Artifact Corner: Portrait of MacDonough

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another Artifact Corner. Today we will be looking at a very small portrait in our collections. This is a portrait of Thomas Macdonough, the commander of the US fleet at the Battle of Plattsburgh. Thomas Macdonough was a frequent guest at the Delord household, and dined with the Henry and Betsey often during his time in Plattsburgh. Following their victory at the Battle of Plattsburgh, the citizens of the city wanted to do something to honor Macdonough and his men. The most prominent town leaders drafted a letter and went to hand deliver it to Macdonough, inviting him and his men to a celebration in honor of his victory. Henry Delord was among the citizens who organized and threw the party for them. It was just before Macdonough left Plattsburgh that he gifted this portrait to his friends, Betsey and Henry Delord. Let’s learn a bit more about the fascinating life of Thomas Macdonough.

Now many of us being native to the Lake Champlain region know the name Thomas Macdonough very well due to his victory over the British during the War of 1812. But let’s explore the rest of his life and illustrious career. Thomas MacDonough was born December 31, 1783 in a rural farm area in Delaware. Thomas was one of 10 children! His father was a Major in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. His parents sadly died when Thomas was quite young, and by the age of 12 he had a job as a store clerk to help support his family. By the age of 16 he had received his first naval commission, and was ordered to the 24 gun corvette Ganges. He earned some level of distinction when he sailed under the cover of night into the harbor at Tripoli, boarded a fully manned pirate vessel and burned it. Macdonough was described as a tall, quiet man, who was very duty driven and much beloved by all who served with him and under him.

Thomas was promoted to lieutenant in 1807, and stationed in Connecticut. It was around this time that he met his wife, Ann Shaler. The two married and ended up having nine children together. While stationed in Connecticut his mission was to prevent the English and the French from stealing cargo from ships coming and going. From 1810 to 1812 Macdonough took a leave from the navy, and we don’t know much about what he did during this time. But on June 18th, 1812 the Senate and House voted to declare war against Great Britain. Thomas was sent to Lake Champlain in October of 1812 and tasked with defending this vital waterway. He began building up the dismal fleet on the lake, and preparing for the British to come south. They did in May of 1814, when they attack Fort Cassin, and were rebuffed by the Americans. The British sailed south again in September of 1814, and were decisively defeated by Macdonough and his men at the Battle of Plattsburgh on September 11. Winston Churchill later called this victory “the most decisive engagement of the war.” Macdonough relieved Isaac Hull of command of the Portsmouth Navy Yard on July 1, 1815, and remained there for three years. By 1818 he was commanding the USS Guerriere a 44 gun frigate in the Mediterranean. By this point it was clear the Macdonough was ill with Tuberculosis, though he continued to work and serve in the Navy. In 1824 he received command of the USS Constitution, also serving in and around the Mediterranean. Within a year it was clear that his health was failing and in October of 1825 he turned command of Constitution over to Captain Daniel T. Patterson. He was transferred to the USS Edwin bound for New York, with the hopes of being able to return home. He sadly passed away on November 10th, 1825 still onboard the Edwin. His body was brought home and laid to rest in Middletown, CT.

This small portrait was given in gratitude for the hospitality that the Delord’s provided to Thomas and his family. This portrait was painted by George Freeman, a self taught miniature artist, and you can see his signature just above the left epaulette. This is a watercolor on paper, and is in lovely condition. We are so lucky to have this thoughtful gift from an incredibly talented Naval commander in our collections. It is truly a treasured piece. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,