Nephew of General Alexander McDougall of New York, John McDougall was appointed Lieutenant of the 16-gun Continental Navy brig Andrew Doria with a compliment of 130 men under the command of Captain Nicholas Biddle on 22 December 1775. McDougall was third in rank behind 1st Lieutenant James Josiah and 2nd Lieutenant Elisha Warner. Lieutenant McDougall appears on the list of people on board the Andrew Doria dated 10 May 1776 and also in an account book and muster roll of her officers and men dated 13 September 1777 at Providence to be found among the Nicholas Biddle Papers. Also on the Andrew Doria’s muster are Arthur McDougall, Quartermaster and Roger McDougall, Seaman; although no familiar connection has been identified.
While on a cruise about 600 miles southeast of Boston, on Wednesday 29 May 1776, two unprotected and unarmed British transport vessels bound for Halifax were sighted and taken after a short pursuit. The transport Oxford under Master John Stewart carried a 100-man company of the 42d Foot Royal Highland Regiment and the accompanying Crawford, a similar sized company of the 71st Regiment. The two vessels had been separated from thirty others in their convoy by a storm. In order to safely convey the captives, which outnumbered his brig’s crew, Captain Biddle ordered all the naval and land officers separated from their men with the officers placed on board the Crawford. The leaderless troops were put onto the Oxford while all seamen, arms and ammunition were transferred to the Andrew Doria. 1st Lieutenant James Josiah was appointed prize-master of the Crawford while 3rd Lieutenant John McDougall was placed in command of the Oxford, Lieutenant of Marines John Trevett named as his mate. The vessels kept company for over two weeks until they fell in with Lord Howe’s fleet near Nantucket in a fog. The American vessels diverged and before the Oxford even sailed out of sight of the Andrew Doria on 11 June 1776, the three hundred prisoners rose up against the eleven man prize crew and took the transport back into British hands. In his journal Trevett remarked, “I could not blame them, for I would have done the same.” Expecting to join British Lord Dunmore, the mutinous captives reached the Virginia Capes about two weeks after retaking the Oxford. Following mis-information deliberately offered by two pilot boats at Hampton Roads, the British transport Oxford sailed up the James River where it was recaptured by armed boats Liberty and Patriot of the Virginia Navy which conveyed her to Jamestown. McDougall and Trevett along with the other nine of Oxford’s prize crew were escorted to Williamsburg, treated “very politely” and extended money to cover the expense of their return trip home. Lieutenant of Marines Trevett in his journal records, “We tarried one day longer than we needed on account of seeing INDEPENDENCE DECLARED, which was on the 4th day of July, 1776.”
The following day the party set out for Rhode Island by way of New York. While the two were in transit, the Andrew Doria made a short cruise out of New London at the end of June through mid-July taking the Jamaica merchantman Nathaniel and Elizabeth as a prize on 11 July 1776. After being chased by a British warship, her prize crew from the Andrew Doria drove the vessel onto a reef, losing a cargo of sugar but saving her rum, sails and stores. Although not present for the taking of this prize, Trevett records that Continental agent Nathaniel Shaw of New London paid him his share of the prize money as directed by Captain Biddle. Soon after Biddle sailed the Andrew Doria into Newport, he received an appointment to command the frigate Randolph at Philadelphia. Lieutenants McDougall and Trevett arrived just in time to rejoin the Andrew Doria for her cruise conveying Biddle to Pennsylvania. On the passage, the Andrew Doria first encountered and captured the prize Molly. The Lawrence was her next victim and within a couple more days two additional merchantmen were made prizes. Lieutenant of Marines Trevett was placed on a brig from Lord Dunmore’s fleet originally bound from Barbadoes to Newfoundland as prize-master and Lieutenant John McDougall on another prize brig named Elizabeth, both with instructions to put in at Providence. According to a letter from Commodore Esek Hopkins to the Marine Committee dated at Providence on 10 September 1776, both vessels made port safely. Interestingly, a letter from the Marine Committee to Daniel Tillinghast dated 30 October 1776 directs that the Continental prize agent for Rhode Island deduct the forty-five pounds advanced to Lieutenant McDougall to convey himself and the seven other men of his prize crew from Providence to rejoin Captain Biddle at Philadelphia from prize monies earned from the sale of the vessel and cargo.
John McDougall was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and transferred to the frigate Randolph at Captain Nicholas Biddle’s request. Partially manned with captured British sailors, the Randolph sailed from Philadelphia on 3 February 1777 performing escort duty to a large convoy of American merchantmen. On 15 February, the convoy broke up and Randolph sailed northward. Shortly thereafter, the frigate’s foremast was sprung and while repairs were being made her mainmast broke also. Jury rigged and anxious to avoid engagement with the enemy, Biddle sailed for South Carolina but not arriving before squashing an unsuccessful mutiny attempt by the impressed British seamen. Lieutenant McDougall reached Charleston with the frigate Randolph on 11 March 1777 where she put in for extensive repairs. Twice the vessel was turned back from planned cruises for repairs necessitated by lightning strikes to her mainmast. Now protected by lightning rods on her masts, the Randolph sailed from Charleston on 16 August and anchored at Rebellion Road waiting for favorable winds. While in the roadstead, a boarding party from the Continental Navy frigate retrieved and impressed two seaman who had left the Randolph and joined the crew of the merchant vessel Fair American. With a change in wind, the Randolph sailed from Charleston’s anchorage on 1 September. After an overnight chase, the frigate Randolph captured four vessels on the morning of 4 September 1777 including the 20-gun privateer True Briton and three of her accompanying prizes- the North Carolina privateer Severn, French privateer brig Charming Peggy and brig L’Assumption. Two days later, the little fleet returned to Charleston intact. Shortly thereafter, Captain Biddle wrote to Robert Morris on 12 September 1777 praising his subordinates, “I cannot omit telling You that My Officers have on every Occasion given Me the greatest satisfaction. Two better Officers are not in the Service than Barnes and Mc dougal My first and second Lieuts.” In contrast, just eleven days earlier Lieutenant of Marines Panatiere de la Falconniere had been accused by six commissioned and warrant officers including Lieutenant John McDougall of a number of serious charges. They wrote to Captain Nicholas Biddle on 1 September 1777 from the Randolph off Charleston, “For these and a Thousand more instances we could mention (if Necessary) of the same Nature we think him not only unworthy of holding a Commission in the Randolph, but a Nuissance to the ship, and therefore beg you to Rid us of him”.
Between September and early December 1777, the Randolph was again refitted while McDougall and 3rd Lieutenant Joshua Fanning were charged with manning the vessel for another cruise. Despite their successful recruitment of sailors, the frigate’s crew suffered from an inadequate number of marines and marine officers. With de la Falconniere now gone, only Captain of Marines Samuel Shaw remained. The Journal of John Trevett reveals Captain Biddle’s overtures to his former Lieutenant of Marines to leave Captain John Peck Rathbun’s sloop Providence and sail with the frigate Randolph in December 1777, “If Capt. Rathbun would Consent I would go with him and All this Time telling Me that itt Was Presumiton to Make Such an Atemt And A Luded to the Scot[c]h Ship” that was taken from Lieut. Macdugel & My Self but finerly I told him tha ware all well Landed Att Virginea he Pled Likewise with Capt. Rathbun but Anserd no Perperse for Sase Capt. Rothbun I have Made the Agrement with Capt Trevett I will not Give itt up So this Ended All this Conversation we Shuk Hands and the Comadore Says I am Very Sorre for I never Shall See You More.”
In late 1777, while the frigate Randolph was idled for her hull to be scraped, it was suggested by the president of South Carolina’s General Assembly John Rutledge that Biddle take command of a task force consisting of the Randolph and four South Carolina State Navy vessels in order to break the British blockade of Charleston Harbor. The five American ships- the 36-gun Randolph, 20-gun General Moutrie, 18-gun Notre Dame, 16-gun Polly and 14-gun Fair American- sailed on 14 February 1778 only to be surprised by the absence of enemy warships. The fleet then proceeded to the West Indies in search of prizes where they fell upon a dismasted New England vessel abandoned by her British captor. After burning the hulk, their luck turned sour until Polly took a New York to Grenada bound schooner on 4 March which was converted into a tender for the frigate Randolph. It was from this tender that Prizemaster Simeon Fanning, one of the frigate Randolph’s midshipmen, witnessed the death of his brother 3rd Lieutenant Joshua Fanning in the calamitous explosion that followed three days later between nine and ten o’clock during an engagement with HMS Yarmouth on the night of Saturday 7 March 1778. In an unhappy twist of fate, young Simeon would follow his older brother in death the following month. Randolph’s 2nd Lieutenant John McDougall’s will dated 14 January 1778 and proved on 9 May 1778 names Joshua Fanning as one of the three witnesses to McDougall’s last wishes.
That document found on Page 367 (383 online) in Book 19 of Charleston Wills begins, “I John McDougall, Lieutenant on board the Randolph Frigate now of the State of South Carolina… give and bequeath [to my] Uncle General Alexander McDougall all that Messuage or tenement situate lying and being in Charles Town, South Carolina in Tradd Street known and distinguished in the plan or modle (sic) of said Town by the Number Thirty-nine”. Lieutenant John McDougall also left his uncle 3,600 pounds “in the hands of Abraham Livingston, Esq.” along with “All the Prize money due me from the Continental agents in New England together with all such sum or sums of Money that is or may be due me at my death.” His instructions accompanying the bequeath directs that the Charleston property and money be “divided as my said Uncle shall think proper between my Brother Alexander McDougall, Junior and cousins Ranald J. McDougall, Elizabeth Ann Lawrence, Elizabeth Hamilton and John McDougall Lawrence”.
John McDougall and his brother, the General’s namesake, apparently experienced a close relationship with their uncle who was a leading activist New York patriot who achieved the rank of major general by the date of his nephew’s will. Long involved in maritime affairs, General Alexander McDougall (1732-1786) would briefly serve as Secretary of Marine for seven months in 1781. Born on the island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides off Scotland, Alexander was one of five children of Ronald and Elizabeth McDougall who emigrated to New York in 1738. As a young man, Alexander worked as a delivery boy for his father who was a milk dealer on Manhattan Island. At fourteen, Alexander McDougall went to sea and eventually accumulated a modest fortune as captain of two privateers, the 8-gun sloop Tyger and 12-gun sloop Barrington, during the French and Indian War between 1756 and 1763. It is possible the John McDougall first went to sea on his uncle’s privateer. A 1757 ship’s roster suspected to exist for the sloop Tyger has not yet been scrutinized to determine his presence. With the death of his first wife Ann in the same year that hostilities ceased and facing the reality of caring for his widowed mother and his own three children, Captain Alexander McDougall quit the sea to pursue mercantile interests. It is likely that John and his brother Alexander, Jr. also lived under the care of their uncle as their own father John McDougall, born about 1724, had died near the same time. The will of Ronald McDougall dated 1 March 1763 and proved on 26 March 1764 refers to the brothers as sons of John, deceased.
In addition to his brother, Lieutenant John McDougall names cousins Ranald J. McDougall, Elizabeth Ann Lawrence, Elizabeth Hamilton and John McDougall Lawrence as beneficiaries of his estate. Ranald (1754-1786) and Elizabeth (1756-1790), wife of John Lawrence, were two of Uncle Alexander’s three children. Eldest cousin John Alexander McDougall (1752-1775), a budding lawyer freshly graduated from Princeton, had already died three years prior to the making of his will. According to “American Revolutionary, A Biography of General Alexander McDougall” by William Macdougall (1977); the then Colonel Alexander McDougal received the following communication from Colonel Ritzema at Montreal, “Your son, poor Jack, is no more. John McDougall Lawrence was the Lieutenant’s second cousin, son of Elizabeth and John Lawrence. Elizabeth Hamilton, another first cousin, was daughter to the Lieutenant’s Aunt Mary McDougall who was married to Archibald Hamilton. Lieutenant John McDougall’s estate was not fully settled eight years after his death on the Randolph in 1778 as evidenced by his Uncle Alexander McDougall’s will dated 16 December 1780, revised on 12 May 1786 and proved six weeks later on 27 June 1786. With regards to his late nephew’s estate, the General writes, “And whereas my nephew, Lieutenant John McDougal, lately deceased, bequeathed all his estate to me for the purpose of dividing the same as I should think proper between his brother, Alexander McDougal, Jr.. and his cousins, Ronald S. McDougal, Elizabeth Ann Laurance, Elizabeth Hamilton, and John McDougal Laurance, I will that one half of the money which shall arise from the said estate be divided into seven equal parts: two seventh parts to be given to Ronald S. McDougal; two seventh parts to Elizabeth Ann Laurance, and one seventh part to John McDougal Laurance; two seventh parts to Elizabeth Hamilton—this division to be made as soon as the money can be collected with advantage to the estate; John Laurance, Esq., to receive those parts given to his wife and son; Also that Alexander McDougal, Jr., have the one half of the money which shall arise from the said estate of his brother. Lieutenant John McDougal; but as the said Alexander McDougal is now absent, I will that the said half part be put into the Continental Loan Office in New York State for his benefit, to remain there for seven years after the termination of the present War unless he arrives sooner, in which case my executors will deliver over to him the certificate, bonds, or other papers taken for the same, or dispose of them and pay him the money as they shall judge most advantageous of his interest. If the said Alexander McDougal, Jr., does not arrive at the end of the said seven years, or they receive intelligence of his death- in either of these events which shall first happen, I will his half part to be divided among the other legatees of his brother in the same proportion as is above mentioned.”
By his will dated 14 January 1778, frigate Randolph’s 2nd Lieutenant John McDougall “Also give[s] and bequeath[s] unto my friend Lieutenant William Barnes the sum of fourteen hundred pounds.” This gift was probably the result of a mutual pact devised between the two friends as 1st Lieutenant Barnes had named McDougall the beneficiary of precisely the same sum in his will executed three days earlier. Like the earlier assets, these monies were also left in the hands of Charleston shipowner Abraham Livingston, who the commercial and Continental Navy prize agent for South Carolina. Unfortunately, neither man would enjoy the bequest as both would enter eternity at the same instant. Named executors of John McDougall’s estate included his Uncle General Alexander McDougall, his cousin’s husband John Laurence and Abraham Livingston. Witnesses to the will were Captain of Marines Samuel Shaw, 3rd Lieutenant Joshua Fanning and Andrew Stockholm. Shaw and Fanning would perish on the Randolph and it is thought that Stockholm was an assistant to John Jay.