Alexander McDougall

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Engraved portrait by H.B. Hall, 19th century

Alexander McDougall (about 1731–1786) was an American seaman, merchant, a Sons of Liberty leader from New York City before and during the American Revolution, and a military leader during the Revolutionary War. He served as a major general in the Continental Army, and as a delegate to the Continental Congress. After the war, he was the president of the first bank in the state of New York and served a term in the New York State Senate.

Early life[edit]

McDougall was born on the Isle of Islay, in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland in about 1731. He was one of the five children of Ranald and Elizabeth McDougall. In 1738 the family immigrated, going to New York as part of a party led by a former army officer, Captain Lachlan Campbell. Campbell had described fertile land available near Fort Edward, but when they arrived in New York City, they discovered that Lachlan had been awarded a patent for about 30,000 acres (121 km²) and expected them to become tenants to his estate. Ranald withdrew and found work on a dairy farm on the island of Manhattan. The family prospered and young Alexander began his commercial career as a delivery boy for milk in New York.

In around 1745, when he was fourteen, Alexander signed on as a merchant seaman. He worked on a number of vessels, and then in 1751 he visited his extended family back on Islay. He stayed only a few months, but married a cousin, Nancy McDougall, and brought her back to New York. He continued a seagoing merchant career, rising to command and eventually own a cargo sloop, the Schuyler.

Privateer to merchant[edit]

When the French and Indian War became an official war in 1756 as the Seven Years' War, McDougall added six guns to his ship, the Tyger, and became a merchant privateer. He captured a number of French ships, and by 1759 he had converted one of these into a twelve gun warship, the Barrington. An able captain as well as a knowledgeable merchant, he made a small fortune in captured ships and the sale of their cargo.

In 1763 McDougall gave up the seafaring life. The war had ended, his wife Nancy died, as did his father. He was left with responsibility for his three children and his mother. So he converted his seagoing assets, invested in land and became a merchant and importer. By 1767 he had his affairs in good order. He owned land in Albany County and as far away as North Carolina. He remarried, this time to Hannah Bostwick. Though their increasing wealth earned them recognition, but not acceptance into the traditional society in New York City. Alexander was too loud and unpolished. He spoke with a heavy Scottish accent and wore gaudy clothes.

Prelude to revolution[edit]

When revolutionary fervor grew with resistance to the Stamp Act, McDougall became active in the Sons of Liberty, and later was their leader in the city. Difficulties in the city and colony were increased by the Quartering Act, which required the colonists to provide housing and support to the British troops. The Province of New York assembly had refused to pass appropriations for their housing in 1767 and 1768, and been prorogued. Then the new assembly of 1769 approved money for their support. McDougall wrote and had printed an anonymous broadside, To the Betrayed Inhabitants, which criticized the vote and sparked the Battle of Golden Hill. The Sons of Liberty called him, "the Wilkes of America". He was accused of libel and arrested on 7 February 1770, but refused to post bail, so he was jailed. He spent two periods in jail, for a total of about five months, but wasn't convicted. His imprisonment became another cause for protest, and his wife Hannah led marches down Broadway to the jail. He had so many visitors that he had to schedule appointments. The protests led to his release, but he was re-arrested later and jailed again. Finally, the new governor William Tryon ordered his unconditional release.

McDougall became the street leader of the Sons of Liberty, and organized continued protests until the city became under de facto control of the Patriots in 1775. He organized the city's reaction to the Tea Tax in 1773 and led their action, similar to the Boston Tea Party. He became a member of the Committees of Correspondence and Safety, the New York City Committee of Sixty and when New York established their revolutionary government in 1775, he was elected to the New York Provincial Congress.

He was also a very close friend of Haym Salomon.

Continental Army[edit]

He was commissioned colonel of the 1st New York Regiment on 30 June 1775 and a brigadier general in 1776 and a major general in 1777. He participated in the battles of White Plains and Germantown. He was stationed for most of the war in the Highlands of the Hudson, much of the time as commanding officer. In 1782 a quarrel with General Heath led to his arrest and court martial for insubordination.

After War Years[edit]

He served as the Secretary of Marine from February 7, to 1781–August 29, 1781.

He represented New York in the Continental Congress 1781-1782 and 1784–1785 and served as a state senator 1783 to 1786. He was one of the organizers and the first president of the Bank of New York.

He died 9 June 1786.

Legacy[edit]

MacDougal Street in the New York City's Greenwich Village is named for him.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]