Stephen Decatur (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Article abstract: Decatur was the most colorful and successful open-sea naval commander and hero of the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812.
Stephen Decatur’s father, Stephen, was a seafaring man who earned his living as a merchant ship captain and, during the American Revolution, as a privateer. Decatur was a sickly child during his early years. At the age of eight, suffering from a prolonged and severe cough, he accompanied his father on a voyage to the French port of Bordeaux. His malady, probably whooping cough, disappeared.
Because his father was at sea much of the time, Decatur was raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by his mother, Ann, who sent him to the Episcopal Academy and later to the University of Pennsylvania in the hope that he would become either a clergyman or a scholar. However, despite his health problems and his mother’s wishes, Decatur craved the active over the contemplative life. As a young man, he was 5 feet 10 inches in height, possessed a muscular build, and had a handsome countenance with an aquiline nose.
Decatur first worked as a clerk in 1796 for Gurney and Smith, a Philadelphia shipping company, but after the United States Navy was established on April 30, 1798, and a naval war had commenced with France, Decatur, through his father’s influence, secured a midshipman place on the newly constructed ship, the United States. Built in...
(The entire section is 1941 words.)
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