Reuben James

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Reuben James
Decatur algerine.jpg
Reuben James saving the life of Stephen Decatur, engraving by Alonzo Chappel, 1858
Died(1838-12-03)3 December 1838
Washington, DC
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Navy
Years of service?-January 1836
RankBoatswain's mate

Reuben James (c. 1776 – 3 December 1838) was a boatswain's mate[1] of the United States Navy, famous for his heroism in the First Barbary War.


Born in Delaware around 1776, James joined the United States Navy and served on several ships, including the frigate USS Constellation. During the First Barbary War, the American frigate Philadelphia was captured by the Barbary pirates when it ran aground in the city of Tripoli, on the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. During the course of the naval blockade of the harbor, there were numerous engagements, the most intense being the Gunboat Battle of August 3, 1804. During the battle, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur boarded a Tripolitan gunboat that he believed was crewed by the men who had mortally wounded his brother after supposedly surrendering. While Lieutenant Decatur was locked in hand-to-hand combat with the Tripolitan commander, another Tripolitan sailor swung his saber at him. According to early accepted accounts, Reuben James interposed himself between the descending sword and his commander, taking the blow on his head. The blow did not kill him, and he recovered later to continue serving in the Navy.

This account, though, is now considered to be in error. No one by the name of James is recorded as having received medical treatment after the battle. Another of Decatur's crewmen, Daniel Frazier, did receive medical treatment for a serious saber slash to the head. This supports some initial accounts that it was Frazier, not James, who saved Decatur's life.

James continued his Naval career, serving many years with Decatur. He was forced to retire in January 1836 because of ill health. He died in 1838 at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Washington, DC.


Three warships of the Navy have been named Reuben James in his honor:

James Island of Washington state was named for James.[2]


  1. ^ "USS Reuben James". United States Navy. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
  2. ^ Majors, Harry M. (1975). Exploring Washington. Van Winkle Publishing Co. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-918664-00-6.

Other sources[edit]

Wheelan, Joseph. Jefferson's War: American's First War on Terror 1801--1805, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003.

External links[edit]