History In a Box: The Stephen Decatur Gold Freedom Box

by William A. Gage, Department Head

Gold Freedom Box

Inscription on the inside lid of the Freedom box
Inscription on the inside lid of the Freedom box

At dawn on Sunday morning, October 25th, 1812, the Frigate USS United States encountered an English Ship of War under full sail just off the island of Madeira, 500 miles west of the Canary Islands. Stephen Decatur, captain of the USS United States, resolved to overtake and engage the British vessel. Upon gaining ground on her adversary and in a constant barrage of fire from her long guns, USS United States was pummeling the foe, but was also receiving fire from the opposing ship. So outgunned was the British ship they decided to come to close quarters where their cannon could be more effective in the hopes that the tactic would save them. Upon closing in there became a ferocious battle with both ships having constant volleys of cannon fire. The British ship concluded that they had defeated the American ship as the amount of smoke generated must be the sign that the USS United States was on fire and going to be completely destroyed. Upon the smoke clearing it was the British ship that had sustained the bulk of the battle and Decatur’s ship was barely scratched. The American ship tacked and came along side and was ready for battle again but the British ship struck her colors and surrendered. It was only then that they learned of the ship’s name the HMS “Macedonian.”

Stephen Decatur's signet ring
Stephen Decatur’s signet ring

Decatur’s decision was to abandon her cruise and take the HMS Macedonian into an American port. On January 1, 1813 the HMS Macedonian anchored in the Harbor of New York where she was greeted with great joy as a “New Year’s Gift.” This ship was the first British war ship ever to be brought into an American harbor. For this effort Stephen Decatur was given the Freedom of the City in the form of a gold box.

It is this very box that James D. Julia auctions will bring to auction after being held by the Decatur descendants after so many years. It will be highlighted along with many other important historical item from this family archive, in their upcoming February 2018 Auction.

Freedom Boxes are very rare and have been received only on a few occasions by truly remarkable individuals and certainly Stephen Decatur fits the bill.

To see more of the items form this import and historic estate that will be offered in our February 2018 auction, CLICK HERE.