McDougall, Alexander

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McDougall, Alexander

McDOUGALL, ALEXANDER. (1732–1786). Continental general. Scotland and New York. Born at Islay, of the Inner Hebrides Islands, in 1732, McDougall came to America with his family at the age of six, and they settled in New York City. McDougall commanded two privateers during the Seven Years' War (1756–1763), the Barrington and Tiger. Having accumulated sufficient capital, he set up a store in New York City, became a successful merchant, and undertook to educate himself. With the Stamp Act of 1765, he emerged as one of the most prominent radical leaders in New York.

In 1769 he wrote under the pseudonym "A Son of Liberty" the popular pamphlet, "To the Betrayed Inhabitants of the City and Colony of New-York." The New York assembly declared this document libelous and ordered McDougall's arrest on 8 February 1770. Refusing to give bail, he was thrown into prison and became famous as "the John Wilkes of America." (Wilkes was a newspaper publisher in England who was famous for his attacks on the king and the Parliament.) Imprisoned for 162 days, McDougall was never convicted of a crime, and the government finally had to release him. Organizing the opposition to the Tea Act, he presided over the "meeting in the Fields" on 6 July 1774 that proclaimed the people's willingness to resist the Coercive Acts of Parliament. In addition, he served in the provincial congress of 1774–1775.

With the outbreak of the Revolution, McDougall became actively involved in the New York City militia, becoming its commanding colonel. Commissioned colonel of the First New York Regiment on 30 June 1776, he was appointed brigadier general on 9 August, just before the start of the New York campaign. He took part in the battles of White Plains (28 October 1776) and Germantown (4 October 1777), but rendered his most important service in the Hudson Highlands, where he was the commanding general during much of the war. Having been appointed a Continental major general on 20 October 1777, he succeeded Benedict Arnold as commander at West Point in 1780. He represented New York in the Continental Congress of 1781–1782, declined appointment as minister of marines in 1781, was court-martialed in 1782 for insubordination to William Heath and reprimanded, and twice headed delegations of officers to discuss pay problems with Congress, in 1780 and 1782.

McDougall retired from the Continental army on 3 November 1783, as served as state senator (1783–1786) and in Congress (1784–1785). The man who had roused rabbles in his youth grew conservative with age, becoming an ally of Alexander Hamilton and the first president of the Bank of New York. He died in New York City on 9 June 1786.

SEE ALSO Continental Congress; Fields, Meeting in the.


Champagne, Roger J. Alexander McDougall and the American Revolution in New York. Schenectady, N.Y.: Union College Press, 1975.

McDougall Papers. New York: New-York Historical Society.

                            revised by Michael Bellesiles

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