Reuben James

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Reuben James was born in Delaware, Ohio about 1776. He joined the U.S. Navy and served on various ships, including the frigate USS Constellation. During the Barbary Wars, the American frigate USS Philadelphia was captured by the Barbary pirates when it ran aground in the pirate capital of Tripoli, on the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, along with a group of volunteers that included Boatswain's Mate Reuben James, entered the harbor of Tripoli under the cover of darkness in an attempt to burn Philadelphia so that the pirates could not make use of her.

The American volunteers boarded Philadelphia on February 16, 1804 and were met by a group of Barbary pirates who were guarding their prize. During the ensuing hand-to-hand combat, Reuben James, with both of his hands already wounded, positioned himself between Lieutenant Decatur and a swordwielding pirate. Reuben James, willing to give his life in defense of his captain, took the blow from the sword but survived and recovered from his wounds.

Reuben James continued his career in the U.S. Navy, including many years with Decatur. James was forced to retire in January 1836 because of declining health brought on because of past wounds. He died on December 3, 1838 at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Washington, DC.

Three warships of the US Navy have borne the name USS Reuben James: DD-245, DE-153, and FFG-57.