Master Commandant
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Master Commandant

Master commandant was a rank within the early United States Navy.[1][2] Both the Continental Navy, started in 1775, and the United Stated Navy created by the United States Congress, in 1796, had just two commissioned ranks, Lieutenant and Captain. Master Commandant, who would command smaller vessels, was used, unofficially, as early as 1799. The rank was made official in 1806.[3] The name of the rank was changed to commander" in 1837.

The early U.S. Navy had three "grades" of officer who were typically placed in charge of warships: captain; master commandant; and lieutenant, commanding (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.

Master commandant was roughly equivalent to the Royal Navy 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 or brig, a master commandant would be addressed as "Captain" by the sailors on board.

Contemporary paintings show a Master Commandant's uniform main difference from a Captain's uniform was that while a Captain wore an epaulet on each shoulder a Master Commandant's uniform had a single epaulet on the right shoulder, and a Lieutenant Commandant wore a single epaulet on the left shoulder.[4]

American naval hero Stephen Decatur notably never held the rank of master commandant. After leading a daring raid to destroy the captured U.S. frigate Philadelphia in Tripoli 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 led a dozen volunteer sailors on the USS Intrepid--loaded with explosives--toward the pirate fleet in the harbor of Tripoli, Libya.[5]

In 1825 a Master Commandant was paid $60 per month, while a Captain of a ship with 20-32 cannons was paid $75 per month.[6] A Lieutenant Commandant was paid $50 per month, while a Lieutenant or a Sailing Master earned $40 per month. Midshipmen earned $19 per month. Captains of ships with more than 32 cannons earned $100 per month.


  1. ^ "The History of Navy Rank: The Officer Corps". United States Navy. 2019-11-01. Archived from the original on 2019-12-15. Retrieved . When the U.S. Navy's predecessor, the Continental Navy, was established in 1775, the first set of Navy regulations stipulated the commissioned offices of captain and lieutenant. When the United States Navy was created by Congress in 1794, the legislation again provided for the ranks of captain and lieutenant "who shall be appointed and commissioned in like manner as other officers of the United States are." In 1799, master commandant was authorized as a rank between lieutenant and captain. Although master commandant was changed to commander in 1837, this simple rank system survived intact until the Civil War.
  2. ^ Raymond Oliver (August 1983). "Why is the Colonel Called "Kernal"? The Origin of the Ranks and Rank Insignia Now Used by the United States Armed Forces" (PDF). McClennan Aviation Museum. p. 14. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-28. Retrieved .
  3. ^ UNITED STATES NAVY GRADE INSIGNIA 1776 - 1852. Preston Perrenot. p. 13, 14, 20, 26, 34. Archived from the original on 2019-12-23. Retrieved .
  4. ^ "All That Glitters: The US Navy Uniform Regulations of 1802". US Constitution Museum. 2014-09-18. Archived from the original on 2016-07-21. Retrieved . Oddly, the 1802 regulations say nothing about the uniform of a master commandant, but from descriptions and subsequent uniform regulations, we know that Master Commandant John Cassin is wearing the proper uniform for his rank. Virtually the same as a captain's uniform, the only difference is his epaulet; instead of wearing one on each shoulder, he only wears one on the right.
  5. ^ Colimore, Edward (October 25, 2011). "Effort under way to bring back U.S. sailors buried in Libya". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Archived from the original on October 27, 2011. Retrieved .
  6. ^ Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps and Reserve Officers on Active Duty. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1825. Archived from the original on 2019-12-23. Retrieved .

External links

  • Ian W. Toll, Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy (W. W. Norton, 2006)

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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