Jonathan Thorn

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Jonathan Thorn (8 January 1779 – 15 June 1811) was a career officer of the United States Navy in the early 19th century.

Jonathan Thorn

Early life and education[edit]

Jonathan Thorn was born on 8 January 1779 at Schenectady, New York during the American Revolutionary War. He was appointed a midshipman on 28 April 1800. His brother Herman Thorn also served in the U.S. Navy. Herman was an officer on the frigate USS Constellation during the War of 1812 and achieved the rank of colonel.

Naval career[edit]

Subsequently serving with the Navy during the Tripolitan War, Thorn volunteered to take part in the hazardous expedition to destroy the captured frigate Philadelphia, which was moored beneath the guns of the defended Tripoli harbor. On 16 February 1804, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, Jr., led a party of these volunteers in the ketch Intrepid into Tripoli and burned the American ship so it could not be used by the enemy.

Attached to the schooner Enterprise, Thorn was assigned to Gunboat No. 4, under Decatur's command. In this vessel, he participated in the attack on Tripoli with Commodore Edward Preble's squadron on 3 August 1804. Specially commended by Decatur for his conduct in this battle, Thorn received command of one of the Tripolitan gunboats captured. On 7 August, he commanded this vessel and crew in the engagement with the Tripolitan pirates.

Commissioned a lieutenant on 16 February 1807, Thorn was assigned as the first commandant of the New York Navy Yard at age 27. In 1810, he was granted a two-year furlough to command John Jacob Astor's sailing bark Tonquin in the Astor Expedition for the Pacific Fur Company to the Pacific Northwest to establish a fur trading post.[1] Thorn arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River on March 22, 1811. Two days later and at the cost of eight lives, the Tonquin crossed the bar.[1] Thorn and his crew spent 65 days near the mouth of the river, where they built Fort Astoria on the north side of the river.[1] On June 5 they left the river and headed north along the coast to trade for furs.[1]

Thorn anchored off Clayoquot Sound (now in British Columbia) around 15 June 1811, having traveled along the west side of Vancouver Island. He soon tried to trade with the local Nootka people.

Angered by what they considered insulting behaviour by the Americans, the Nootka returned the next day for revenge and attacked the ship. They killed Thorn and most of his crew. The last five men drove off the Nootka. Later four men escaped from the ship, but three were found ashore and killed. The next day natives returned to plunder the ship; James Lewis, the last surviving crew member on board, lit the gunpowder magazine and blew up the ship, sacrificing his life to prevent its being used by the Nootka. Only one crew survived, Lamazu, a Chinookan-British man also known as George Alexander, who had served as pilot.

Legacy and honors[edit]

Two U.S. Navy destroyers have been named USS Thorn in his honor.


  1. ^ a b c d Eddins, O. Ned. "John Jacob Astor - Pacific Fur Company: Astorians - Tonquin - Fort Astoria". Mountain Man Plains Indian Canadian Fur Trade. Retrieved 2007-02-17. 

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