Researchers agree that Thomas Machin was the engineer who had two metal chains forged and strung across the Hudson River near West Point to prevent British warships from traveling from New York City up the Hudson to Albany to thwart the American Revolution.
There is also agreement that after the war Machin settled in Charleston in Montgomery County, south of the Mohawk River.
But Bevis Longstreth, in his recent historical novel “Chains Across the River,” disputes an account that Machin had supported the cause of liberty as far back as 1773 when he supposedly was one of the men who threw tea into Boston Harbor.
This narrative came from Machin himself, said Longstreth: “Historians have uncovered information about him which solidly places him in different circumstances entirely.”
Longstreth said Machin was trained in engineering in England and enlisted in 1773 in the British Army’s 23rd Regiment of Foot which shipped out to America.
The regiment ended up in Boston.
The regiment’s muster rolls recorded Private Machin’s desertion on July 28, 1775, and two British officers made note of it.
British staff officer Maj. Stephen Kemble reported Machin’s desertion in his diary calling him “a sensible intelligent fellow, with some knowledge of fortification and gunnery.”
Lt. Richard Williams of Machin’s regiment wrote, “Last night Thomas Machin, soldier in our Regiment deserted when sentry on fire boat in the river.”
While he can’t say for sure why Machin would lie about his background, Longstreth said, “I think that he didn’t view desertion with pride even though his record of achievement after having deserted would warrant the highest pride. Because he did extremely effective work as an engineer in the Hudson Valley.
“Maybe once you start to lie it’s too embarrassing to come out with the truth later.
“He certainly stuck with his story and at the time it was accepted.”
After his desertion Machin was in touch with George Washington and soon Machin was working on Hudson River fortifications.
Then he was assigned the task of designing, fashioning and installing two chains across the mighty Hudson River to block the Royal Navy.
The British cut the smaller chain but never tested the larger and stronger chain.
Author Longstreth has written four historical novels.
He was a lawyer and law professor in New York City and served three years as a commissioner of the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.
He has a vacation home near where the chains were installed.
According to a 1932 article in the St. Johnsville Enterprise by Robert Hartley, Capt. Machin served through the end of the war.
Hartley wrote that Machin “personally fired” on a British ship at the battle of Yorktown, hitting its ammunition magazine and blowing up the ship.
After the war, Machin was granted several parcels of land because of his service.
He settled first in the Hudson Valley but was granted a land patent in 1787 and moved his family to Charleston, near the border with Schoharie County. He was a land surveyor and his surveyor’s chain is part of the collection at Old Fort Johnson.
When he died in 1816, he was buried in a family plot off Corbin Hill Road on his property.
The graveyard was neglected over the years and Machin’s body was moved in 1905.
According to Hartley, historian William Roscoe of Schoharie County had Machin’s body dug up and taken to the cemetery in Carlisle, where the remains were reburied with military and Masonic honors.
Machin had established a Masonic Lodge in Schoharie.
Thomas Machin’s grave in Carlisle has a marble stone, a Masonic brass plaque and historical marker.
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