Charles Stewart (1778–1869)

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Charles Stewart
Commodore Charles Stewart 1841.jpg
Born (1778-07-28)28 July 1778
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died 6 November 1869(1869-11-06) (aged 91)
Bordentown, New Jersey
Buried at Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1798 – 1861
Rank US-O7 insignia.svg rear admiral
Commands held
Awards Congressional Gold Medal
Other work Naval Commissioner

Charles Stewart (28 July 1778 – 6 November 1869) was an officer in the United States Navy who commanded a number of US Navy ships, including USS Constitution. He saw service during the Quasi War and both Barbary Wars in Mediterranean along North Africa and the War of 1812. He later commanded the navy yard in Philadelphia and was the promoted to become the Navy's first flag officer shortly before retiring. He was promoted to rear admiral after he retired from the Navy. He lived a long life and was the last surviving Navy captain who had served in the War of 1812.

Early life[edit]

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 28 July 1778, only a month after the British evacuated the city, Stewart's parents were Ulster-Scots who had emigrated from Belfast to Philadelphia. He attended Dr. Abercrombie's Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia where he met Stephen Decatur and Richard Somers. He went to sea at the age of thirteen as a cabin boy and rose through the grades to become master of a merchantman.[1][2]

Early naval service[edit]

During the Quasi-War with France, Stewart was one of the first officers in the rebirth of the United States Navy. At the age of nineteen, he was commissioned a lieutenant on 9 March 1798 and joined the frigate USS United States, under the command of John Barry, as fourth lieutenant for a cruise in the West Indies to restrain French privateers. Stewart was in charge of the ship's outfitting and recruiting of crew.[3][4]

On 16 July 1800 he assumed command of the schooner USS Experiment and captured two armed French vessels and recapturing several American ships.[5][6] While anchored at the island of Dominica for water, he secured the release of an American impressed on a British warship. He later rescued approximately seventy people, mostly women and children from a vessel in distress at a reef near Saona Island, just before the schooner sank, for which the Governor of Santo Domingo sent a letter of thanks to President Jefferson.[7]

USS Chesapeake

After brief command of USS Chesapeake in 1801 and service in USS Constellation in 1802, Stewart sailed to the Mediterranean in command of the brig USS Syren. He was promoted to master-commandant on 19 May 1804. There, he participated in the destruction of USS Philadelphia after her capture by Tripoli, helped to maintain the blockade of Tripoli,[7] and distinguished himself in assaults on the enemy in August and September 1804. After the First Barbary War, he participated in a show of force at Tunis and returned home in 1806. He was promoted to captain on April 22 of the same year, and would hold that rank for over 50 years.

War of 1812[edit]

USS Constellation

During the War of 1812, Stewart commanded, successively, USS Argus, USS Hornet, and USS Constellation. Since Constellation was closely blockaded in Norfolk by the British, he took command of Constitution at Boston in 1813. He made two brilliant cruises in her between 1813 and 1815.

Under Stewart's command, Constitution captured HMS Cyane and HMS Levant on 20 February 1815. The Treaty of Paris, ending the War of 1812, had been signed earlier that month but both sides in the battle were unaware of that event. By capturing two British warships with a single ship of his own, Stewart became a national hero and was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal on 22 February 1816. He was also admitted as an honorary member of the Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati in the same year.

Barry O’Brien describes him:

“Commodore Stewart was about five feet nine inches, and of a dignified and engaging presence. His complexion was fair, his hair chestnut, eyes blue, large, penetrating, and intelligent. The cast of his countenance was Roman, bold, strong, and commanding, and his head finely formed. His command of his passions was truly surprising, and under the most irritating circumstances his oldest seamen never saw a ray of anger flash from his eyes. His kindness, benevolence, and humanity were proverbial; but his sense of justice and the requisitions of duty were as unbending as fate. In the moment of great stress and danger he was cool and quick in judgment, as he was utterly ignorant of fear. His mind was acute and powerful, grasping the greatest or smallest subjects with the intuitive mastery of genius.”[8]

Post war career[edit]

Stewart's later service included command of the American Mediterranean squadron from 1816 to 1820 and of one in the Pacific from 1820 to 1824. He served as a Naval Commissioner from 1830 to 1832.

In 1836 Stewart saw service in the West Indies and commanded a vessel that captured a Portuguese slaver ship as it came into Havana. Before Stewart's boarding crew took control of the ship the commander of the vessel jumped overboard, swam ashore and escaped. On board the captured ship were 250 surviving negro children, many others having died from lack of water during the voyage. Outraged at the conditions and health of the children Stewart informed British commissioner Kennedy in Havana of the dire situation.[9]

In the later years of his career, Stewart commanded the Philadelphia Navy Yard from 1838 to 1841, in 1846, and again from 1853 to 1861.

Upon the death of Captain James Barron in 1851, Stewart became the most senior ranking officer in the Navy.[citation needed] By a bill passed on 2 March 1859, Congress made Stewart “senior flag officer” on 22 April 1859, a rank created for him in recognition of his distinguished and meritorious service.

Stewart was placed on the retired list on 21 December 1861 after serving 63 years in the Navy. His age at the time of his retirement was 83 years, 4 months and 24 days – making him the oldest officer on active duty in the history of the U.S. Navy. He was promoted to rear admiral on the retired list on 16 July 1862.[10]

Shortly before his death, Stewart was elected a companion of the Pennsylvania Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States - a military society of officers who had served the Union during the Civil War. He was assigned the Society's insignia number 1119.

Stewart died at Bordentown, New Jersey on 6 November 1869 at the age of 91. He was buried at Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Dates of Rank[edit]

  • Lieutenant, USN – 9 March 1798[7]
  • Captain, USN – 22 April 1806
  • Senior Flag Officer, USN – 2 March 1859
  • Retired List – 21 December 1861
  • Rear Admiral, USN (Retired) – 16 July 1862


In the late 19th century, his estate became the site of the Bordentown School, a residential high school academic and vocational training program.[11]

Several of Stewart's nephews served in the Navy, including Commodore Charles Stewart McCauley. His grandson, by his daughter Delia, was Charles Stewart Parnell, a prominent Irish political leader who fought for Irish home rule until his death in 1891.

Two U.S. Navy destroyers, DD-13 and DD-224, and one destroyer escort, DE-238, have been named in Stewart's honor.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Berube, Rodgaard, 2005 pp.xiv, 13
  2. ^ Tucker, 2004 p.4
  3. ^ Allison, 2005 p.23
  4. ^ Ignatius, Griffin, 1903 p.330
  5. ^ Maclay 1906, pp. 205.
  6. ^ Ignatius, Griffin, 1897 p.405
  7. ^ a b c Biographical Sketch, and Services of Commodore Charles Stewart of the Navy of the United States, J. Harding, Philadelphia, 1838
  8. ^ O’Brien, R. Barry. Life of Charles Stewart Parnell, vol.I
  9. ^ Philadelphia Religious Society of Friends, 1851 pp.19–21
  10. ^ List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900. New York: L. R. Hamersly, 1901. Edited by Edward W. Callahan.
  11. ^ Staff. The New York Times, June 29, 1902.


  • Allison, Robert J. (2005). Stephen Decatur American Naval Hero, 1779–1820.
    University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 1-55849-492-8.
  • Berube, Claude G.; Rodgaard, John A. (2005). A Call To The Sea: Captain Charles Stewart Of The USS Constitution. Potomac Books, Inc. p. 301. ISBN 1574885189. Url
  • Ignatius, Martin; Griffin, Joseph (1897). The history of Commodore John Barry.
    Published by the Author, Philadelphia. p. 261.
  • Tucker, Spencer (2004). Stephen Decatur: a life most bold and daring.
    Naval Institute Press, 2004 Annapolis, MD. p. 245. ISBN 1-55750-999-9.
  • Whipple, Addison Beecher Colvin (2001). To the Shores of Tripoli: the birth of the U.S. Navy and Marines.
    Naval Institute Press, 2001. p. 296. ISBN 1-55750-966-2.
  • Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, ed. (1851). An exposition of the African slave trade: from the year 1840, to 1850, inclusive, Volume 2. J. Rakestraw. p. 160.  Url

Further reading[edit]

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