Decatur. I. Stephen, an American naval officer, born in Newport, R. I., in 1751, died at Frankford, near Philadelphia, Nov. 14, 1808. He obtained the command of a vessel in the merchant service at a very early age. During the war of the revolution he commanded several privateers, and acquired some reputation by the capture of English ships. At the commencement of hostilities with France in 1798, he was made captain in the navy, and was appointed to the command of the Delaware of 20 guns, in which he cruised on the American coast and in the West Indies, capturing at different times the French privateers Le Croyable and Marsuin. In 1800 he commanded a squadron of 13 sail on the Guadeloupe station, the Philadelphia frigate of 38 guns being his flag ship. He was discharged from the service under the peace establishment in October, 1801, and engaged in commercial pursuits in Philadelphia. II. Stephen, jr., an American naval officer, son of the preceding, born at Sinnepux-ent, Md., Jan. 5,1779, killed in a duel near Bla-densburg, Md., March 22, 1820. He entered the navy as midshipman in 1798, was promoted to a lieutenancy in 1799, and served in both grades in the frigate United States, on the West India station, under the command of Com. John Barry. In May, 1801, he joined the frigate Essex, Capt. William Bainbridge, one of a squadron sent to the Mediterranean, under the command of Com. Richard Dale, in consequence of hostile demonstrations by Tripoli. Dale returned home in December, 1801. Under his successor on the station, Com. Valentine Morris, Decatur was actively employed as first lieutenant of the frigate New York, Capt. James Barron. At Malta he acted as second in a duel between Midshipman Joseph Bainbridge and an English officer, which terminated fatally to the latter.
The surrender of all concerned to the civil authorities was demanded by the governor, and it was therefore deemed prudent for Decatur to return to the United States. In November, 1803, the squadron, materially strengthened, was placed under the command of Com. Edward Preble, Decatur serving in it at first in command of the brig Argus, and subsequently of the Enterprise. While in this service he distinguished himself by recapturing and burning the frigate Philadelphia, which had fallen into the enemy's hands and was in the harbor of Tripoli. With a crew of 70 men and 13 officers he sailed into the port on the night of Feb. 15, in a captured Tripolitan vessel which had been named the Intrepid. By the aid of a Greek pilot and interpreter, and under pretence that they were in distress, the Americans got alongside the frigate before their character was discovered. They instantly boarded the vessel, and after a slight resistance captured her. Combustibles were spread about and fired, and by the light of the burning frigate the Intrepid sailed out of the harbor. On the part of the Americans but a single casualty occurred, one man being slightly wounded. The loss sustained by the enemy could never be correctly ascertained. Many swam ashore or to the nearest cruisers, and 20 were reported killed.
For this gallant exploit a captain's commission was conferred upon Decatur, a sword was presented him by congress, and two months' pay was voted to each of his officers and crew. In the subsequent attacks upon Tripoli by Com. Preble's squadron Decatur bore a distinguished part, and especially in that of Aug. 3, 1804. On this occasion, with three Neapolitan gunboats under his command, he assisted in the attack upon a flotilla of gunboats protected by batteries on shore, and a ten-gun brig. Each of his boats, singling out an opponent, boarded and carried her, after a desperate hand-to-hand conflict with cutlass and pistol. Decatur, on taking possession of the boat which he first assailed, took her in tow, and bore up for the next one to leeward, which he boarded with most of his officers and men, himself attacking and after a desperate struggle slaying the Tripolitan commanding officer, who had just killed his brother, Lieut. James Decatur, after pretending to surrender to him. The two boats captured by Decatur contained 80 men, of whom 52 are known to have been killed or wounded. The American loss was 14 killed and wounded.
On Aug. 7, just at the conclusion of another attack in which Decatur participated, his commission as captain arrived, and he subsequently served at one time in the Constitution as flag captain, and at another in the frigate Congress. On June 3, 1805, peace was proclaimed. Between the close of the Tripolitan war and the declaration of war with England in 1812, he was variously employed, at one time superintending the construction of gunboats. After the affair of the Chesapeake our ships of war were for the most part kept upon our own coast, in anticipation of hostilities with England, and Decatur was then in command of a squadron, the frigate United States, 44, bearing his flag. On Oct. 25, 1812, Decatur, still in command of the United States, fell in with and captured, after an action of an hour and a half, the British frigate Macedonian, 49, Capt. Carden. Although the American ship was the heavier, her superiority was certainly not in proportion to the. execution done in this combat. The Macedonian, being to windward, could choose her distance, and the action for the most part was at long shot. Her mizzen mast, fore and main topmasts, and main yard were shot away, and 100 round shot struck her hull, while of her 300 men 36 were killed and 68 wounded.
The United States lost a topgallant mast and was otherwise somewhat cut up aloft, but her hull was very slightly injured; 5 men were killed and 7 wounded. The Macedonian was taken into New York. For this capture congress voted a gold medal to Decatur, and a silver one to each commissioned officer under his command. On May 24,1813, Decatur sailed from New York in command of a squadron, consisting of the United States (flag ship), the Macedonian, now an American frigate, and the Hornet sloop of war. The Sandy Hook channel being blockaded, he passed through Long Island sound, and on June 1 attempted to go to sea by running out past Mon-tauk point. He was intercepted by a British squadron of much superior force, and compelled to enter the harbor of New London, where he remained closely blockaded until the summer of 1814, when he was transferred to the command of a squadron, consisting of three vessels of war and a store ship, destined for a cruise in the East India seas. So closely was New York blockaded that he did not get to sea until the middle of January, 1815, when he sailed at midnight. The flag ship President, 44, struck, and was much injured in passing the bar. She was pursued by four ships and brought to action about 3 P. M. on the following day by the frigate Endymion of 40 guns.
A running fight took place, which lasted about eight hours, when the Pomona, 38, another of the pursuing ships, also closed, and, obtaining a position upon the weather bow of the President, fired a broadside into her; and as at this moment the Te-nedos, 38, was fast closing upon the quarter, and the razee Majestic was within gun-shot astern, Decatur surrendered. The loss of the President was very severe; 80 were killed or wounded. The loss of the Endymion was 11 killed and 14 wounded. The President was carried into Bermuda, and both she and the Endymion were dismasted in a gale before reaching port. Decatur was soon paroled, and on his return to the United States was honorably acquitted by a court of inquiry for the loss of the ship. On May 21, 1815, with a squadron under his command consisting of three frigates, one sloop of war, and six brigs and schooners, he mailed from New York for the Mediterranean to act against Algiers. On June 17, off Cape de Gatte, on the coast of Spain, the squadron fell in with and captured the Algerine frigate Mashouda, 46, after a short running fight, in which the Algerine admiral, Rais Hammida, and nearly 100 of his officers and men, were killed or wounded. The prisoners amounted to 406. On board the Guerriere, Decatur's flag ship, 14 were killed or wounded.
Two days later an Algerine brig of war, the Estidio, 22, was captured off Cape Palos after a short resistance. The prizes were sent into Cartagena, and the squadron arrived off Algiers June 28. On the 30th, just 40 days after leaving New York, Com. Decatur and William Shaler, the commissioners, concluded a treaty with the dey, by which demands upon the United States for tribute were forever abolished. A mutual liberation of prisoners and restitution of property was made, and it was stipulated that in the event of future wars Algiers was not to treat American prisoners as slaves. As a personal favor to the dey, the captured frigate and brig were restored. Decatur then proceeded with his squadron to Tunis and Tripoli, made reclamations upon those powers for their depredations upon American commerce during the war with England, demanded the release of captives, and obtained prompt redress. As soon as this service was concluded, most of the squadron returned to the United States. In November, 1815, Decatur was appointed navy commissioner, which position he held until his death.
He was killed in a duel with Com. James Barron, which grew out of the affair between the Chesapeake and Leopard. Both fell at the first fire, Decatur mortally and Barron very severely wounded.