Born in Sinnepuxent, Worcester County, Maryland. He studied at the University of Pennsylvania. Married to Susan. Appointed midshipman in 1798. Promoted to lieutenant in 1801. He was made a Mason in 1799. In 1804 he served on the Intrepid. He sailed into Tripoli harbor to set fire to the Philadelphia that had been captured by the enemy. He escaped with only one slight injury to his crew. As the result Decatur was promoted to Captain.
In 1812 he commanded the United States in an engagement with the British frigate Macedonian. His victory resulted in a Congressional gold medal awarded January 29, 1813. Later he commanded a squadron defending New York harbor. In January 1815 he ran the British blockade of the harbor. He was pursued and captured. In 1816 he returned to the Barbary coast to put down new raids against U. S. shipping. In April 1816 he offered a toast in Norfolk, "Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong."
He served on the Board of Navy Commissioners after 1815. He was accused by Captain James Barron of conspiring to block Barron's promotion. Barron challenged Decatur to a duel and Decatur was killed near Bladensburg, Maryland. Afterward Barron was the most unpopular officer of the Navy.
Decatur appears on paper money:
$20 Silver Certificate, series of 1878 and 1880
Decatur was honored by a 65 mm mint medal (Julian NA-9) with dies by Moritz Furst. Modern copies (USM 506) were produced.
bio: ApCAB; DAB; Drake; Failor; Limpert; Loubat; NCAB 4; TCBDA; WAB; WWWA-HSource credit: Pete Smith, American Numismatic Biographies