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Stephen Decatur

Two men named Stephen Decatur, father and son, were early American naval officers. The first was born in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1752. During the American Revolution, he commanded several privateers. During the undeclared war with France that began in 1798, Decatur was given the command of the Delaware, with which he cruised along the American coast and in the West Indies. In 1800, he was put in command of a squadron of 13 ships. He died in Philadelphia on November 14, 1808. His son, also Stephen Decatur, was born in Sinepuxent, Maryland, on January 5, 1779. Although educated for the ministry, his interest pointed him towards the sea. When the first ship built for the United States Navy, the frigate United States was launched in 1797, Decatur was on board. Showing his ability, he rose from midshipman to lieutenant, gaining the commission on May 21, 1799. After the onset of the War with Tripoli, Decatur was put in command of the schooner Enterprise. He captured the ketch Mastico just before Christmas in 1803. The ketch, renamed Intrepid, entered the harbor of Tripoli and destroyed the frigate Philadelphia, which had been captured and held there. The burning of the Philadelphia earned Decatur a promotion to captain. He continued to lead raids against Tripoli until the end of the conflict. In 1806, Decatur married Susan Wheeler of Norfolk, Virginia. They had no children. During the War of 1812, Decatur commanded the frigate United States in its battle with the British frigate Macedonian, in which he was victorious. Later given command of the frigate President, Decatur fought a gallant battle with five heavily armed British ships of the American coast in January, 1815, but was forced to surrender. Just like Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, Decatur`s last action took place after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed, bringing the war to a close. After the war, Decatur returned to the Mediterranean and inflicted such losses on the Barbary states that between June 30 and August 7, 1815, the three Barbary states of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli all sued for peace. In 1816, Decatur was made naval commissioner. He was killed on March 22, 1820, in a duel with Commodore James Barron, who had been censured for his conduct during the Chesapeake-Leopard incident prior to the War of 1812, and whose reinstatement to the Navy Decatur had opposed. Duels at this time had become so common between military officers that the War Department threatened to discharge any officers found to be taking part in the practice.