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Thomas Truxtun

Thomas Truxtun (or Truxton) (February 17, 1755 – May 5, 1822) was an American naval officer after the Revolutionary War, when he served as a privateer, who rose to the rank of commodore in the late eighteenth century and later served in the Quasi War with France and the First Barbary War in North Africa. He was one of the first six commanders appointed to the new US Navy by President Washington. During his naval career he commanded a number of famous US naval ships including USS Constellation and USS President. Later in civilian life he became involved with politics and was also elected Sheriff.

Early life and education

Born near Hempstead, New York on Long Island, Truxtun was the only son of an English country lawyer.[1] He lost his father at a young age and was taken to Jamaica on Long Island with relatives and placed under the care of a close friend, John Troup.[2] Having little chance for a formal education he joined the crew of the British merchant ship Pitt at an early age of 12.[3] Truxtun went against his father's previous wishes for him to pursue a career in politics and at the age of twelve he left his home in Jamaica and joined the merchant Marine.[4][5][Clarification needed]

Naval service

Because of his skills, by the time he was twenty, Truxtun had garnered command of his own vessel, Andrew Caldwell. Before the Revolution he was impressed into the Royal Navy and was offered a midshipman's warrant which he turned down.[1]

He operated as a privateer during the American Revolutionary War, commanding several ships: Congress, Independence, Mars, and St. James. Truxtun was highly successful in capturing enemy ships during this period, not once suffering a defeat.[Clarification needed]

After the war he returned to the merchant marine, where he remained for 12 years. In 1786 he commanded Canton, operating from Philadelphia, one of the first American ships to engage in trade with China.

Quasi War

In 1794 and the war with France looming, Truxtun was one of the first six captains appointed by President Washington in the newly formed US Navy.[6] During the Quasi-War with France Truxtun commanded USS Constellation. For his first assignment he had previously[when?] overseen her construction in Baltimore, Maryland with Silas Talbot. After a rank dispute with captains Dale and Talbot, Truxtun was placed in charge of the ship by President Washington. He commanded her with considerable success.[7][8]

Constellation engages L'Insurgente

Because of constant French privateering attacks against American vessels, an American squadron commanded by Truxtun was sent to the West Indies to patrol the waters between Puerto Rico and Saint Kitts with orders to engage any French forces they found in the area. Also on board was the young and later famous John Rodgers, acting 1st Lieutenant.[9] On 9 February 1799, while sailing independently of his squadron in his flagship Constellation, Truxtun encountered and engaged the French frigate L'Insurgente, a larger and more heavily armed vessel commanded by Captaine Barreau. After chasing the French ship through a storm, Constellation was able to force L'Insurgente into an engagement that lasted an hour and fourteen minutes. Barreau did not strike his colors until his ship was almost a complete wreck. French loses were 29 killed and 44 wounded, while Truxton's crew only suffered one killed and two wounded,[10][11] It was the first battle engagement since the Revolutionary War that an American ship had enountered and enemy ship.[12]

Constellation engages Vengeance

On 31 January 1800, Constellation engaged HMS Vengeance, a larger vessel with a broadside of 559 pounds (254 kg) compared to Constellation's 372 pounds (169 kg).[13] [note 1] Constellation had sailed under Truxtun from Saint Kitts on 30 January, and came across Vengeance the following day. Vengeance was bound for France under Capitaine de Vaisseau François Pitot, carrying passengers and specie, and initially attempted to outrun Constellation. During the battle Constellation was partially dismasted and was forced to make her way to Jamaica. Thirty six hours after the engagement with L'Vengeance while passing the eastern end of Puerto Rico Enterprise, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Shaw, arrived and fell in with Truxtun. After a short fall in[Clarification needed] Truxtun sent Enterprise to Philadelphia with important dispatches.[15][Clarification needed]

Command of USS President

USS President was launched on 10 April 1800 and, at the time, was considered[by whom?] America's fastest sailing ship.[16] She was the last of the original six frigates to do so.[Clarification needed] After the vessel was fitted out for sea duty, she set sail for Guadeloupe on 5 August with Captain Truxtun in command, relieving Stephen Decatur. She conducted routine patrols during the latter part of the Quasi-War and recaptured several American merchant ships, however her overall service in this period was uneventful. She returned to the United States in March after a peace treaty with France was ratified on 3 February 1801.[17]

His victories, perhaps most notably that over the L'Insurgente, made Truxtun a hero of the time. Consequently, when Truxtun arrived home he was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal on 2 February 1800, becoming the eighth recipient of that body's "highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions."[18][19][20]

During this period, Truxtun was involved in a dispute over rank with Richard Dale.[Clarification needed] Truxtun took command of President for a few months in 1800, soon after retiring from the Navy and locating first in Perth Amboy, New Jersey and later in Philadelphia. He was offered command during the First Barbary War in 1801 but refused, settling firmly into retirement.


Truxtun had a thorough understanding of the art of celestial navigation and was one among few men of his day who possessed such intimate knowledge of this navigational art. He also designed the original Navy signal manual and wrote the predecessor to the Navy Regulations in use today.[21]

Later civilian life

Truxtun ran an unsuccessful campaign for the United States House of Representatives in 1810. In 1816 he was elected sheriff of Philadelphia County, serving until 1819.[18] He also published several books, well-known at the time, covering navigation and naval tactics.[Clarification needed]

Truxtun died in Philadelphia on 5 May 1822 and is buried at Christ Church Burial Ground.[18]

Legacy and honors

  • Several Navy ships have been named in Truxtun's honor.
  • The town of Truxton, New York was named for him.
  • Washington, D.C. once had a traffic circle, Truxton Circle, named after him. After it was demolished, the nearby neighborhood retains his name.
  • Truxtun Park in the City of Annapolis, Maryland is named in his honor.
  • Truxtun, in Portsmouth, Virginia, one of the first federally-funded planned communities in America was named for him. It was built shortly after World War I for African-American workers at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

See also


  1. The French naval historian Onésime-Joachim Troude reports Vengeance's armament as twenty-six 18 pounders (8.2 kg), ten 6 pounders (2.7 kg), and four 36-pounder (16 kg) carronades, a 336-pound (152 kg) broadside, compared to Constellation's twenty-eight 18 pounders (8.2 kg), ten 12 pounders (5.4 kg), and one 32-pounder (15 kg) carronade, a 472-pound (214 kg) broadside.[Clarification needed][14]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Toll, 2006 p.120
  2. McBride, 1815 p.27
  3. McBride, 1815 pp.26-27
  4. Toll, 2006 pp.120-121
  5. Seawell, 1898 p.43
  6. Frost, 1845 p.177
  7. Toll, 2006 pp.156-159
  8. McBride, 1815 p.30
  9. Guttridge, 2005 pp.32-33
  10. McBride, 1815 p.31
  11. Toll, 2006 pp.115-117
  12. Harrison, 1858 p.157
  13. Toll, 2006 p.135
  14. Batailles navales de la France 1857
  15. Cooper, 1846 p.129
  16. Toll, 2006 p.15
  17. Allen, 1909 pp.217-221
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Loubat, 1881 p.129
  19. Seawell, 1898 p.51
  20. "Congressional Gold Medal Recipients". Office of the Clerk. US House of Representatives. Retrieved 2010-09-21. 
  21. Hattendorf, 2011 p.127


  • Allen, Gardner Weld (1909). Our naval war with France. Boston, New York and Chicago. 
  • Canney, Donald L (2001
    Chatham Publishing / Naval Institute Press). Sailing warships of the US Navy. ISBN 1-55750-990-5.
  • [[James Fenimore Cooper
    Carey and Hart |Cooper, James Fenimore]] (1846). Lives of Distinguished American Naval Officers. 1. Philadelphia. OCLC 620356.
  • Frost, John (1845). The pictorial book of the commodores: comprising lives of distinguished commanders in the navy of the United States. New York. ISBN 1-55750-839-9.  Url
  • Guttridge, Leonard F (2006). Our Country, Right Or Wrong: The Life of Stephen Decatur. New York, NY. ISBN 978-0-7653-0702-6.  Url
  • [[John Hattendorf
    Naval War College Press |Hattendorf, John B]] (2011). "The Formation and Roles of the Continental Navy, 1775-1785". Talking About Naval History: A Collection of Essays. Newport. ISBN 9781884733741.
  • Harrison, Henry William (1858). Battlefields and naval exploits of the United States: .... pp. 448.  Url
  • [[Joseph Florimond Loubat
    Author/Loubat, New York |Loubat, Joseph Florimond]] (1881). The medallic history of the United States of America, 1776-1876. 1.
  • McBride, James (1815). Naval biography consisting of memoirs of the most distinguished officers of the American navy; to which is annexed the life of General Pike.  Url
  • [[Theodore Roosevelt
    G.P. Putnam's sons |Roosevelt, Theodore]] (1883). The naval war of 1812. New York.
  • Seawell, Molly Elliot (1898). Twelve naval captains: being a record of certain Americans who made themselves immortal. London.  Url
  • Toll, Ian W (2006
    W. W. Norton & Company). Six frigates: the epic history of the founding of the U.S. Navy. New York. ISBN 978-0-393-05847-5.

Further reading

  • Ferguson, Eugene S (1956). Truxtun of the Constellation:
    The Life of Commodore Thomas Truxtun, U.S. Navy, 1755-1822
    . ISBN 0801865972.
      – Dated, but still the best biography of Truxtun in print.
  • Fowler, William M. (1900), Silas Talbot: Captain of Old Ironsides
    Mystic Seaport Museum, pp. 231, ISBN = 9780913372739, Url
  • Grant, Bruce (1930). Captain of the Constellation: Commodore Thomas Truxtun. New York. 
  • Statham, Edward Phillips (1910) Privateers and privateering. With eight illustrations
    Hutchinson & co / James Pott & Co., New York, pp. 382, ISBN = xxx, Url
  • Truxtun, Thomas (1809). Biographical Memoirs of Thomas Truxtun, ESQ. from the Port Folio. Bradford & Inskeep. 
  • Tuckerman, Henry, (2009), The Life of Silas Talbot
    Applewood Books, Bedford, Mass., pp. 148, ISBN = 9781429021593, Url

External links

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