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STEPHEN DECATUR (1779-1820)

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Originally appearing in Volume V07, Page 910 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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STEPHEN DECATUR (1779-1820), American naval commander, was born at Sinnepuxent, Maryland, on the 5th of January 1779, and entered the United States navy as a midshipman in 1798. He was promoted lieutenant a year later, and in that rank saw some service in the short war with France. In 1803 he was in command of the " Enterprise," which formed part of Commodore Preble's squadron in the Mediterranean, and in February 1804 led a daring expedition into the harbour of Tripoli for the purpose of burning the U.S. frigate" Philadelphia " which had fallen into Tripolitan hands. He succeeded in his purpose and made his escape under the fire of the batteries with a loss of only one man wounded. This brilliant exploit earned him his captain's commission and a sword of honour from Congress. Decatur was subsequently engaged in all the attacks on Tripoli between 1804 and 1805. In the War of 1812 his ship the " United States " captured H.M.S. " Macedonian " after a desperate fight, and in 1813 he was appointed commodore to command a squadron in New York harbour, which was soon blockaded by the British. In an attempt to break out in February 1815 Decatur's flagship the " President " was cut off and after a spirited fight forced to surrender to a superior force. Subsequently he commanded in the Mediterranean against the corsairs of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli with great success. On his return he was made a navy commissioner (November 1815), an office which he held until his death, which took place in a duel with Commodore James Barron at Bladensburg, Md., on the 22nd of March 1820. See Mackenzie, Life of Decatur (Boston, 1846).
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