View Full Version : Stephen Decatur: Naval hero

Bernadette & David Hedger
12-06-2000, 07:01 AM
We have very little information on this amazing man. Can anyone provide us with more information here or suggest a reference book/s or perhaps a museum that we could contact etc?

12-08-2000, 12:13 AM
He was born in Worcester County, Maryland.

Try the US Naval Academy Library (www.library.usna.edu, maybe?) and the US Naval Historical Center, also on the Web.

Art Read
12-08-2000, 03:40 AM
Wasn't it he, aboard INTREPED, who boarded and burned PHILADELPHIA in what Nelson himself termed the "boldest action of the age..." or words to that effect?

Ian McColgin
12-08-2000, 09:18 AM
& he said:

". . . it is part of a sailor's life to die well."

12-08-2000, 09:34 AM
Thanks for this tease. I recognised the name, but couldn't have come up with any of his deeds to save my life. The next time to the library I'll, at least, pull down the Britannica and have a read. An American sailor given ultimate praise by Nelson is worthy of closer inspection.

Alan D. Hyde
12-08-2000, 11:03 AM
His most famous quote is a toast he made:

"Our country, may she always be in the right, but our country right or wrong!"

This quote, in truncated (and thus inaccurate)form, received quite a lot of play in the '60's, as some members of this forum will recall.

Decatur died in a duel with a disgraced Navy Captain who Decatur had (rightly) disciplined.

He was widely admired during the 19th century, and several cities, counties, towns and townships are named in his honor.


Art Read
12-08-2000, 12:23 PM
Anyone who lives near Washington, D.C. can still find the the "Decatur House" near Lafayette Square, I believe. May even be a museum or public garden now. I think it was while living there that he made his "fatefull" appointment with said disgruntled officer.

[This message has been edited by Art Read (edited 12-08-2000).]

12-12-2000, 12:05 AM
Out here in the Washington San Juans there's a Decatur Island, and snugged up against it is the smaller James Island, a state park. If you're interested in a bit if US Naval history, look up that one and see why the little one that takes the weather is called James. Hint: Reuben. The tale always entertains middle-school kids on adventure education outings.

Art Read
12-12-2000, 11:56 AM
Well, Kermit... Now I guess I'll HAVE to look him up. Been wondering about him ever since reading that Clancy book...
"What exactly IS a "Reuben James?"
"Well, at least we don't name ships after our Mother-in-Laws" (Signal exchange between USS REUBEN JAMES and HMS BATTLEAX...)

J. Dillon
12-12-2000, 12:53 PM
Reuben James was a USN Boatswain mate who saved S.Decatur during a battle with the Barbary pirates. He took a sword strike with his own body and saved Decatur. He recovered from his wound but was retired out of the Naval service in later years. I think three ships have been named for him.

12-12-2000, 01:23 PM
I can't help be impressed with your erudition J Dillon. May you have found it in your memory, and not off the web. Actually, I'll take either as a good thing.

"No man hath greater love, than that he give his life for his fellow." Even if, death doesn't ensue from the action, I would add. One place where intention is dam near as worthy as actuallity.

Hero is bandied so loosely, and oddly these days, perhaps a thread of personal heroes would be in order.

12-13-2000, 07:16 PM
J. Dillon is spot-on. Reuben James stepped in front of Decatur to take the blow of the blade, and did, indeed, survive. Many consider James the first American Naval hero. I believe he lived to a ripe old age in some old sailor's home, dying finally of natural causes. And the officer he took the blow for did the stupid duel thing. Nowhere is it written that officers have to be smart.

James Island is snugged up against the east side of the larger Decatur Island. I imagine whoever was responsible for the names that finally stuck on the charts knew this story well. Next time you head out of Anacortes for Friday Harbor, have a look at your charts and remember the story. Good bit of lore that I always share when riding the ferry into the islands with the summer tourists.

Now, how many can sing the song that goes;
"What were their names,
Tell me what were their names?
Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James?"

As what's-his-name says, "...the rest of the story."

[This message has been edited by Kermit (edited 12-13-2000).]

12-13-2000, 09:04 PM
The captain in question was the feller in charge of the, umm, CHESAPEAKE when it was fired on by HMS LEOPARD, I think it was, back in about 1807.

Although the captain of the Chesapeake had done nothing wrong (there was no war with Britain, so why should the crew be at battle stations?) his career was over and he blamed Decatur for some reason or other, and nursed a grudge for a decade or so.

The captain was, I want to say, James someone. I've read a description of the whole deal in the past but don't really have any interest in naval affairs and can't recall the details.

The duel was one of those affairs of "honor" which just don't make any sense to us anymore.

Alan D. Hyde
12-14-2000, 02:39 PM
This is just a recollection from boyhood (which was long ago), so I may be wrong, but I believe that Decatur fired his pistol in the air in gentlemanly fashion, whereupon his opponent aimed and fired the fatal shot.

Decatur, I recall, was reputed to be a dead shot, so he died as a consequence of his own kindness, and his opponent's thirst for blood.

His willingness to comply with the dictates of honor (i.e., show up for the duel), combined with his unwillingness to take a life, made him an all the more popular national hero.


Don Z.
12-14-2000, 04:34 PM
US Naval Academy: www.usna.edu. (http://www.usna.edu.) The museum would be the best POC. It is located in Preble Hall.

Another good source would be the US Naval Institute: www.usni.org (http://www.usni.org)

12-16-2000, 09:45 PM
Try'em this'un:

The guy in question was James Barron.