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Texas Honors American Naval Hero

On Highway 287 between Fort Worth and Wichita Falls sits the county seat of Wise County. The name of the town is Decatur. If you want to know about Texas history, just research names of its towns and counties. What you learn will be fascinating. Decatur Is named after the early American naval hero, Stephen Decatur, Jr.

After darkness fell on February 16, 1804, Captain Stephen Decatur sailed into Tripoli harbor in a vessel disguised to look like a merchant vessel and with 5 Sicilian volunteers who spoke Arabic. Their mission was to destroy the USS Philadephia, which had run aground on an uncharted coral reef near Tripoli on October 31, 1803 and had been captured and repurposed by the pirates in Tripoli to defend the harbor.

Through deception, he and his crew of 60 were able to surprise, capture, and burn the Philadelphia. Even more miraculously, he, his crew, and his disguised vessel, the Intrepid were able to make it out of the heavily fortified harbor unscathed.

This daring raid made Decatur a hero, not only all over America, but all over Europe, as well. As soon as Thomas Jefferson had taken the helm in 1801, he had changed U.S. policy regarding the enslaving and marauding Barbary Pirates from that of paying them tribute to that of armed resistance.

Under John Adams, tribute paid to the 4 Barbary States to stop them from seizing U.S. merchant vessels, their cargo, and enslaving the crew and passengers had risen to 20% of the federal budget.

Under the new Jeffersonian resistance policy, there had been earlier victories (e.g., the taking of the Tripoli by the USS Enterprise in late 1801). But this victory showed the Barbary Pirates and the Europeans that the Americans were having a real impact in pushing back, something that the European powers had not effectively done for centuries.

Pope Pius VII said about this incident that “the United States, though in their infancy, had done more to humble and humiliate the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast in one night than all the European states had done for a long period of time.”

Decatur’s storied career included further service in the First Barbary War, in the War of 1812 and the Second Barbary War after that. His life was tragically cut short in a duel with another naval officer on whose court martial trial Decatur had served as judge.

The picture displayed was painted by Edward Moran and is on display at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum.

Tom Glass lives in Northwest Harris County. Click here to reach his email. He is also on Facebook as Tom G Glass.


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