(May 7, 1774 – July 28, 1833)
was a Commodore
in the United States Navy
, notable for his
victory over HMS Java
during the War of 1812
Jersey, Bainbridge at the age of 14 went to sea in the
merchant service, and was in command of a trading schooner (a fore-and-aft-rigged vessel with two or
more masts) at an early age.
The American trading vessels of
that period were supposed to be excluded by the navigation laws
from commerce with the British West
, though with the concealed or very slightly disguised
assistance of the planters, they engaged in a good deal of
The war tended to make trade difficult for neutrals. Bainbridge had
therefore to expect, and when he could to elude or beat off, much
interference on the part of French and British cruisers alike.
He is said
to have forced a British schooner, probably a privateer, which attacked him when on his way from
Bordeaux to St Thomas, to strike, but he did not take possession.
On another occasion, he is said to have taken a man out of a
British ship in retaliation for the impressment of an American
seaman by HMS
, then commanded by Sir Edward Pellew
. When the
United States navy was organized, in 1798, he was included in the
corps of naval officers, and appointed to the schooner USS Retaliation
. She was on
one occasion seized by the French, but afterwards released.
As captain of the brig USS Norfolk
of 18 guns, he was
employed in cruising against the French, who were said to be as
aggressive against American commerce as the English.
Bainbridge was sent to carry the tribute which the United States
still paid to the dey of Algiers to secure
exemption from capture for its merchant ships in the
Upon arrival in the 24-gun USS George Washington
he made the tactical mistake of anchoring in the harbor of
Algiers—directly under the guns of the fort. The dey demanded that
he ferry the Algerian ambassador and retinue to Constantinople or
be blown to bits on the spot. With great disgust, Bainbridge raised
the Algerian flag on his masthead and submitted to the
embarrassment of serving as the dey's messenger service.
United States found that bribing the pirate Barbary states did not work, and decided to
use force, he served against Algiers and Tunis.
command of the USS
, when she ran aground on the Tunisian
coast on 29 December 1803, he was imprisoned until 3 June 1806. On
his release, he returned for a time to the merchant service in
order to make good the loss of profit caused by his
With the conclusion of the campaign against the Barbary states, the
US Navy was downsized and nearly all of her frigates remained in
port. Congress forced a change to this policy in early 1809.
Bainbridge took command of the frigate
and began patrolling off the Atlantic coast in September of that
year. Bainbridge was transferred to shore duty in June, 1810.
War of 1812 broke out between the United Kingdom and the United States, Bainbridge was appointed to command the 44-gun
frigate USS Constitution, in succession to Captain Isaac Hull. The
Constitution was a very fine ship of 1,533 tons, which had
already captured the HMS Guerrière.
Under Bainbridge she was sent to cruise in
the South Atlantic.
On 29 December 1812 he fell in with the 38-gun HMS Java
, a vessel of 1,083 tons,
formerly the French frigate Renommée
. She was on her way to
the East Indies, carrying the newly
appointed lieutenant-governor of Bombay.
had a very inexperienced crew, including very few trained seamen,
and her men had only had one day’s gunnery drill. The United States
Navy paid great attention to its gunnery, which some captains in
the British Navy had neglected, having grown accustomed to easy
victories over the French or lacking the time and resources for
gunnery practice. In these conditions, the fate of the
was soon sealed. She was cut to pieces and forced to
surrender, after suffering heavy losses, and inflicting very little
damage to the Constitution
, other than removing
helm with a well-aimed shot. During the
action, Bainbridge was wounded twice, but maintained command
throughout; even to replacing the missing helm on the
with the one from the Java
she sank. To this day, the still-commissioned Constitution
(anchored in Boston Harbor) sports the helm that Bainbridge
salvaged from the Java
After the conclusion of the war with Britain, Bainbridge served
against the Barbary pirates in the Second Barbary War
In 1820, Bainbridge served as second for Stephen Decatur
in the duel
that cost Decatur his life. Bainbridge had
actually harbored a long-standing jealousy for Decatur.
Between 1824 and 1827, he served on the Board of Navy Commissioners
He died in
Philadelphia and was buried at the Christ Church
Burial Ground in Philadelphia.
Namesakes and honors
Several ships of the Navy have since been named USS Bainbridge
in his honor,
including the U.S. Navy's first destroyer (DD-1
), a unique nuclear-powered
and a contemporary Arleigh Burke-class
destroyer (DDG 96
Island, Washington is named after Commodore Bainbridge, as well as
Bainbridge, Ohio; Bainbridge,
Georgia; Bainbridge, Indiana; Bainbridge, New York; Bainbridge Street in Philadelphia, and Old Bainbridge Road in Tallahassee.
The now deactivated Bainbridge
Naval Training Center
in Port Deposit, Cecil County, Maryland
was named for him.
- Boot, Max. The Savage Wars of Peace. New York: Basic
Books. 2003. p12
- Harris, Thomas, M.D. The Life and Services of Commodore
William Bainbridge. (Philadelphia, Penn.; Carey Lea &
- Barnes, James. Commodore Bainbridge. (New York, N.Y.;
D. Appleton and Company, 1908)
- Dearborn, H. A. S. The Life of William Bainbridge,
Esq.. (Princeton, N.J.; Princeton University Press, 1931)
- Long, David F. Ready to Hazard: A Biography of Commodore
William Bainbridge, 1774-1833. (Hanover, N.H.: University
Press of New England, 1981)
- London, Joshua E. Victory in Tripoli: How America's War
with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and
Shaped a Nation New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005.