Thomas Breese

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Thomas Breese
Born 1793
Newport, Rhode Island, USA
Died 1846 Oct 11
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch US Naval Jack 15 stars.svg United States Navy
Rank Purser

Battle of Lake Erie

War of 1812
Relations Kidder Breese

Thomas Breese (1793—Oct 11, 1846) was an American naval officer. Best known as Oliver Hazard Perry's chaplain in the War of 1812, he served in the United States Navy for another 33 years.

Early life[edit]

He was born at Newport, Rhode Island, USA, the son of Major John Breese, (1738-1799), the British Vice Counsel at Newport, Rhode Island, and Elizabeth Malbone (1755-1832) of Newport, who was the daughter of Francis and Margaret (Saunders) Malbone.

Not long after his father’s death in 1799, Thomas Breese went to work as a clerk for the Wickham family, who were shipping merchants. After the embargo effectively closed their business Thomas returned home to care for his mother. All three families (Breese, Perry, and Wickham) were members of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newport Rhode Island leading to their lifelong connections with each other. Oliver Hazard Perry and Thomas Breese were both baptized at Trinity Church as young boys.

Naval career[edit]

His longing to return to the water led him to ask for an appointment as personal clerk to Oliver Hazard Perry. Perry was in command of a flotilla of ships at Newport RI in 1812. Early in 1813 Perry received orders to go to the Great Lakes. Almost 150 sailors from the Newport area were sent to the Great Lakes with Perry including Thomas Breese. The sailors made the arduous trip to Presqu' Isle in February and March 1813.

Thomas Breese served as Perry's Clerk throughout the months of building and sailing the fleet n Lake Erie. Breese's signature appears on letters who wrote for Perry indicating he had knowledge of the Perry's leadership and management of the endeavor. Perry also appointed Thomas as the fleet chaplain giving him a higher salary and a better berth on the ship. During the battle he filled the role of Commander's aid along with Perry's younger brother James Alexander Perry.

Thomas Breese spent March to August 1813 at Presqu' Isle, as Perry's fleet was prepared for battle. He was in the combat on Lake Erie with his friend and commander, Oliver Hazard Perry. The Battle of Lake Erie, sometimes called the Battle of Put-in-Bay, was fought on 10 September 1813, in Lake Erie off the coast of Ohio during the War of 1812. Thomas was one of the sailors who assisted in firing the last operational gun on Perry's flagship, the Lawrence. Thomas Breese, served as Perry's clerk and chaplain and was likely one of the officers who rowed the longboat carrying Perry the half-mile (0.8 km) to the Niagara to transfer his command to the USS Niagara. Many paintings show the other aid, James Alexander Perry in the boat also.

Perry departing the Lawrence in a 1911 painting by Edward Percy Moran with sailors who could row the boat.

At the close of the Battle of Lake Erie Chaplain Breese was responsible for conducting the services for those who had died. Using the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church of 1789, the sailors were buried in Lake Erie. The next day, on September 12, 1813 the American and British officers were buried together at Put-in-Bay. Thomas was listed as a Chaplain in the ship's record but he served as both Chaplain and Clerk, which was an official rating of the United States Navy beginning in 1794. Clerks for commanders of naval vessels were termed the captain's clerk.

Thomas Breese, received a share of the prize money allotted to the crew. He left instructions for Samuel Hambleton to send that money to his mother in Newport.[1]

After the Battle of Lake Erie, Thomas returned to Newport, RI. Along with the other officers, he was given a medal and a sword for his role in the battle. He was promoted to the rank of Purser in 1814 thanks to the efforts of Commodore Perry to get all of his crew promoted. To become a purser, a man had to have served at least one year as a captain's clerk, helping the captain with his correspondence and records. Between his time with Perry at Newport and the nine months on Lake Erie, Breese had fulfilled this requirement. The purser was in charge of the stores and accounts on board ship. The new rank became effective July 8, 1815. {} Thomas Breese served alongside Perry on the Frigate Java in the Mediterranean during the Second Barbary War.

Usher Parsons diary records that Dr. Usher Parsons, Thomas Holdup (Stevens), Daniel Dobbins and Thomas Breese were all asked to report to “repair to Baltimore” and report to Captain Perry on board the Frigate Java. (Usher Parsons' diary, December 2, 1814). Of the these four, only Parsons and Breese went. Lt. Forest and Sailing Master Taylor who served in the Battle of Lake Erie had already reported to the Frigate Java. Note: Lt Holdup changed his last name to his step-father's name in 1815.

Purser Thomas Breese, after several years on the Constitution, he served in Newport as a paymaster in the Navy, and was one of its most popular officers. "Here's a health to thee, Tom Breese: Tom Breese of the mountain billow," (a song addressed to him) became a very popular song in the Navy. "Here's a Health to Thee Tom Breese", words and melody by J. C Drake, arranged by W. C. Peters, dedicated to Dr. S. Dillingham, published by Geo. Willig, Philadelphia

On May 25, 1825 Thomas married Lucy Marie Randolph, daughter of Richard K. Randolph at Trinity Church, Newport, Rhode Island. Their son, Kidder Breese was also a well known naval officer.

His son, Captain Kidder Randolph Breese USN (14 April 1831—13 September 1881) was a well known officer in the United States Navy during the Mexican-American War and the American Civil War. Born the year his father died, Kidder Breese went to sea with his uncle (Thomas' brother) and took part in Commodore Matthew C. Perry's expedition to Japan.

Naval Assignments[edit]

Thomas Breese Naval Assignments [2]

  • 1812 - Newport Frigate Revenge - Clerk to O. H. Perry
  • 1813 - Battle of Lake Erie - Captain's Clerk / Chaplain / Captain's Aid during Battle
  • 1814 - 1817 Frigate Java - Captain's Clerk to O. H. Perry
  • 1918 – Frigate Congress – Purser (p 461 ASP)
  • 1919 – Frigate Constitution – Purser (pg 594 ASP)
  • 1820 – Not on duty - Purser (pg 633 ASP)
  • 1821 – 1823 Frigate Constitution – Purser (pg 703, 751, 858 ASP)
  • 1824 - Frigate Constitution – Purser – ship stationed in Mediterranean (pg 922 ASP)
  • 1825 - Frigate Constitution – Purser – on leave of absence (pg 925 ASP)
  • 1825 - 1846 Newport Torpedo Station - Purser - Paymaster



  • “Niagara.” Pamphlet published by the Flagship Niagara, Erie, Pennsylvania. 1990
  • The Building of Perry’s Fleet on Lake Erie: 1812 – 1813. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. 1997 by M. Rosenberg
  • History of the battle of Lake Erie (September 10, 1813,) and reminiscences of the flagship "Lawrence," by Capt. W. W. Dobbins
  • Serving Two Masters: The Development of American Military Chaplaincy, 1860-1920 By Richard M. Budd University of Nebraska Press 2002 195 pages Pub: University of Nebraska Press 2002 ISBN 0803213220 ISBN 978-0803213227
  • The Old Merchants of New York City, Volume 5 By Joseph Alfred Scoville Published: 1885 ISBN 1425585604 ISBN 9781425585600
  • [3] The Life of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, Volume 1. (5 volumes published 1863–66 under the pen name, Walter Barrett) By Alexander Slidell Mackenzie pub 1863
  • The Military Surgeon: Journal of the Association of Military Volume 51 by Usher Parsons
  • Cooper, James Fenimore, History of the Navy (1839).
  • Letter from Thomas Breese to his Mother dated September 12, 1812. (Breese descendants private collection)

External links[edit]