Meigs, Return Jonathan

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Meigs, Return Jonathan

MEIGS, RETURN JONATHAN. (1740–1823). Continental officer. Connecticut. Son of a hatter named Return Meigs, Return Jonathan Meigs was born in Middletown, Connecticut, and became a merchant in his hometown. Elected lieutenant of his local militia company (in the Sixth Militia Regiment) in October 1772, he won promotion to captain in October 1774 and led the company to Boston, where it served for eight days after the Lexington alarm. Appointed major of the Second Connecticut Regiment on 1 May 1775, he served over the summer at the siege of Boston and in September volunteered as second-in-command of Lieutenant Colonel Roger Enos's battalion in Arnold's march to Quebec. Meigs continued with part of the battalion after Enos turned back. He was captured after scaling the walls of Quebec on 31 December 1775. Paroled in May 1776, he returned to Connecticut in July and was formally exchanged on 10 January 1777. On 22 February he became lieutenant colonel of Colonel Henry Sherburne's Additional Continental Regiment.

Meigs is famous for his brilliant Sag Harbor raid in New York on 23 May 1777, for which Congress voted him an "elegant sword." On 10 September he was appointed colonel of the Sixth Connecticut ("Leather Cap") Regiment, and during the summer and fall of 1777 he led it in the principal actions along the Hudson. He headed a composite regiment of Connecticut light infantry at Stony Point on 16 July 1779. Washington sent him a personal note of thanks for his part in stopping the Mutiny of the Connecticut Line on 25 May 1780, and his regiment was one of the first sent to reinforce the Hudson Highlands when Arnold's treason was discovered in September. He retired on 1 January 1781, when the Connecticut Line was consolidated and reduced.

Becoming interested in western lands, he secured an appointment as one of the Ohio Company's surveyors. In April 1788 he led a small party of settlers that founded the town of Marietta at the mouth of the Muskingum River on the Ohio. An important leader in early Ohio, in 1801 he was also appointed agent to the Cherokee. Known for trying to deal firmly but fairly with Native Americans, he endeavored to get the best deal he could for the tribes while promoting their acculturation and acceptance of white settlement. He died of pneumonia at the age of eighty-two in 1823. His son and namesake became governor of Ohio, U.S. senator, and postmaster general.

SEE ALSO Arnold's March to Quebec; Mutiny of the Connecticut Line; Sag Harbor Raid, New York; Sherburne's Regiment; Stony Point, New York.


Johnston, Henry P. "Return Jonathan Meigs: Colonel of the Connecticut Line." Magazine of American History (1880).

Roberts, Kenneth, comp. March to Quebec: Journals of the Members of Arnold's Expedition. New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1938.

                             revised by Harold E. Selesky