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Learning boldness at his mother’s knee

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We don’t know a whole lot about the modest childhood of Stephen Decatur, the youngest man to serve as a captain in the fledgling U.S. Navy. But Decatur had a heck of a mother.

A granddaughter remembered Ann Decatur as a spirited woman who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. While Stephen was still a baby and his father was off harassing British merchant ships during the American Revolution, Ann Decatur found herself among company that included British officers.

Holding the one-year-old Stephen in her lap, Ann spoke boldly about America’s right to govern itself.

“Mistress Decatur,” a British officer warned her, “you exercise your woman’s privilege to speak your mind, but when that fine boy of yours grows up, you will have to teach him to exercise more caution.”

“Sir,” she responded with flashing brown eyes, “I shall teach him ever to raise his voice to defend the right, and, if need be, to protect it with his heart’s blood.”

And, of course, he did.

—Adapted from Stephen Decatur: American Naval Hero, 1779-1820, Robert J. Allison.

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