By the time Truxtun made his way back to Philadelphia, the colonies had reached the point of open rupture with the mother country. He signed on as a lieutenant in Congress, the first privateer to be fitted out for service against Great Britain. During the remainder of 1776, Truxtun participated in the capture of several prizes off the coast of Cuba. In 1777, he fitted out Continental Navy sloop Independence and sailed her to the Azores where he took three prizes. Upon his return, Truxtun fitted out Mars and made a highly successful cruise in the English Channel. Successively, he commanded Independence once more and then, in turn, Commerce and St. James.
In addition to privateering, Truxtun’s ships also carried cargoes of military stores to the colonies. On one voyage in St. James, he landed a valuable cargo of gunpowder and military stores at Philadelphia. At a dinner to celebrate the feat, George Washington declared that Truxtun’s services had been worth those of a regiment. On another occasion, St. James—still under his command—carried Thomas Barclay, the American consul, to France.
Following the Revolution, Truxtun resumed his career in mercantile service and commanded Canton, the first Philadelphia ship to enter the China trade. When the United States Navy was organized, he was selected as one of its first six captains on 4 June 1798. He was assigned command of one of the new frigates then under construction. His ship, Constellation, was completed late in June; and he put to sea immediately to prosecute the undeclared naval war with revolutionary France.
The frigate, accompanied by a squadron of smaller ships, operated in the West Indies between St. Christopher and Puerto Rico. On 9 February 1799, Truxtun scored the first of his two most famous victories. After an hour’s fight, Constellation battered L’Insurgente into submission, killing 29 and wounding 44 of the French frigate’s crew. Truxtun brought L’Insurgente into St. Christopher where she was refitted and commissioned in the United States Navy.
Almost a year later, on 1 February 1800, he sighted the 50-gun French frigate La Vengeance, chased her all day, and finally overhauled her that evening. For the next five hours, Truxtun used superior American gunnery and the prevailing heavy seas to his advantage and, by 0100, completely overcame La Vengeance’s initial broadside superiority. During the action, the French warship had struck her colors several times, but darkness had prevented Truxtun from seeing the signal. Accordingly, the engagement continued until every gun on board the Frenchman went silent. The French frigate then sheered off to flee, and Constellation’s battle-damaged rigging made it impossible for the American frigate to pursue her escaping victim. After refitting Constellation at Jamaica, Truxtun returned with her to Norfolk late in March.
After commanding frigate President in the West Indies from mid-1800 to May 1801, Truxtun was appointed to command the squadron then fitting out for the Tripolitan expedition. Through a misunderstanding engendered by his request to have a captain appointed to command his flagship Chesapeake, Truxtun’s unintended resignation from the Navy was accepted in Washington.
Commodore Truxtun retired first to Perth Amboy, N.J., and thence to Philadelphia, where he was active in local politics for the rest of his life. In 1809, he led the agitation in Philadelphia against the Embargo. The following year, he was unsuccessful in his bid for a seat in Congress under the Federalist banner. From 1816 to 1819, Truxtun served as the sheriff of Philadelphia. Commodore Truxtun died at Philadelphia on 5 May 1822 and was interred there at Christ Church.