January 8, 1779|
Schenectady, New York, U.S.
|Died||June 15, 1811
British Columbia, Canada
|Years of service||1800–1810|
|Commands held||New York Navy Yard (1807–1810)
Astor Expedition, 1810–1811
Jonathan Thorn (8 January 1779 – 15 June 1811) was a career officer of the United States Navy in the early 19th century.
Early life and education
Born on 8 January 1779 at Schenectady, New York, during the Revolutionary War, Thorn was appointed a midshipman at age 21 on 28 April 1800. His brother Herman also served in the U.S. Navy as an officer on the frigate USS Constellation during the War of 1812 and achieved the rank of colonel .
Thorn served in the Navy during the Tripolitan War, ane 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.
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. The Tonquin left New York City on 8 September 1810, sailed around Cape Horn on Christmas Day, stopped off in Hawaii, and arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River on 22 March 1811. Two days later and at the cost of eight lives, the Tonquin crossed the bar. Thorn and his crew spent 65 days near the mouth of the river, where they built Fort Astoria on the south side of the river, in present-day Astoria.  On 5 June, the ship crossed the bar and headed north along the coast to trade for furs.
Angered by what they considered insulting behavior by the Americans, the Nootka returned the next day for revenge; they attacked the ship and 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, feigned a truce to lure them on the ship, then lit the gunpowder magazine and blew it up, 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
- Eddins, O. Ned. "John Jacob Astor - Pacific Fur Company: Astorians - Tonquin - Fort Astoria". Mountain Man Plains Indian Canadian Fur Trade. TheFurTrapper.com. Retrieved 2007-02-17.
- Raban, H.P. (March 26, 1922). "Back-trailing on the old frontiers". Milwaukee Journal. p. 7, part 6.
- Neuberger, Richard L. (February 8, 1959). "Venture was disaster, yet key to future". Eugene Register-Guard (Oregon). American Heritage. p. 8A.
- Bond, Rowland (March 25, 1972). "Fools and heroes had roles in the Astor saga". Spokane Daily Chronicle (Washington). p. 9.
- "Anchor may lead to old sailing ship's fate". Eugene Register-Guard (Oregon). Associated Press. September 29, 2003. p. B3.
- "Searchers hope to fine 1811 vessel". Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. August 21, 1983. p. B7.