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Decatur

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DECATUR, Stephen, American commo dore: b. Sinepuxent, Md., 5 Jan. 1779; d. Wash ington, D. C., 22 March 1820. He was the most conspicuous figure in the naval history of the United States for the 100 years between Paul Jones and Farragut. He was well educated at the Episcopal Academy and at the University of Pennsylvania. Refusing a clerical life, in 1796 he entered the counting house of a firm of ship owners. In 1797 he got out the keel pieces of the frigate United States and was on her when she was launched, the first ship of the United States Navy. Through the instru mentality of Commodore John Barry he was appointed a midshipman in the navy by Presi dent Adams, 30 April 1798. He cruised in the West Indies during the French War in the United States, taking part in various minor naval actions. Such was his aptitude and ability that he was commissioned lieutenant, 3 June 1799. At the outbreak of the Tripolitan war, in command of the schooner Enterprise, he captured the bomb ketch Mastico, 23 Dec. 1803. In this ketch, renamed the Intrepid, he destroyed the frigate Philadelphia in the harbor of Tripoli by a singularly bold stroke.

On 3 Aug. 1804 Decatur commanded the American gunboats in their attack on the Tri politan flotilla. He captured two gunboats by the most desperate hand-to-hand fighting in a battle which has been called the ((biggest little fight in history," and well merits the name. He took part in four other attacks on Tripoli with his usual distinction. For the burning of the Philadelphia he was commissioned a captain, and at the age of 25 was placed in command of the frigate Constitution. At the close of the war he returned home, having divided with Commodore Preble the honors of the campaign.

On 8 March 1806 he married Miss Susan Wheeler of Norfolk, Va. He had no children, and his wife survived him many years. At the outbreak of the War of 1812 he was in command of the United States, in whose build ing he had assisted, on which he had been launched, and in which he had made his first cruise. On 25 Oct. 1812 the United States cap tured the British frigate Macedonian, which was dismasted and almost cut to pieces. She lost 35 per cent of her complement, or 89 killed or mortally wounded, and 15 severely wounded, besides many others slightly wounded. On the American ship seven were killed or mortally wounded, and five severely wounded. The United States was practically intact. The weather remained favorable and by strenuous work for two weeks the Macedonian was patched up and brought back to New York, the only trophy of the great frigate actions of the war that remained afloat. The disparity in force in favor of the United States was about 7 to 5, in damage inflicted about 9 to 1.

After being blockaded in New London for a year Decatur took command of the frigate President. On the night of 14 Jan. 1815, in the midst of a howling gale, he put to sea from New York On the morning of the 1 5th, off the eastern end of Long Island, he fell in with a British squadron of five heavy ships.

Every effort was made to escape, but in the afternoon the President was brought to by the frigate Endymion. A running fight ensued until 6 o'clock, when Decatur attempted to lay the Endymion aboard, hoping to capture her, scut tle the President and escape on the British ship, but the Endymion had the heels of the Presi dent and avoided the manoeuvre. For two hours the vessels sailed side by side in furious con flict. At the end of this time the Endymion was entirely silenced. She had been fought to a standstill. Decatur could not take possession for fear of the other ships. He tried running again, but the President had been severely in jured in the battle, and about 11 o'clock she was overhauled by two British frigates, which ran alongside and opened fire. The British flagship was also in range and the last ship was coming up rapidly. The President had lost 24 killed and 55 wounded, including most of her deck officers. Decatur himself had been twice wounded. Further conflict with two fresh ships was hopeless. Decatur reluctantly struck his flag and surrendered to the commodore of the squadron. He was court-martialed for the loss of his ship, and acquitted of any misconduct in words of the highest commendation.

After the close of the war he was placed in command of a squadron and sent to the Barbary States to exact reparation for injuries and to enforce treaties of peace. His squadron cap tured the Algerine frigate Meshouda and the brig Estedio on 17 and 19 June. On 30 June 1815 he exacted submission and peace from the Dey of Algiers; on 26 July the same from the Bey of Tunis; and on 7 August the same from the Bashaw of Tripoli. The treaties were made at the mouth of the cannon and indemnities demanded were paid immediately.

In 1816 he was appointed naval commis sioner. On 22 March 1820 he was killed in a duel with Commodore James Barron. The cause of this duel arose from certain strictures which Decatur passed on Barron. Barron had been suspended for his conduct on the Chesa peake when she was attacked by the Leopard in 1807. He had not returned to the United States duridg the War of 1812 but had remained in England, where he claimed to have been im prisoned for debt. When he applied for rein statement after the close of the war Decatur opposed his request. He need not have enter tained Barron's challenge save for a too nice sense of honor. He is buried in Saint Peter's church-yard, Philadelphia.

Loyalty to his country was the very breath of life to Decatur. Our judgment does not entirely approve the ethic significance of his famous sentiment, •My country — may she ever be right, but, right or wrong, my coun try)); but our affections tend to make the senti ment our own. There is a ring of sincerity in the words and in him which wins us in spite of all. His nephew, STEPHEN, b. 1815; d. 1876, was also a commodore in the United States Navy.

• Consult Brady, Mackenzie, catur); of Commodore Mor ris); Allen, and Barbary Corsairs); va rious naval histories.