Remembering Decatur

The monument, refurbished by Milner & Carr of Philadelphia, is rededicated in September 2010 with the Decatur family in attendance.

The Hero of Tripoli

He was kind, warm-hearted, unassuming,
gentle and hospitable, beloved in social life
and with a soul totally and utterly devoted to his country.

 - John Quincy Adams

Stephen Decatur was born in a two-room cabin in Sinnepuxent, Md., Jan. 5, 1779, where his mother, Anne Pine Decatur, had fled after General Howe captured Philadelphia in 1777-1778.

His father, also Stephen Decatur (June 1752–11 November 1808), a native of Newport, R.I., and son of a French immigrant from Rochelle, commanded the Royal Lewis, the Comet, the Retaliation, the Rising Sun, and the Fair American during the Revolutionary War.

Decatur Sr. married Ann Pine at St. Peter’s on December 20, 1774. He is buried in the St. Peter’s Churchyard near his son's grave, as are his wife; two children, John and Elizabeth; another daughter, Ann; her husband, Dr. William Hurst, and one of their children, Catherine Louisa. Another son, James, was killed in battle commanding a gunboat in Captain Edward Preble's squadron in 1804 during the Tripoli campaign. James Decatur entered the Navy as a midshipman in 1798, and was promoted to lieutenant in 1802. He was struck by a musketball as he prepared to board an enemy ship on Aug. 3, 1804. He was buried at sea.

The family moved back to Philadelphia when the British evacuated the capital a few months after Stephen’s birth. They lived at what is now 310 South Front Street. The house is gone, but a sign marks the spot. Young Stephen attended the Protestant Episcopal Academy and studied with the Rev. James Abercrombie, assistant minister of Christ and St. Peter's Church (Decatur’s mother wanted him to be a minister). He also had made a voyage with his father in 1787.

He enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania, but left at 17 to work as a clerk with his father at the counting-house of Navy agents Gurney & Smith (the elder Decatur later was a co-owner; Francis Gurney was master of the Southwark port who had invested in the elder Decatur’s ships) and aided in securing timber in New Jersey for the keel of the frigate USS United States.

The senior Decatur left the Navy in 1801 when it was reduced by act of Congress following the end of the French war. He went into business and in 1807, he built a sawmill, grist mill and powder mill on Frankford Creek in the Borough of Frankford. Decatur also built a fine house on the Northern Liberties side of the creek.

Young Stephen was appointed a midshipman through the efforts of Commodore John Barry, April 30, 1798; lieutenant, May 21, 1799 (right) ; captain 16 February 1804. He served as midshipman on the USS United States, commanded by Barry, in 1798-1799, during the “Quasi-War” with France.

Then came the war with Tripoli in 1803-1804. On Dec. 23, 1803, Enterprise and the frigate USS Constitution captured the Tripolitan ketch Mastico after a sharp fight. Renamed Intrepid, the ketch was given to Decatur for use in a daring raid to destroy the frigate USS Philadelphia which had run aground and been captured in Tripoli harbor in October.

At 7 p.m., Feb. 16, 1804, Intrepid, disguised as a Maltese merchant ship and flying British colors, entered Tripoli harbor. Claiming that they had lost their anchors in a storm, Decatur asked permission to tie up alongside the captured frigate.

More on the "Hero of Tripoli"

In the beginning 

The 18th Century

The 19th Century

The 20th Century

St. Peter's Today

The Churchyard

Church Architecture

Mission and Outreach

Did You Know?

The Next 250

The Hero of Tripoli

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