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James Barron

James Barron
Commodore James Barron
Born (1768-09-15)September 15, 1768
Hampton, Virginia
Died April 21, 1851(1851-04-21) (aged 82)
Norfolk, Virginia
Buried at Trinity Episcopal Church Cemetery, Portsmouth, Virginia
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service 1798-1851
Rank Commodore (USN)
Commands held

James Barron (September 15, 1768 – April 21, 1851) was an officer in the United States Navy. [n 1] He served in the Quasi War, the Barbary Wars, during which time he commanded a number of famous ships, including the USS Essex and the USS President. As Commander of the frigate USS Chesapeake, he was court-martialed for his actions in 1807, which led to the surrender of his ship to the British. After criticism from some fellow officers, the resulting controversy led Barron to a duel with Stephen Decatur, one of the officers who presided over his court-martial. Suspended from command, he pursued commercial interests in Europe during the War of 1812. Barron finished his naval career on shore duty, becoming the Navy's senior officer in 1839.


  • Early life 1
  • Military career 2
  • Duel between Barron and Decatur 3
  • Later service 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Notes 7
  • Bibliography 8
  • External links 9

Early life

Barron was born in Hampton, Virginia, the son of a merchant captain named James Barron who became Commodore of the tiny Virginia State Navy during the American Revolution. He was a younger brother of Samuel Barron. As a boy, Barron served as an apprentice in with his father for several years and entered the navy as a lieutenant and served aboard the United States under John Barry. For his exceptional ability and service Barron was promoted to Captain in 1799.[1]

Military career

On March 9, 1798, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the newly created United States Navy. Barron demonstrated superior seamanship abilities as an officer of the frigate United States. Two years later, he was promoted to Captain and commanded the sloop-of-war Warren during the final months of the Quasi-War with France.[2][3]

Early in 1804 Barron supervised the building of gunboats at Hampton, Virginia. Barron was given command of the USS Essex on April 11, 1804 during the Barbary War and sailed to the Mediterranean to serve in the squadron commanded by his brother, Commodore Samuel Barron, protecting American merchantmen and blockading the Tripolian harbor until May 22, 1805. Because of health problems he relinquished command of the Squadron to Commodore John Rodgers.

On June 25, 1805, Barron, along with Stephen Decatur and others presided over the court of inquiry, held aboard the USS Constitution at Syracuse, which looked into William Bainbridge's grounding and subsequent capture of the Philadelphia near Tripoli's harbor.[4]

In April 15, 1806 he was appointed to the command of the Mediterranean Squadron.[3] Barron obtained the rank of Commodore on April 22 and was assigned command of the USS Chesapeake the following year. The Chesapeake was berthed at Norfolk and was outfitted for her upcoming mission in great haste with a green crew and equipment that was below standards.[5]

Barron commanded the frigate Chesapeake as a commodore. On June 22, 1807, his ship was involved in the ChesapeakeLeopard Affair, an engagement that resulted in the defeat and capture of Barron's ship, the controversy of which greatly instigated the War of 1812, as this was one in a long line of such British incursions. The British ship of the line HMS Leopard hailed his frigate outside of Hampton Roads and asked to search for British Navy deserters. Barron refused. The Leopard then opened fire on the Chesapeake, killing three crewmen and wounding eighteen. Caught completely unprepared for battle, Barron surrendered. A British party boarded his ship and took away four alleged deserters.

On June 22, 1807 a court-martial was held, and Barron was convicted of not preparing his ship in advance for possible action, and was suspended for 5 years without pay. John Rodgers was the president of the court-martial, and Stephen Decatur was a member.[6]

Duel between Barron and Decatur

After being away for six years, Barron finally returned from Copenhagen seeking reinstatement, but he remained controversial and was greatly criticized by some of his fellow officers. Commodore Stephen Decatur, a former subordinate, was one of the most vocal.[6] As a result Barron became embittered towards Decatur and challenged him to a duel with pistols, which they fought on March 22, 1820.[7][8]

Barron's challenge to Decatur occurred during a period when duels between officers were so common that it was creating a shortage of experienced officers, forcing the War Department to threaten to discharge those who attempted to pursue the practice.[9]

The duel was arranged by

  • James Barron Biography
  • James Barron, Naval Historical Center Biography
  • James Barron. Find a Grave.
  • Works by James Barron at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about James Barron at Internet Archive

External links

  • Watson, Paul Barron (1942). The tragic career of Commodore James Barron, U.S. Navy (1769-1851).
    Coward-McCann, Inc. p. 84.
  • Url  
  • Toll, Ian W. (2006). Six frigates: the epic history of the founding of the U.S. Navy.
    W. W. Norton & Company, New York. p. 592. Url  
  • Mackenzie, Alexander Slidell (1846). Life of Stephen Decatur: A Commodore in the Navy of the United States.
    C. C. Little and J. Brown. p. 443.
  • Lewis, Charles Lee (2004). The Romantic Decatur.
    Ayer Publishing, 1937. p. 296. Url  
  • Hickey, Donal R. (1989). The War of 1812, A Forgotten Conflict.
    University of Illinois Press, Chicago and Urbana. Url  
  • Heidler, David Stephen; Heidler, Jean (2004). Encyclopedia of the War of 1812.
    Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., 2004. p. 636. Url  
  • Harris, Thomas (1837). The life and services of Commodore William Bainbridge, United States navy.
    Carey Lea & Blanchard, Philadelphia. p. 254. Url1 Url2  
  • Guttridge, Leonard F (2005). Our Country, Right Or Wrong: The Life of Stephen Decatur.
    Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, New York, NY, 2006. p. 304. Url  
  • Allen, Gardner Weld (1905). Our Navy and the Barbary Corsairs.
    Houghton Mifflin & Co., Boston, New York and Chicago. p. 354. Url  


  1. ^ He was the younger brother of Samuel Barron, who was also a naval officer.


  1. ^ Heidler, 2004 p.39
  2. ^ Watson, 1942 pp.19-20
  3. ^ a b James BarronNaval Heritage Command:
  4. ^ Allen, 1905, p.148
  5. ^ Heidler, 2004 p.40
  6. ^ a b Guttridge, 2005 p.217
  7. ^ Toll, 2006 p.470
  8. ^ Lewis, 1937 p.94
  9. ^ Hickey, 1989, p.222
  10. ^ Guttridge, 2005 pp.257–261
  11. ^ Mackenzie, 1846, p.441
  12. ^
  13. ^ "James Barron Papers (I), 1766-1899".
    Special Collections Research Center,
    Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Retrieved July 15, 2011.


See also

Barron remained in the Navy on shore duty, becoming the Navy's senior officer in 1839.[12] He died in Norfolk, Virginia, on April 21, 1851. His personal papers, which primarily relate to the ChesapeakeLeopard Affair, can be found in the Special Collections Research Center at the College of William & Mary.[13]

Later service


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