yellow fever raged at Pensacola, and Woolsey deemed it necessary to remain at his post to prevent panic. As a result of his devotion to duty, Commodore Woolsey contracted the disease and died at Pensacola on 2 October 1874.
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.
(Destroyer No. 77: dp. 1,154 (n.) ; l. 314'4½ "; b. 30'11¼ " (wl.); dr. 9'8½" (aft); s. 35.33 k.; cpl. 131; a. 4 4", 2 1-pdrs., 12 21" tt., 2 dct, 1 Y-gun; cl. Wickes)
The first Woolsey (Destroyer No. 77) was laid down on 1 November 1917 at Bath, Maine, by the Bath Iron Works; launched on 17 September 1918; sponsored by Mrs. Elise Campau Wells; and commissioned on 30 September 1918, Lt. Comdr. Frederick V. McNair in command.
After trials out of Bath and outfitting at the Boston Navy Yard and the Newport Torpedo Station, Woolsey headed for New York on 9 October to join Virginia (Battleship No. 13) before sailing for Europe. On 13 October, she and the battleship departed New York harbor in the screen of Convoy HX-52. After a relatively uneventful voyage, the convoy was turned over to a British escort force on the 22d. Woolsey then set course for Buncrana, located in the far northern portion of Ireland, and arrived there on 23 October. Two days later, she departed Buncrana and stood down the Irish Sea en route to Ponta Delgada in the Azores. After fueling at Ponta Delgada on the 30th, the destroyer continued her voyage home and reentered New York on 5 November. After about a month at New York, during which time hostilities ended under the armistice of 11 November, Woolsey left New York on her way back to Europe to join the American naval contingent assigned there for postwar duty. She arrived in Brest, France, on 20 December and reported for duty to the Commander, Naval Forces Europe.
For the next seven months, she performed various missions for America's naval establishment in Europe. Her primary mission consisted of runs between Brest and ports in southern England—notably Plymouth and Southampton—transporting passengers and mail. On 11 March 1919, she was one of the four American destroyers to escort George Washington into Brest, France, when that ship arrived with President Wood-row Wilson embarked. After a four-month return to cross-channel runs between England and France, Woolsey was honored a second time when she was assigned duty as one of George Washington's escorts for President Wilson's return voyage to the United States from the Versailles peace conference. She departed Brest late in June 1919 in company with George Washington and arrived in Hampton Roads on 8 July.
Ten days later, Woolsey put to sea again bound for a new assignment—the Pacific Fleet. She reached Panama on the 24th, transited the canal, and headed for maneuvers in the Hawaiian Islands. At the completion of those maneuvers, she returned to the continental United States at San Diego. On 31 May 1920, the destroyer was placed out of commission at the Mare Island Navy Yard—probably for an extensive overhaul because she was recommissioned again on 20 October 1920. For the remainder of her relatively brief career, Woolsey operated with the Pacific Fleet along the western coast of North America. While operating off the Pacific coast of Panama near Coiba Island early on the morning of 26 February 1921, Woolsey was cut in half during a collision with the merchant vessel, SS Steel Inventor, and sank.