Major Thomas Melvill (1751-1832) was a close friend of John Hancock and participated in the famous protest when he was 23 years old. After the Revolutionary War he was an officer in the US Navy in Boston from 1786 to 1789 and later from 1811 to 1829.
Another spelling of the family name is Melvill which became more common, but it is a biographical fact that Mr. Melvill was once asked why he did not add a final e. to his name, the reply was: "My father did not."
He was born in Boston, Massachusetts, January 16, 1751. At the age of fifteen he entered Princeton College, and graduated in 1769 with a degree in theology. His life plan of becoming a minister was not destined to come true due to his poor health by some accounts. Instead he went on a journey to Scotland, the home of his family roots and continued his studies at St. Andrews College, Edinburgh where he successfully received another degree.
Since the return to Boston in 1773 he became a member of the Sons of Liberty organization lead by Samuel Adams. According to the records he was also a member of the St. Andrew's Lodge of freemasons that is speculated to have masterminded the Tea Party protest.
Mr. Melvill participation in the events of November 29th, 1773 is marked by an interesting detail. The “Mohawks” went to a great length preventing anyone from keeping the valuable tea that was being thrown overboard. This even lead to a famous episode of the crowd punishing one man who tried to hide some tea behind the lining of his jacket. However when Thomas Melvill returned home that night he found some of the very tea in his shoes. He kept the souvenir and later showed it to few people, including General Lafayette.
As the Major’s rank would suggest his service during the Revolutionary War was distinguished. General Warren selected him as one of his aides a short time before his death at the battle of Bunker Hill. Melville received the rank of Captain in 1776 in the Massachusetts artillery regiment under the command of Colonel Thomas Crafts who was also a B.T.P participant. Just a year later he was promoted to Major of the same unit. A memorable episode occurred during his service in Nantasket Roads in 1776 where the regiment was positioned to prevent British troops from entering the Boston Harbor. During one of such attempts Major Melvill aimed and fired the first cannon which then followed by others equally well aimed and forced the enemy to retreat. During subsequent years he served under several distinguished Revolutionary War generals and participated in 1779 at the battle of Rhode Island.
The successful political career of Thomas Melvill started with his involvement with Boston’s Committee of Correspondence. Before federal constitution was adopted and the creation of state government, one of the highest executive appointments in the port of Boston was the Navy Officer post, for which Mr. Melvill was chosen by the Massachusetts legislature three years in a row. When the constitution was finally adopted the appointment of officers was transferred to the president of the United States. For the port of Boston President Washington appointed Major Melvill as the Surveyor and Inspector. Few years later President Madison appointed him as the Naval Officer. He continued to hold this post under successive presidents until 1829 when he fell a victim of ever changing political winds.
His career continued as the elected state representative from the city of Boston, the post to which he was continuously re-elected. In 1779 he was chosen one of the fire wardens of Boston for a period of forty-seven years. One of the engines and companies bore his name and ever honored his memory.
Another high position held by Mr. Melvill was his appointment as the director of the Sate Bank.
He married, in Boston, August 20, 1774, Priscilla, daughter of John Scollay. The name is perpetuated in Boston by Scollay Square, the location of the Government Center. Priscilla (Scollay) Melvill survived her husband with whom she spent a long, happy life of fifty-eight years. Together they had 11 children. Thomas Melvill died peacefully at his home in Boston, September, 16, 1832, in his eighty-second year.
The above information was compiled from the records of the The Schenectady County, New York History Archive.
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