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About Master Commandant Andrew Sterett
Andrew Sterett (January 27, 1778 – June 9, 1807) was an officer in the United States Navy during the nation's early days. He saw combat during the Quasi-War with France and in the Barbary Wars, commanding the schooner USS Enterprise in both conflicts.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Andrew Sterett was the son of John Sterett, a former Revolutionary War captain and a successful shipping merchant. The fourth of ten children, he nevertheless inherited a sizable amount of money. Despite this, he resolved to join the Navy, and was commissioned as a lieutenant on 25 March 1798.
Sterett's first assignment was as Third Lieutenant of the USS Constellation, under Captain Thomas Truxtun, which was sent to do battle with French vessels during the Quasi-War. He was commanding a gun battery when Constellation defeated and captured the French frigate Insurgente on 9 February 1799. Insurgente lost 29 dead and 41 wounded; the only American loss was a seaman run through by Sterett's saber in a summary execution, the seaman, Neal Harvey, having abandoned his post in a panic. Upon Constellation's arrival back in Baltimore, the anti-federalist press, who opposed the military in general and the Quasi-War in particular, seized upon this incident as an example of the Navy's "arrogance and cold-bloodedness". The objections intensified when Sterett was heard to say, "We put men to death for even looking pale on this ship." The Navy saw things quite differently, and soon promoted Sterett to the rank of First Lieutenant.
A year later, Sterett was involved in a battle to a draw with the 54-gun French frigate Vengeance. Soon afterward, he took command of the schooner USS Enterprise where he remained through the end of the Quasi-War, capturing the privateer Amour de la Patrie on 24 December 1800.
The Barbary Wars
After resupplying in Baltimore, Sterett sailed Enterprise to the Barbary Coast in June, 1801 as part of a force under Commodore Richard Dale, in the first stages of the Barbary Wars.
On 1 August 1801, Enterprise under Sterett's command handily defeated the 14-gun Tripoli, a Tripolitan corsair. After twice faking surrender, Tripoli suffered 30 dead and 30 wounded, including the Captain, Rais Mahomet Rous, and the first officer. Enterprise suffered no casualties. Since there was no formal declaration of war, Enterprise was under orders not to take prizes. After her crew was ordered to dump its guns overboard, Tripoli was allowed to sail home, where her captain was humiliated and punished.
Enterprise was sent back to Baltimore with dispatches after this engagement. While there, on the recommendation of Congress, Sterett was presented by President Thomas Jefferson with a sword in gratitude of the victory over the Tripoli. Enterprise's crew was also rewarded with an extra month's pay. The ship returned to the Mediterranean in November 1802.
Sterett turned over command of the Enterprise to Stephen Decatur in April 1803. He was then promoted to Master Commandant and offered the command of a brig which was under construction.
Resignation and last years
Sterett had been senior in rank to Decatur, but due to their comparative length of service, as of 1803, Decatur was selected to be promoted above Sterett. Sterett therefore resigned from the Navy, on 29 June 1805, to join the merchant marine. He died in Lima, Peru at the age of twenty-nine.
Four ships of the United States Navy have been named USS Sterett in his honor.