Born at Princeton, New Jersey. He went to sea on a merchant ship at age 15. Married to Susan Hyleger with a son and four daughters. When the Department of the Navy was organized in 1798, Bainbridge was commissioned lieutenant commandant and given command of the Retaliation in September 1798. He was captured by the French frigate Volontier and imprisoned on Guadaloupe. In reaction to his treatment, Congress passed the Retaliation Act. He was promoted to Captain in 1800. He was given command of the George Washington. In 1803 he was in command of the Philadelphia in the Barbary Wars. The ship ran aground, was captured and Bainbridge taken prisoner. Decatur burned the Philadelphia February 15, 1804, in Tripoli harbor. Bainbridge was released in 1805 after taking part in the peace negotiations with Tripoli. After the war he returned to merchant service.
Bainbridge lobbied for strong Navy involvement in the War of 1812. He commanded the Constitution. They engaged and defeated the British frigate Java off Brazil December 29, 1812. In 1813 Congress awarded a gold medal to the officers and crew. He was commander of the naval yard and president of the Naval Board.
He died in Philadelphia.
Bainbridge appears on the obverse of the 65 mm medal (Julian NA-4) with dies by Moritz Furst. The mint has sold a modern copy (USM 507). legal
ref: Resolution of March 3, 1813, 2 Stat. 831 bio: ApCAB; DAB; Drake; Failor; Loubat; NCAB 8; TCBDA; WAB; WWWA-HSource credit: Pete Smith, American Numismatic Biographies