Master Commandant
Master commandant was a rank
Military rank
Military rank is a system of hierarchical relationships in armed forces or civil institutions organized along military lines. Usually, uniforms denote the bearer's rank by particular insignia affixed to the uniforms...

 within the early United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

. The rank of master commandant was slightly higher than lieutenant
A lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer in many nations' armed forces. Typically, the rank of lieutenant in naval usage, while still a junior officer rank, is senior to the army rank...

, and a master commandant would often command warship
A warship is a ship that is built and primarily intended for combat. Warships are usually built in a completely different way from merchant ships. As well as being armed, warships are designed to withstand damage and are usually faster and more maneuvrable than merchant ships...

s too small to justify the command of a full captain. In the United States Navy, the rank was shortened to "commander" in 1838.

The early U.S. Navy had three "grades" of officer who were typically placed in charge of warships: captain; master commandant; and lieutenant, commanding
Lieutenant Commander
Lieutenant Commander is a commissioned officer rank in many navies. The rank is superior to a lieutenant and subordinate to a commander...

 (which was not a distinct rank, but a title given to an ordinary lieutenant). That structure remains largely in place in the modern American Navy, with the distinct ranks of captain, commander, and lieutenant commander
Lieutenant Commander
Lieutenant Commander is a commissioned officer rank in many navies. The rank is superior to a lieutenant and subordinate to a commander...


Master commandant was roughly equivalent to the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 rank of Master and Commander, which itself was shortened to "commander" in 1794. When he was in command of a ship, such as a sloop
A sloop is a sail boat with a fore-and-aft rig and a single mast farther forward than the mast of a cutter....

 or brig
A brig is a sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts. During the Age of Sail, brigs were seen as fast and manoeuvrable and were used as both naval warships and merchant vessels. They were especially popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries...

, a master commandant would be addressed as "Captain" by the sailors on board.

American naval hero Stephen Decatur
Stephen Decatur
Stephen Decatur, Jr. , was an American naval officer notable for his many naval victories in the early 19th century. He was born on the eastern shore of Maryland, Worcester county, the son of a U.S. Naval Officer who served during the American Revolution. Shortly after attending college Decatur...

 notably never held the rank of master commandant. After leading a daring raid to destroy the captured U.S. frigate
A frigate is any of several types of warship, the term having been used for ships of various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.In the 17th century, the term was used for any warship built for speed and maneuverability, the description often used being "frigate-built"...

USS Philadelphia (1799)
The second USS Philadelphia was a 1240-ton, 36-gun sailing frigate of the United States Navy.Originally named City of Philadelphia, she was built in 1798–1799 for the United States government by the citizens of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Funding for her construction was the result of a...

 in Tripoli
Tripoli is the capital and largest city in Libya. It is also known as Western Tripoli , to distinguish it from Tripoli, Lebanon. It is affectionately called The Mermaid of the Mediterranean , describing its turquoise waters and its whitewashed buildings. Tripoli is a Greek name that means "Three...

 Harbor in 1804, Decatur returned to America as national hero and was given a direct promotion from lieutenant to captain.

Also in 1804, Master Commandant Richard Somers
Richard Somers
Richard Somers was an officer of the United States Navy, killed during a daring assault on Tripoli.-Life:...

 led a dozen volunteer sailors on the USS Intrepidloaded with explosives
Fire ship
A fire ship, used in the days of wooden rowed or sailing ships, was a ship filled with combustibles, deliberately set on fire and steered into an enemy fleet, in order to destroy ships, or to create panic and make the enemy break formation. Ships used as fire ships were usually old and worn out or...

—toward the pirate fleet in the harbor of Tripoli, Libya.

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