Stephen Decatur, born 5 January 1779 in Sinepuxent, Md., was warranted a midshipman at the age of 19 and made his first cruise in the frigate United States. In command of the schooner Enterprise at the outbreak of the Tripolitan War, he captured the bomb ketch Mastico on 23 December 1803. He used this ship, renamed Intrepid, in his daring raid to burn the captured frigate Philadelphia in the harbor of Tripoli, 16 February 1804. He also distinguished himself during the attacks on Tripoli in command of a gunboat division. Promoted to captain he was assigned command of Constitution, and later, in November 1804, Congress. He negotiated with the Bey of Tunis at the close of the Tripolitan War, and returned to the United States in September 1805 with the Tunisian envoy.
During the War of 1812 he commanded United States, capturing HMS Macedonian in one of the greatest single-ship actions of naval history. He took command of President at New York and attempting to slip through the blockade fell in with a British squadron of five heavy ships. After 2 hours of furious combat the frigate HMS Endymion was silenced but President had suffered such extensive damage that it was impossible to execute an escape. The twice-wounded Decatur reluctantly surrendered, but was paroled, landing at New London 22 February 1815.
Returning to the Mediterranean in 1815, Decatur in Guerriere, negotiated a treaty with the Dey of Algiers which ended tribute and exacted full payment for injuries to Americans, then concluded similar agreements with the Bey of Tunis and the Bashaw of Tripoli. From November 1815 until killed by Commodore James Barron in a duel 22 March 1820, Decatur served on the Board of Navy Commissioners.
(Sip: t. 566; l. 117'; b. 32'; dph. 15'; dr. 15'8"; s. 10 k.; cpl. 150; a. 14 32-pdr., 2 12-pdr.)
The first Decatur, a sloop-of-war, was built in 1838 and 1839 at New York Navy Yard. Commanded by Commander H. W. Ogden, she sailed from New York 16 March 1840 for duty with the Brazil Squadron, returning to Norfolk 28 February 1843. Her second cruise, from 5 August 1843 to 3 January 1845 was with the African Squadron for the suppression of the slave trade. She was placed in ordinary during 1845 and 1846.
Decatur sailed from Hampton Roads 1 March 1847, and after a brief stay at the Pensacola Navy Yard, arrived off Castle Juan de Uloa, Mexico, 14 April for duty in the Mexican War. Although she was too large to ascend the Tuxpan River, 14 of her officers and 118 men accompanied Commodore Perry's expedition to attack Tuxpan. She also furnished 8 officers and 104 men for the capture of Tobasco from 14 to 16 June. She, continued to cruise in Mexican waters until 2 September when she sailed for Boston, arriving 12 November.
Rejoining the African Squadron, Decatur cruised on the northwest coast of Africa on the lookout for slave ships and protecting American interests from 2 February 1848 to 15 November 1849. After a period in ordinary she sailed from Portsmouth, N.H., for duty with the Home Squadron, cruising off the Atlantic coast and in the Caribbean until arriving at Boston 21 August 1852 where she was decommissioned for repairs.
Recommissioned 12 July 1853 Decatur joined a Special Squadron to guard the fishing interests of American citizens in north Atlantic waters, returning to Boston in September to prepare for distant service. After searching for the missing merchantship San Francisco in the Caribbean in January and February 1854, she sailed from Norfolk 16 June to join the Pacific Squadron. After a stormy transit of the Straits of Magellan, she called at Valparaiso, Chile, arriving 15 January 1855, then visited Honolulu from 28 March to 23 June. Sailing on to Washington Territory, Decatur entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca 19 July.
Decatur remained in the Pacific Northwest to deter Indian outbreaks until 2 June 1856 cruising to San Francisco between 2 August and 27 September 1855 for supplies. On 13 June 1856 she arrived at Mare Island Navy Yard for repairs, and on 8 January 1857 sailed for Panama, touching at Central American ports for the protection of American interests. She sailed 3 June to Nicaragua to evacuate American citizens connected with the filibustering expedition of William Walker to Panama, where she arrived 5 August. She cruised off Panama, Peru, and Chile until 23 March 1859 when she was ordered to return to Mare Island. She was decommissioned there 20 June 1859 and remained in ordinary until March 1863 when she was fitted as a harbor battery and stationed off San Francisco. She was sold at Mare Island 17 August 1865.