I think it is pretty obvious that we love stories of scuttled ships, fleets and squadrons. It’s niche (if you know, you know) for sure but the stories are incredible and many times heartbreaking. More often than not these stories include ships with deep backgrounds and histories of their own, complete with chapters on crews and battles and locales. These stories enrich the field of naval history and personalize what can be, if one chooses, a history of logs and numbers. We choose to see the depth and the emotion in these scuttled vessels.
Which brings us to Commandant Thomas Tingey, USN.
In the excellent, The Captain Who Burned His Ships, Gordon S. Brown paints a picture of a man who gave his life to his family, his country and to his navy. In a world where the names of John Rodgers, Stephen Decatur, Oliver Hazard Perry and John Paul Jones were on the lips of every American, Thomas Tingey’s name was on the lips of everyone associated with the Navy during his command of the Washington Navy Yard from 1800 to his death in 1829.
This book is an invaluable addition to any naval library for one very simple reason. Tingey’s life, as laid out here in full detail, is a reminder that military history is full of individuals who day in and day out supported the mission and made it possible for early operational success. He quite literally built the Navy Yard from nothing, grew an important economy impact zone in the new nation’s capital, became an integral part of the fabric of society in DC, set the tone for supporting the entire American fleet and defended the Yard from direct enemy invasion.
It is this last part where Tingey is probably most famous. To prevent the British from acquiring supplies for a prolonged expedition into the Chesapeake area and capital, he burned the Navy Yard with its ammunition, food stuffs, whiskey (what a bummer!) housings, supplies and ships. He also burned the frigate Columbia and the hulls of the frigates New York, Boston and General Greene. However, his legacy is so much more and Thomas Tingey will forever, for me at least, be remembered as a gentle giant. Tough when it came to provisions for his yard but also a man on the committee for dance and leisure events in DC society. A man who hobnobbed with Presidents, Secretaries and Captains and also a father who established some of the early families in this new country (including several flag officers!). Thomas Tingey was part of the backbone of the early Navy and thus part of the backbone of the history of the United States.
Buy The Captain Who Burned His Ships here: