US Navy and Revenue Cutter Service Officers

James Biddle

James Biddle (1783-1848) was born into a prominent Philadelphia family and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. He was then commissioned as a midshipman on board the USS President in 1800. After service aboard the USS Constellation he was captured when the USS Philadelphia grounded at Tripoli. Later he commanded a gunboat and, as a lieutenant, served aboard the Constitution and President. When the war began he was assigned to the USS Wasp under Master Commandant Jacob Jones. The Wasp defeated HMS Frolic in October 1812, but was then taken by the 74-gun HMS Poictiers. Exchanged, Biddle took command of the Wasp’s sister, the USS Hornet. Along with Captain Decatur in the USS United States and Captain Jones in the USS Macedonian, Biddle left New York in May 1813 but retired into the Thames River on June 1. In January 1814 Biddle was prepared to fight a ship-to-ship duel between the Hornet and HMS Loup Cervier (ex-USS Wasp). In November 1814 the Hornet left the Thames River for New York, then got to sea. Her cruise took her into the Indian Ocean and, not knowing the war had ended, she defeated HMS Penguin in March 1815 in the South Atlantic. A negotiator as well as a warrior, Biddle later commanded diplomatic expeditions to Oregon, Turkey, and China, but an 1846 overture to Japan was denied.


Isaac Chauncey

Isaac Chauncey (1772-1840) was born in Black Rock (Fairfield) and went to sea at a young age, commanding the New York ship Jenny at age 19. He joined the US Navy in 1798, serving as lieutenant in the USS President, Chesapeake, New York, John Adams, and Constitution during the Quasi-War with France and the war with Tripoli. He was promoted to captain in 1806, and after a short furlough as captain of a merchant ship he commanded the New York Navy Yard from 1807 to 1812. In September 1812 he was sent to command naval forces on Lakes Erie and Ontario with a base at Sacket’s Harbor, New York. Chauncey made Sacket’s Harbor the most active and productive American navy base during the war. His subordinate on Lake Erie, Oliver Hazard Perry, defeated the British squadron there, but Chauncey was less successful at using his large fleet to engage and defeat Sir James Yeo’s British squadron on Lake Ontario, and he feuded with the army commanders who considered his vessels more transports than warships. In 1815 he took command of the 74-gun USS Washington and served in the Mediterranean, where he negotiated a treaty with Algiers. Chauncey finished his long career as a member of the Board of Naval Commissioners.




Stephen Decatur

Stephen Decatur (1779-1820) was born in Maryland and grew up in Philadelphia. At age 19 he joined the USS United States as a midshipman during the Quasi-War with France and was soon promoted to lieutenant. Commanding the US Navy brig Argus during the War with Tripoli, Decatur impressed Commodore Edward Preble, who gave him the chance to destroy the captured American frigate Philadelphia (accompanied by Charles Morris, Thomas Macdonough, and 73 others). The successful raid was called “the most bold and daring act of the age” by British Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson. After commanding the Norfolk Navy Yard and USS Chesapeake, Decatur took command of the USS United States in 1809. After the war began he got to sea, and during his second cruise the United States captured HMS Macedonian in October 1812. On June 1, 1813, Decatur’s three-ship squadron was chased into New London Harbor by ships of the British blockading force. While in Connecticut, Decatur and his men assisted with the strengthening of Fort Griswold’s defenses and also joined the militia in response to several British raids and threats, all the while planning or supporting unconventional efforts to break free of the blockade. Militiaman Samuel Goodrich described Decatur in his memoir: “He was broad-shouldered, full-chested, thin in the flank; his eye was black, piercing, and lit with a spark of fire. His nose was thin, and slightly hooked: his lips were firm, his chin small, but smartly developed. His whole face was long and bony; his complexion swarthy; his hair jet black, and twisted in ropy curls down his forehead and over his ears. Altogether he was a remarkable looking man, and riveted the attention of every one who saw him. . . . Decatur did not conceal his impatience; his ill-humor rendered him unjust. He was not chary in his speech, and in fact he made himself many enemies by the freedom and vehemence with which he expressed his political opinions. Certainly he and the citizens of New London were heartily tired of each other.” After laying up his ships, Decatur departed from Connecticut in May 1814 to take command of the USS President and was captured in January 1815 trying to escape from New York. The British returned Captain Decatur to New London in time to participate in the peace ball there. Having survived intense combat on multiple occasions, Decatur died tragically in 1820 following a duel with former friend and fellow naval officer James Barron.  (© Mystic Seaport Collection, Mystic, CT, #1952.213)


Isaac Hull

Isaac Hull (1773-1843) was born at Derby. After his shipmaster father died he was adopted by his Uncle William Hull. By the 1790s he commanded merchant ships before being commissioned as a lieutenant in the US Navy in 1798 and serving on the USS Constitution during the Quasi-War with France. He served in the war with Tripoli and was promoted to captain in 1806. He then commanded the USS Chesapeake and President before taking over the Constitution in 1810. She spent the winter of 1810-11 in the Thames River at New London. After a diplomatic voyage to Europe, Hull had the Constitution ready when the War of 1812 began. Assisted by Lieutenant Charles Morris, Hull escaped a British squadron and got to sea. On August 19, 1812, the Constitution met and defeated HMS Guerriere in the first major ship action of the war. Hull received a gold medal from Congress for his victory, but he spent the rest of the war commanding the Portsmouth Navy Yard. After the war he commanded the Boston and Washington Navy Yards between commands of the Pacific and Mediterranean Squadrons.




Jacob Jones

Jacob Jones (1768-1850) was born in Delaware and orphaned at age four. He apprenticed at medicine and studied law before joining the US Navy as a 31-year-old midshipman after the death of his wife. He served in the USS United States during the Quasi-War with France and was promoted to lieutenant in 1801. He was taken prisoner when the USS Philadelphia was captured during the war with Tripoli. Released in 1805, he served on the New Orleans station before being promoted to master commandant in 1810. After commanding the USS Argus he took command of the USS Wasp. With James Biddle as his lieutenant, Jones took the Wasp to sea in October 1812 and captured HMS Dolphin and HMS Frolic, only to be taken by the 74-gun HMS Poictiers. Exchanged, Jones was awarded a gold medal by Congress and promoted to captain in command of the USS Macedonian at New York. Jones accompanied Captains Decatur and Biddle in departing New York and taking refuge in the Thames River in June 1813. In January 1814 Captain Jones was prepared to fight a ship-to-ship duel between the Macedonian and HMS Statira. Jones and his crew left New London in April 1814 and joined the USS Mohawk on Lake Ontario, doing blockade duty against the British squadron there. After the war Jones commanded the Macedonian in the second Barbary War, commanded the USS Guerriere, commanded the Mediterranean Squadron in the USS Constitution, and commanded the Pacific Squadron. Jacob Jones served ashore after 1829.


Frederick Lee - Courtesy Old Stone House Museum

Frederick Lee (1766-1831) was born at East Guilford (Madison) and went to sea at a young age. By the 1790s he was captain of the Guilford sloop Mary Ann, followed by the schooners Jefferson (1802) and Fame (1803), and a new sloop Mary Ann (1806). After the Embargo, he was commissioned as master of the revenue cutter Eagle, a schooner assigned to the New Haven customs district to interdict smugglers. During the War of 1812 the revenue cutters helped defend their ports and patrolled against the enemy when they could. In September 1814 Captain Lee took the Eagle out to recover an American merchant vessel from a British flotilla in the Sound. When three British naval vessels turned on the Eagle, Lee grounded his schooner on the north shore of Long Island and hauled his cannons up the bluff to drive off the British. Lee’s valiant, if unsuccessful, defense of the Eagle made him a hero to the Revenue Cutter Service (now the US Coast Guard), and the vessel’s named is commemorated by the Coast Guard barque Eagle. Captain Lee remained in the Revenue Cutter Service until 1829, and he served in the Connecticut Legislature before his death. (PORTRAIT: Whitfield House, Guilford)


Thomas Macdonough

Thomas Macdonough (1783-1825) was born in Delaware and entered the US Navy as a midshipman in 1800. He served with distinction during the Barbary War, where he fought alongside Charles Morris in Stephen Decatur’s notable raid in 1804 to destroy the USS Philadelphia, which had been captured by the enemy. A duty assignment to supervise gunboat construction in 1806 brought him to Middletown, Connecticut, where he met and later married Lucy Ann Shaler. Promoted to lieutenant in 1807, he took a furlough to command merchant vessels in 1811. After various assignments, Macdonough was placed in command of the US naval squadron on Lake Champlain in September 1812. In September 1814, his well-managed squadron of 12 vessels defeated a 16-vessel British squadron and won national acclaim for his action at Plattsburg Bay. Finally taking command of the USS Constitution in 1824, he died at sea in 1825 and was buried in his wife’s hometown of Middletown. (© Mystic Seaport Collection, Mystic, CT, #1961.685)



Jacob Lewis (ca. 1764-18??) was captain of the brigantine George by 1791. Early in the war he commanded the New York privateer Bunker Hill, and when her cruise ended he was appointed master commandant in the US Navy in November 1812. He was given command of the gunboat flotilla in New York Bay and trained a large force to man 53 gunboats and the harbor defenses. Several times in 1813 and 1814 Lewis led gunboat squadrons down Long Island Sound on patrol against British barges and privateers. Lewis was promoted to captain in April 1814. In May 1814, 13 gunboats under Lewis’s command convoyed 40 coasting vessels from Saybrook to New London and engaged British warships off Goshen Point, Waterford. Jacob Lewis was discharged from the navy in 1815.


Charles Morris (1784-1856) was born in Woodstock, Connecticut, and entered the US Navy as a midshipman at age 15. He served aboard the USS Congress and Constitution and was one of 70 volunteers, including Thomas Macdonough, who accompanied Stephen Decatur in his daring and successful raid to destroy the captured USS Philadelphia at Tripoli in 1804. He was promoted to lieutenant in the USS President in 1807, and in 1812 was first lieutenant of the USS Constitution under Captain Isaac Hull. It was Morris’s idea for the ship’s boats to tow the Constitution when she was being overtaken by a British squadron in light winds. Wounded during the Constitution’s victory over HMS Guerriere, Morris was promoted to captain in 1813. Commanding the USS Adams, he captured 10 British merchant vessels off the Irish coast and then retired into Penobscot Bay, Maine, to repair his ship. A British squadron approached in September 1814, so Morris took the Adams upriver and placed her cannons on shore. When an overwhelming British force attacked, Morris burned his ship and led his crew overland to safety. After the war he commanded various squadrons and served on the Board of Naval Commissioners and in other posts until his death.


Matthew Calbraith Perry (1794-1858), the younger brother of Oliver Hazard Perry, was born at Newport, Rhode Island, and entered the navy as a midshipman at age 15. He served under his brother in the USS Revenge, 1809-10. In 1812, while under Commodore John Rodgers aboard the USS President, he was wounded when a gun exploded when engaging HMS Belvidera during the first action of the war. Promoted to lieutenant, Perry joined the USS United States in the Thames River in November 1813. With Captain Decatur, he transferred to the USS President at New York in April 1814. Perry is best known for his long postwar career commanding in the Mediterranean, patrolling against slavers, developing the US Naval Academy curriculum, serving in the Mexican War, promoting the development of naval steamships, and finally commanding the expedition that negotiated the first US treaty with Japan in 1854.


Oliver Hazard Perry

Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819) was born at South Kingston, Rhode Island, and went to sea at age 14 as a US Navy midshipman on his father’s ship. He served during the Quasi-War with France and the war with Tripoli, where he was promoted to lieutenant. In 1807 he supervised navy gunboat construction in Rhode Island. In 1809 he took command of the US Navy schooner Revenge, cruising the Atlantic Coast, and in 1810 recaptured an American merchant vessel in Spanish Florida. While doing survey work in January 1811, the Revenge was wrecked off Watch Hill, Rhode Island. A court martial cleared Perry of responsibility. After a leave of absence Perry commanded the gunboat squadron at Newport when the war began. Finally assigned to the Great Lakes under Captain Isaac Chauncey, he took command at Presque Isle, Pennsylvania, in March 1813. With a squadron of seven vessels, he headed up Lake Erie in August 1813. At Put-In Bay, Ohio, he attacked the British squadron. When his flagship Lawrence was disabled, he was rowed half a mile to the Niagara (carrying the “Don’t Give Up the Ship” flag that commemorated Captain Lawrence of the USS Chesapeake) and took command. Within 15 minutes the British vessels surrendered and Perry could report, “We have met the enemy and they are ours….” Perry received a gold medal from Congress and was reassigned to the East Coast at his request. Given command of the new USS Java, Perry assisted in the defense of Baltimore in September 1814 and finally got to sea in 1815 for a Mediterranean cruise. In 1819 Perry commanded a squadron sent to the Orinoco River to negotiate with the new government of Venezuela. There he contracted yellow fever and died. His younger brother was Matthew Calbraith Perry.