Donated to Georgetown College by Susan Decatur, the widow of the War of 1812 naval hero Stephen Decatur (1779-1820), the Stephen and Susan Decatur Papers consist of one letter book containing letters dated from 1812 to 1813 written to Commodore Decatur congratulating him on the victory of the U.S.S. "United States" against the H.M.S. "Macedonian," two letters dated 1812 to him from U.S. Navy Secretary Paul Hamilton, and 16 letters to Susan Decatur dated between 1831 and 1845. Contained in one archival box (0.25 linear feet), the Decatur Papers document some interesting facts about these famous Americans.
The Stephen Decatur letter book contains twelve letters sent to Decatur from 1812 to 1813. Written by important politicians in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Albany, Richmond, Annapolis, and New London, these letters honor Decatur and his crew aboard the U.S.S. "United States" for their heroic capture of the H.M.S. "Macedonian" on October 25, 1812. Several manuscript copies of legislative resolutions; including those drafted by New York City, the Virginia General Assembly, the Maryland House of Delegates, the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and the New York State Assembly and Senate; accompany the letters. Correspondents include James Barbour, Gordon Saltonstall Mumford, William Sullivan, Daniel D. Thompkins, Richard Varick, and Arnold Welles. Moreover, the letters and resolutions honor other U.S. naval figures, such as William Henry Allen, William Bainbridge, James Biddle, Isaac Hull, Jacob Jones, and Charles Morris, and make reference to numerous vessels, such as the U.S.S. "Constitution," U.S.S. "Philadelphia," U.S.S. "Wasp," H.M.S. "Frolic," H.M.S. "Guerriere," and H.M.S. "Java." Although the letters to Stephen Decatur are still physically contained in the letter book, each letter has been cataloged as a separate folder (Folders 1 through 12). Resolutions or envelopes attached to a specific letter have been cataloged as being in the same folder as that particular letter. Two additional laudatory letters and one envelope once were part of the letter book, but they have been placed in separate folders (Folders 13, 14, and 15) as they had fallen out of the letter book some years ago. Taken together, these documents show just how grateful Americans were to Decatur for his naval exploits.
Separate from the letter book, sixteen letters sent to Susan Decatur between 1831 and 1845 are preserved in this collection. All addressed to Mrs. Decatur in Georgetown, the letters mostly relate to her efforts to persuade Congress to provide her with compensation for her late husband's daring destruction of the captured U.S. frigate "Philadelphia" in Tripoli harbor in 1804 and her efforts to obtain a pension. Correspondents include notables such as Lewis Cass, Mahlon Dickerson, Edward Everett, Henry Horn, Joseph Reed Ingersoll, Edward Livingston, George McDuffie, John Mercer Patton, and Sir Charles R. Vaughan.
Several other manuscript collections at the Georgetown University Library Special Collections Division contain material related to Stephen and Susan Decatur: the David Rankin Barbee Papers, the Causten Family Papers, the William M. P. Dunne Papers, the Joseph Kennedy SJ Papers, the Maryland Province Archives of the Society of Jesus, the Nidiffer Collection, the Carroll Spence Papers, and the Varia Collection.
Six books from Susan Decatur's library are preserved in the Special Collections Division:
Ariosto, Lodovico. "Orlando Furioso/ Lodovico Ariosto." In Parigi: Della Raccolta di Cazin, 1786, 5 volumes [call number: LAU SPCOLL 75A55].
Bossuet, Jacques Benigne. "Exposition de la Doctrine de l'Eglise Catholique sur les Matieres de Controverse." Dublin: Richard Coyne, 1821 [call number: LAU SPCOLL 94A230].
Evans, John. "A Sketch of the Denominations . . . ." Worcester, 1807 [call number LAU SPCOLL Shandl 1807E].
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. "Gli Affani del Giovane Verter." Londra, per T. Hookham, 1788 [call number: LAU SPCOLL 75A45].
Paley, William. "Natural Theology, Or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature." Philadelphia: Printed for John Morgan by H. Maxwell, 1802 [call number: LAU SPCOLL 75A49].
Stark, Bolling. "Disputatio Physiologica Inauguralis de Animalium et Terra Natorum Similitudine." Edinburgi, Adamus Neill, 1799 [call number: LAU SPCOLL GTC O199].
In addition to these books, several books about Stephen or Susan Decatur but never owned by them can be found in our Special Collections department.
The Georgetown University Art Collection, part of Special Collections, possesses six objects related to the Decaturs:
Chessmen (or Chess Set). Description: Red and white, male and female. Donor: Susan Decatur. Medium: Ivory.
Engraving of Stephen Decatur. Description: Bust portrait of Decatur, scrollwork. Inscription: "Decatur."
Lock of Stephen Decatur's hair. Donor: John Gilmary Shea.
Medal. Description: Stephen Decatur's Ship, the "Royal Louis," and Masonic emblems, coat of arms of the Decatur family. Donor: Ms. Fenwick at the death of Susan Decatur. Inscription: "Success to the Royal Louis - Decatur." Medium: Silverplate.
Pistol. Description: An elaborate carved, wood and brass pistol with Arabic inscriptions, perhaps taken from the body of a Turk killed in the fighting in Tripoli. Donor: unknown.
Portrait of Stephen Decatur. By James Simpson. Donor: Mrs. Hobbs. Medium: Oil on canvas.
A number of other manuscript repositories hold papers of Stephen Decatur, including the following:
Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Captain Stephen Decatur Papers, 1801-1805, 1820, 1 vol., 75 items; additional material in Daniel Parker Papers.
Library of Congress. Manuscript Division.
The Decatur House Papers (in the Beale Family Papers), 1801-1957, 8 items, 8 ft.
Naval Historical Foundation. Captain Stephen Decatur Papers, 1800-1801, 3 items, includes log kept on board U.S.S. "Philadelphia."
New-York Historical Society. Captain Stephen Decatur, Jr. Papers, 1806-1807, 2 items; Mrs. Stephen Decatur Papers, 1824-1825, 2 items.
Philadelphia Maritime Museum. Captain Stephen Decatur Papers, 1804, 1 item.
Western Reserve Historical Society. Captain Stephen Decatur Papers, 1817, 2 items, includes report on defense and fortification of Chesapeake Bay and related British material.
Several other manuscript collections at the Georgetown University Library Special Collections Division contain documents pertaining to the War of 1812. Among these are the Wilfred Mason Barton Papers, the Causten Family Papers, the Charles Lacey Papers, the Maryland Province Archives of the Society of Jesus, the Joseph Mobberly SJ Papers, and letters of Commodore John Rodgers.
SYNOPSIS - The Stephen and Susan Decatur Papers are arranged into two (2) series as described below:
SERIES 1 - Correspondence to Stephen Decatur. Consists of the Stephen Decatur letter book containing laudatory letters sent to him after the victory of the U.S.S. "United States" over the H.M.S. "Macedonian." Original order of letters maintained. Each letter has been cataloged as a separate folder.
SERIES 2 - Correspondence to Susan Decatur. Consists of letters sent to Susan Decatur while she was living in Georgetown, mostly regarding her claims before Congress. Arranged chronologically.
ABBREVIATIONS: ALS - Autograph Letter Signed. AMS - Autograph Manuscript Signed.