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Decatur, Stephen, 1779-

Naval officer; born in Sinnepuxent, Md., Jan. 5, 1779; died near Washington, D. C., March 22, 1820; entered the United States navy as a midshipman April 30, 1798, and rose to

Stephen Decatur

captain in 1804. His first notable exploit was the destruction of the Philadelphia in the harbor of Tripoli, in the Preble Expedition, for which Congress gave him thanks, a sword, and promotion. the Philadelphia had chased a Tripolitan ship into the harbor in front of that town, and struck upon a rock not laid down on the charts. Fast bound, she was captured by the Tripolitans, and Captain Bainbridge and his officers were made prisoners of war, and the crew were made slaves.

Decatur caught a Tripolitan ketch laden with maidens, whom the Bashaw was sending to the Sultan at Constantinople as a present.

The captured ketch was taken into the United States service and renamed the Intrepid. In her Decatur and seventy-four brave young men sailed for Tripoli, accompanied by the Siren, under Lieutenant (afterwards Commodore) Stewart.

On a bright moonlit evening they sailed boldly into the harbor, warped alongside the Philadelphia, sprang on board, and after a fierce struggle all the Tripolitans were killed or driven into the sea, the Philadelphia was set on fire, and the Intrepid was towed out of the harbor by the boats of the Siren.

The Bashaw was greatly alarmed by this display of American energy and boldness, and acted with more caution in the future.

Decatur commanded a division of gunboats in the attack on Tripoli, Aug. 3, 1804. In this action Decatur commanded a gunboat, which he laid alongside of a large Tripolitan war-ship, which he captured after a brief struggle. Immediately boarding another vessel, Decatur had a desperate personal struggle with the commander. The fight was brief but deadly. Decatur slew his antagonist, and the vessel was captured. The Americans withdrew, but four days later renewed the conflict, which was indecisive, but on Aug. 24 and 28, and Sept. 3, Preble repeated the attack, and on the night of Sept. 4 the Intrepid, under Captain Somers as a fire-ship, was lost in the attack, with all on board.

In command of the frigate United States, [33] Decatur captured the frigate Macedonian, Oct. 25, 1812, for which Congress gave him a gold medal. the Macedonian was a new ship, rated at thirty-six, but carrying forty-nine guns. She was badly cut in the fight, and Decatur thought best to order his prize to Newport, while he returned in the United States to New London. Both vessels sailed into New York harbor on New Year's Day, 1813. The Corporation gave Decatur the “freedom of the city,” and requested his portrait for the picture-gallery in the City Hall, where it still hangs. In January, 1815, after a running fight, the President, his flagship, was captured by a British squadron;


Algiers in 1812.

and a few months later he was sent to the Mediterranean, and compelled the government of Algiers to relinquish its barbarous conduct towards other powers and to pay for American property destroyed (see Algiers). He was appointed a navy commissioner in November, 1815, and made his residence in the fine mansion of Kalorama, about a mile from Georgetown, built by Joel Barlow. Decatur had opposed the reinstatement of Barron to his former position in the navy, and a duel was the consequence. They fought at the famous duelling-ground near Bladensburg, when Decatur was mortally wounded, and was taken to Washington. Gen. Solomon Van Rensselaer wrote to his wife from that city, on March 20, 1820, as follows: “I have only time, after [34] writing to several, to say that an affair of honor took place this morning between Commodores Decatur and Barron, in which both fell at the first fire. The ball entered Decatur's body two inches above the hip and lodged against the opposite side. I just came from his house. He yet lives, but will never see another sun. Barron's wound is severe, but not dangerous. The

Decatur's monument.

ball struck the upper part of his hip and turned to the rear. He is ruined in public estimation. The excitement is very great.” Decatur died March 22, and his remains were taken from the house in Washington to Kalorama by the following officers: Commodores Tingey, Macdonough, Rodgers, and Porter, Captains Cassin, Ballard, and Chauncey, Generals Brown and Jesup, and Lieutenant McPherson. The funeral was attended by nearly all the public functionaries in Washington, American and foreign, and a great number of citizens. While the procession was moving minute-guns were fired at the navyyard. His remains were deposited in Joel Barlow's vault at Kalorama, where they remained until 1846, when they were taken to Philadelphia and reinterred, with appropriate ceremonies, in St. Peter's cemetery. Over them a beautiful monument, delineated in the accompanying engraving, was erected.

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