Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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BARRON, James, naval officer, born in Virginia in 1769; died in Norfolk, Virginia, 21 April 1851. Com. Barton is chiefly known to the present generation from his encounter when in command of the "Chesapeake " with the British frigate "Leopard" in time of peace, and the duel in which he killed Com. Decatur. He was a seaman from early boyhood, entered the navy in 1798 as a lieutenant, was promoted captain in 1799, and was commodore when placed in command of the "Chesapeake " (38 guns) in June 1807. War with France was imminent, and the frigate had been undergoing hasty repairs at the Washington navy yard. Her men and stores were hurried on board, and she sailed on 22 June the intention being to clear the decks and drill the crew during the voyage across the Atlantic. As soon as she was fairly at sea the British frigate "Leopard" (50 guns), which had been waiting for her, ranged alongside, with her crew at quarters, and her captain demanded certain alleged British deserters said to be among the " Chesapeake's" crew. Com. Barron declined to surrender the men, whereupon the "Leopard" opened fire. By great exertion, a single American gun was fired by Lieut. Allen, with a live coal brought from the galley fire: but in the meantime the shot of the "Leopard" had killed three and wounded eighteen of the "Chesapeake's" crew. As the one shot was discharged the American ensign was hauled down, and after some further parley the alleged deserters were carried off. The action of the British captain was repudiated by his government, the "deserters" were formally restored on board the "Chesapeake," and a money indemnity was paid. Popular indignation ran very high. Com. Barron was tried by court-martial, and suspended from rank and pay for five years, though, in point of fact, the blame belonged to the navy department rather than to him. On his return to duty he was refused an active command, and in 1820, Com. Decatur having been instrumental in keeping him on shore, he challenged that officer to fight a duel, killed him, and was at the same time himself severely wounded. The remainder of his life he passed on shore duty and waiting orders. He became senior officer of the navy in 1839.
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