In recognition of Memorial Day, we are bringing you a photo from the Congressional Cemetery: the grave of Commodore Thomas Tingey. Commodore Tingey was a veteran with a remarkable story in that he was tasked with burning down Washington’s first Navy Yard, where he served as commandant. As the British overwhelmed U.S. forces at the Battle of Bladensburg and marched into Washington in late August 1814, Commodore Tingey was tasked by Secretary of the Navy William Jones with destroying the Navy Yard that he had helped establish.
Secretary Jones believed that if the British acquired the Navy Yard intact, it would “greatly extend the field of his plunder and devastation.” Commodore Tingey waited until the last possible moment to carry out his orders, hoping that the U.S. militia forces at Bladensburg might be able to repel the British and prevent them from taking the city. As Commodore Tingey awaited word, he prepared to burn the Yard. When Captain Creighton and a clerk named Mr. M. Booth delivered the news that the British had indeed taken the city, Commodore Tingey followed his orders and set fire to the Yard, including a frigate named Essex and a sloop called Argus that were under construction.
The following day, after the British burned the U.S. Capitol, White House, and Treasury, they returned to their ships and Commodore Tingey returned to Washington to begin the work of rebuilding the Navy Yard.
You can tour the Bladensburg Battle Ground and even ride the Anacostia River Trail from Bladensburg to Washington. These days you are unlikely to be attacked by the British, but you might encounter an angry turkey.
Annals of Congress Appendix to the History of the Thirteenth Congress. 3rd Session. Capture of the City of Washington. Pages 1674 – 1679.