Decatur, Stephen

Decatur, Stephen (1779-1820) Naval Officer: Stephen Decatur was born on January 5, 1779, in Sinnepuxent, Maryland. At the age of 17, he was working for a firm that acted as an agent for the US Navy. In 1798, he obtained a warrant as a midshipman, and was placed on board the frigate United States. Decatur was nineteen years old at the time; and described as intelligent, well-informed, chivalrous, courteous, handsome and gracious. While serving on the United States under Colonel Barry, he cruised the West Indies and captured several French privateers preying on American ships. After shooting down a French privateer called "L'Amour de la Patrie," he managed to save the lives of the entire crew. He learned how to be an excellent and well-respected sailor and naval officer. Known for courage and heroism, he was commissioned a lieutenant in 1799. After the end of the "Quasi-War" with France in 1801, Congress ordered that all the ships of the Navy be sold, except for six ships. In addition, Congress ordered the discharge of twenty out of twenty-nine captains; all commanders; and seventy-four out of one hundred and ten lieutenants. Decatur and his brother, James, chose to remain in the Navy; while their father resigned and returned to private life. When the Tripolitan War began, Decatur joined the "Essex" as a first lieutenant, even though he had only been in the Navy for 3 years. When the "Essex" returned to New York after a successful mission, Decatur joined the frigate "New York." He was transferred to the command of the "Norfolk," then the schooner "Enterprise." In 1802, Decatur captured the "Mastico," renamed the "Intrepid," in the Mediterranean. He took part in the attack and burning of the "Philadelphia," an action which Admiral Nelson called "the most daring act of the age." Decatur took charge of a division during the attack on Tripoli; eager to avenge the death of his brother, James, in 1804. Commissioned as a captain, he was honored for his service in the attack. Decatur continued to serve in Tripoli, then was placed in command of the "Constitution," and later the "Congress." After the Tripolitan War ended in 1805, Decatur returned home as a hero. After serving as part of the court-martial to try Com. James Barron for his actions during the war, Decatur was sent to the frigate "United States." He held command until the War of 1812 began, in which achieved many naval successes, but was also forced to surrender his ship, the "President," to the British. After the end of the War of 1812, the US sent ships to the Mediterranean to punish the leader of Algiers for having captured American merchantmen during the conflict with Britain. Decatur commanded one of the squadrons, and captured the Algerian frigate "Mashouda" and brig-of-war "Estedio." As the peace was being negotiated, Decatur demanded concessions from the leaders of Algiers and Tunis, including the release of American and European prisoners. These demands were met and, together with the peace treaty, were largely responsible for removing the North African countries from their positions of international power and influence. In December 1815, President Madison praised Decatur to Congress for his role in defeating the powers of North Africa. When Decatur arrived in Washington in 1816, he was appointed a naval commissioner, along with two other individuals. While they were working to build up the Navy, Decatur made disapproving remarks about James Barron, the naval captain in whose court-martial Decatur had served. Despite Barron's objections, Decatur refused to retract his statements. As a result, Barron issued a challenge to a duel, which Decatur accepted. The duel took place on March 22, 1820, in Bladensburg, Maryland. Barron was wounded in the hip, while Decatur was mortally wounded in the stomach, and died that same night. When he was buried, the funeral procession was followed by masses of people who paid tribute to his standing as an American naval hero.