William Bainbridge

William Bainbridge

Bainbridge, William, 1774-1833, American naval officer, b. Princeton, N.J. An experienced sea captain, he joined (1798) the navy when war with France threatened. His ship, the Retaliation, was captured by two French frigates, and he and his crew were imprisoned on Guadeloupe. Released, he returned to America and in 1800, as commander of the George Washington, he carried U.S. tribute money to the dey of Algiers (see Tripolitan War). The dey forced him to proceed under the Ottoman flag to Constantinople—an insult that contributed to the American decision to declare war against the Barbary States. In 1803, assigned to the troubled Mediterranean area, Bainbridge's ship, the Philadelphia, ran aground in the harbor of Tripoli and was captured. He was freed at the end of the Tripolitan War. In the war of 1812, as commander of the Constitution, Bainbridge captured the British frigate Java off the Brazilian coast in Dec., 1812. In 1815, a commodore, he went out in the Independence to aid Stephen Decatur in the operations against Algiers, but he arrived after the fighting was over.

See his biography written in 1816 by H. A. S. Dearborn (ed. by J. Barnes, 1931).

William Bainbridge (May 7, 1774July 28, 1833) was a Commodore in the United States Navy, notable for his victory over HMS Java during the War of 1812.


Born in Princeton, New Jersey, Bainbridge at the age of 14 went to sea in the merchant service, and was in command of a trading schooner (a ship 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 Indies, though with the concealed or very slightly disguised assistance of the planters, they engaged in a good deal of contraband commerce.

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 Indefatigable, 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 Retaliation. She was on one occasion seized by the French, but afterwards released.

As captain of the brig 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.

In 1800, 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 Mediterranean. Upon arrival in the 24-gun 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 Algierian 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.

When the United States found that bribing the pirate Barbary states did not work, and decided to use force, he served against Algiers and Tunis. In command of Philadelphia, 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 captivity.

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 President in 1809 and began patrolling off the Atlantic coast in September of that year. Bainbridge was transferred to shore duty in June, 1810.

When the War of 1812 broke out between the United Kingdom and the United States, Bainbridge was appointed to command the frigate Constitution (44), 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 the 29 December 1812 he fell in with HMS Java, a vessel of 1,073 tons, formerly the French frigate Renommée of 40 guns. She was on her way to the East Indies, carrying the newly appointed lieutenant-governor of Bombay. She had a very raw crew, including very few real seamen, and her men had only had one day’s gunnery drill. The United States Navy paid great attention to its gunnery, which the British Navy, misled by its easy victories over the French, had greatly neglected. In these conditions, the fate of the Java was soon sealed. She was cut to pieces and forced to surrender, after suffering heavy losses, and inflicting very little damage to the Constitution. During the action, Bainbridge was wounded twice.

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.

Several ships of the Navy have since been named USS Bainbridge in his honor. Bainbridge Island, Washington is named after Commodore Bainbridge, as well as Bainbridge, Ohio, near Chillicothe, Ohio. Bainbridge, Georgia is named for him, as well as Old Bainbridge Road in Tallahassee, a major route. The now deactivated Bainbridge Naval Training Center in Port Deposit, Cecil County, Maryland was named for him.

See also


Further reading

  • 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 How America's War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005. ISBN 0-471-44415-4

External links

Search another word or see William Bainbridgeon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature