Admiral Elie La Vallette: From the oil painting in
Lavallette's Council Chambers. Photograph by Peter
Lavallette was named in honor of Admiral Elie A. F. La Vallette, whose
50-year Naval career included action in the battle of Lake Champlain
during the War of 1812 and command of "Old Ironsides," the
The Admiral, a member of a distinguished French family, formally Anglicized
his name to Lavallette in 1830. His son, A.T. La Vallette, secretary of the
Barnegat Land Improvement Company which initiated the town's development,
also adopted that spelling. The two U.S. destroyers later named for
him, however, retained the French spelling.
Born in 1790, La Vallette had made several voyages in the merchant marine
before accepting a Navy appointment as sailing master in 1812. In
September of 1814 he was an acting lieutenant aboard the Saratoga,
Commodore Thomas MacDonough's flagship at Lake Champlain, where the
British were defeated in decisive engagement of the war.
The young La Vallette is mentioned often in Charles G. Muller's biography
of MacDonough, although he is identified throughout as "Elie Vallette."
Muller describes him as tall and muscular, and in one dramatic passage pays
tribute to his courage during the battle:
"From Saratoga's midships the crash of a balland a shout brought the
Commodore's gaze to a still tumbling officer and the shot box upon which he
had stood. The Commodore's heart sank. But Elie La Vallette slowly,
deliberately picked himself off the deck, examined his shredded uniform,
shrugged his gargantan shoulders, and resumed charge of his guns."
La Vallette's first command came in June of 1817, when he took the
schooner Despatch on a survey of Virginia's coast and harbors. He then
served as lieutenant on a number of larger ships and in 1824 was assigned
to the Constitution. While on duty in the Mediterranean he was acting
captain for several months, and continued to serve on the ship
After leaving the Constitution, La Vallette held a series of routine
assignments before being ordered to take the Sloop of War Fairfield to
Guayaquil, Ecuador, to protect the United States interests during a
revolution. He left the United States in May of 1833, taking along a
young sailing master he thought showed promise -- a lad named Stephen
Decatur -- and reached Guayaquil in February of 1834. After receiving
assurances American lives and property would be protected he brought the
Fairfield home, making the run from Valparaiso to Hampton Roads in a
little more than two months.
In 1840 he received his commission as a Captain, and in the Mexican War
commanded the Independence and the Congress. For a time in 1848 he
served as military Governor of Mazatlan, just below the Gulf of California,
and the crew of the Congress comprised the occupying garrison. It is
reported they left the sunny beaches and superb fishing grounds with
considerable regret. Later, his assignments included command of the African
Squadron, the East Indian Squadron, and the Mediterranean Squadron.
On July 30, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln appointed La Vallette a Rear
Admiral. Three months later, Admiral La Vallette died at the Philadelphia