John Rodgers



Occupation 1

Naval officer

Occupation 2

President of the Board of Navy Commission


Quasi-War with France


NA/Mid-Atlantic region


Maritime Republic (1751-1815)








...Rodgers, after attending the village school, was apprenticed to a Baltimore shipowner. Like many of his contemporaries, he rose to command a merchant ship while still in his teens, trading to Western Europe. Rodgers spent eleven years in the merchant service before being commissioned a lieutenant in the new U.S. Navy in 1798. He was appointed second lieutenant of the frigate Constellation under Captain Thomas Truxtun, and when the first lieutenant resigned soon afterward, Rodgers became Truxtun's executive. From this most influential of the navy's first generation of captains Rodgers learned not only naval tactics but the art of managing the complex organization of a naval ship.
As Constellation�s first lieutenant, Rodgers took a prominent part in the capture of the frigate Insurgente in 1799, the most dramatic action of the Quasi War with France. He was promoted to captain in March 1799 and commanded the ship Maryland through the remainder of the war. As a very junior captain, he was nearly eliminated from the navy list in the Peace Establishment of 1801, but his early association with the Smith family of Baltimore stood him in good stead when Robert Smith became secretary of the navy in the Jefferson administration. Rodgers survived as the eighth of twelve captains on the list and was given command of the frigate John Adams in the squadron sent to the Mediterranean under Richard V. Morris in 1802. He headed the blockading ships on the coast of Tripoli and engaged in some skirmishes with the Tripolitan forces before succeeding Morris in command of the squadron; however, he was almost immediately superseded by the commander of the replacement squadron, Edward Preble. Rodgers swallowed his disgust and dismay long enough to support Preble with his ships in a successful negotiation at Tangier and then returned to the United States. He reached the Mediterranean again in the Samuel Barron squadron, sent in relief of Preble, and remained to command the squadron after Barron had concluded peace with Tripoli and returned home. Rodgers's squadron was withdrawn in 1806.
Rodgers was never involved in a duel, but he flirted with the prospect more than once. His closest call was in the fall of 1806 when, almost immediately after reaching the United States, he demanded satisfaction from Captain James Barron for alleged insults said to have been spread by the latter in Rodgers's absence. The real cause for the bad feeling between the two was Rodgers's suspicion that Barron had worked to dissuade his elder brother Samuel from turning his squadron over to Rodgers, even when Samuel Barron was seriously ill and unable to function. Before the duel could take place, Rodgers professed himself satisfied...
In spite of the bad feeling between the two captains, the small number of officers of that rank in the navy necessitated the selection of Rodgers to preside over James Barron's court-martial after the Chesapeake-Leopard incident in 1807. Barron was convicted on one charge and given a five-year suspension. When the navy's large vessels were ordered out again to enforce the Embargo and Non-Intercourse acts, Rodgers, now the navy's senior captain, took command of the northern cruising squadron in the Constitution. Dissatisfied with the frigate's performance, he exchanged with Isaac Hull in 1810, taking the frigate President, which remained his command until 1814.
Although Rodgers was greatly respected for his administrative abilities, heroism at sea evaded him throughout his career. Before and during the War of 1812 he displayed a curious inability to make an accurate estimate of the size of a potential opponent. In May 1811, while cruising off the Atlantic coast to protect American commerce, he engaged the much smaller British sloop of war Little Belt in a night action. In his first wartime cruise, his squadron pursued the frigate Belvidera, but the quarry escaped by superior management. Rodgers was wounded in the action, suffering a broken leg from the explosion of a cannon. In three subsequent cruises, Rodgers captured a significant number of merchant vessels but failed to encounter a naval ship. In the North Sea in 1813 he retreated from a British frigate that he mistook for a ship of the line, and off New York in 1814 he made a similar error. He then left the President to take command of the new frigate Guerriere under construction at Philadelphia, and while waiting for that ship to be finished he joined the land forces in the defense of Chesapeake Bay in the fall of 1814.
Both his skills and seniority made Rodgers the logical choice to head the new Board of Navy Commissioners constituted in 1815. The remainder of his naval service consisted of two terms as president of that board, from 1815 to 1824 and from 1827 to 1837, interrupted only by a two-year cruise in command of the Mediterranean squadron. The commissioners succeeded in giving the first systematic organization to naval administration, especially with regard to matters such as construction and supply. Rodgers's conservative temperament may have retarded some innovations, but the probity of his administration could never be faulted. He set the tone that prevailed throughout the history of the Board of Navy Commissioners, until it was replaced in 1842 by the system of bureaus.
Rodgers's health declined noticeably after he survived an attack of cholera in 1832. He progressively lost his memory and mental agility, until in 1837 he resigned from the Board of Navy Commissioners to travel to Europe for his health. He returned a year later and went to the Naval Asylum in Philadelphia, where he died...

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