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Stephen Decatur

Stephen Decatur Engraving
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Biographical Sketch of Stephen Decatur

Stephen Decatur (1779-1820) entered the navy in 1798 as a midshipman aboard the frigate United States. He served in the Quasi War with France, and was promoted to lieutenant in 1799.  In 1803, Decatur took his first command, Argus, a new vessel built in Boston. He took her to the Mediterranean with Preble's squadron where he transferred from Argus to Enterprise. While in command of Enterprise, he captured the Tripolitan ketch Mastico renaming her Intrepid. It was this vessel that he used to enter Tripoli to destroy Philadelphia. Decatur's Tripoli exploit made him a national hero. Over the objections of numerous senior officers he was promoted to the rank of captain. In the War of 1812, he distinguished himself again. While in command of the frigate United States, Decatur captured HMS Macedonian. After the war he returned to the Mediterranean with an American squadron and negotiated peace treaties with Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. Decatur was courageous and reckless, and during the course of his career he antagonized and offended many of his brother officers, among them James Barron. On 22 March 1820, the two captains faced one another in a duel at Bladensburg, Maryland. Both men were wounded, Decatur fatally.