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An American Naval hero dueled to his death on March 22, 1820, after surviving a daring trojan horse against Tripolitans


Commodore Stephen Decatur had at least five Naval vessels named after him, including the USS Decatur DDG 73, presently homeported in San Diego, California. Decatur was a naval hero who died during a duel after an honorable yet short-lived, Naval career. [i]

Watch the video below for more on the tribute to Commodore Decatur.

In 1801, the four Barbary states of Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, and Tripolitania had become notorious for their persistent raids on U.S. commercial ships. In response, President Thomas Jefferson ordered U.S. Navy vessels to patrol the Mediterranean Sea to protect American vessels from the Barbary pirates. [i]

This sustained action began in June 1803, leading to a prolonged conflict lasting several years. During this time, the U.S. Navy and Marines fought numerous battles with the Barbary forces, ultimately establishing a treaty with the Barbary states in 1815. This treaty ended the Barbary pirate raids and allowed American ships to travel safely in the Mediterranean Sea. [i]

In 1803, the United States frigate Philadelphia ran aground off the coast of Tripoli, a North African city-state that was part of the Ottoman Empire. This incident occurred during the First Barbary War, a conflict between the United States and the Barbary States. [ii]
Commodore Stephen Decatur fighting the Turk. Drawn by Frank Thayer MerrillPhoto byInternet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

Tripolitan gunboats quickly captured Philadelphia, and the crew was taken, prisoner. Fearing that the Tripolitans would use the advanced warship as a model to build their powerful frigates, the U.S. dispatched a daring mission led by Officer Stephen Decatur to destroy Philadelphia. [ii]

Decatur and his men sailed into Tripoli harbor in a captured Tripolitan ketch and used explosives to destroy Philadelphia. This daring mission was a notable success, and Decatur and his crew returned to the United States without any casualties. [iii]

Decatur's accomplishments continued to be recognized in the years that followed. Meanwhile, Commodore James Barron was harshly criticized for being unable to defend his ship, the Chesapeake, during a British assault. As a result, Decatur was part of a court-martial that found Barron guilty, and he was suspended from the Navy for five years. [iii]

Following Barron's court-martial, a 13-year dispute ensued between the two men. Finally, in 1820, Decatur agreed to Barron's request to meet for a duel. Although both men were hit, Decatur would die several hours later while Barron recovered from his wounds.

Those interested in touring the USS Decatur can reach the ship's command at Naval Base San Diego, San Diego, CA, United States, California, (619) 556-4647,


[i] Naval History and Heritage Command, Barron, James Commodore, USN, (1769-1851) (2023)

[ii] National Museum of the United States Navy, Frigate Philadelphia ran aground near Tripoli (2023)

[iii] National Museum of the United States Navy, Burning of the frigate Philadelphia in Tripoli Harbor (2023)

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