When Gen. George Washington needed to get fortifications completed along the Hudson River highlands in 1777, he sought help from an English immigrant who would go on to become a leading citizen in the Mohawk Valley.
Thomas Machin was “a person of merit,” according to a letter written by Washington. Born in Staffordshire in 1744, Machin fought as an English cadet in the battle of Minden, Prussia. Returning home, he learned engineering and left for America in 1772, hoping to work at a New Jersey copper mine.
The next year, however, Machin was in Boston dumping tea into the harbor as part of the Boston Tea Party, a tax protest. When war broke out, Machin served as an artillery officer and was wounded in the battle of Bunker Hill. Using his engineering skills, he helped build Boston’s defenses.
After finishing the Hudson River fortifications for Gen. Washington, Lt. Machin turned his attention to a more unusual project — the effort to stretch chains across the Hudson River to prevent British warships from sailing north. Promoted to captain, Machin was a key player in construction of what was called the Great Chain across the Hudson at West Point, finished in 1778.
Charleston historian Lorraine Whiting said: “Each link weighed about 150 pounds, about 186 tons altogether. It was more than a chain as there was iron wrought into booms, bolts, clips and swivels.”
According to a 1932 article in the St. Johnsville Enterprise by Robert Hartley, Capt. Machin served through the end of the war and the Battle of Yorktown. Hartley wrote that Machin “personally fired” on a British ship at Yorktown, hitting its ammunition magazine and blowing the ship “to atoms.”
“It was a like a hole in one,” Whiting said. “Machin must have been quite a mathematician.”
After the war, Machin was granted several parcels of land in New York because of his service. He settled first in the Hudson Valley but was granted a land patent in 1787 and moved his family to what is now the Montgomery County town of 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 on his Charleston 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 the Masonic Union Lodge in Schoharie. Thomas Machin’s grave in Carlisle has a marble stone, a Masonic brass plaque and a historical marker.
The original Machin family graveyard is still off Corbin Hill Road in Charleston. Charleston historian Whiting said the only recognizable marker is for the wife of Machin’s son, a woman named Elizabeth McMichael.
Thomas Machin’s son Thomas Jr. became prominent in the military, rising to the rank of brigadier general in the War of 1812. Thomas Machin’s grandson, Timothy Machin, moved to California in the 1850s and became a member of the legislature and lieutenant governor. While lieutenant governor, he was in charge of San Quentin prison.
Another figure from the Revolution, William McConkey, is buried near Route 30A in Charleston. McConkey owned a ferry on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania and it was on McConkey’s boat that George Washington crossed the Delaware to strike British forces in New Jersey the day after Christmas, 1776. At last report there was a historic marker on Route 30A near McConkey’s grave.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.