William Bainbridge was born in Princeton, New Jersey, on 7 May 1774. He went to sea in the merchant marine in 1789 and was captain of a ship before reaching the age of twenty. Bainbridge was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy in August 1798. Though his first command, the schooner RETALIATION, was captured by two much more powerful French frigates in November, Lieutenant Bainbridge was subsequently promoted to the rank of Master Commandant and then to Captain. During 1800-1803 he commanded the U.S. warships GEORGE WASHINGTON, ESSEX and PHILADELPHIA during operations in the Mediterranean, but was taken prisoner with his entire crew when PHILADELPHIA ran aground off Tripoli on 31 October 1803.
After regaining his freedom in 1805, Captain Bainbridge supervised naval facilities and the construction of gunboats and, while on leave, again served in the merchant marine. He returned from the last of his commercial voyages in 1812, shortly before the United States went to war with Great Britain. In September he was given command of the frigate CONSTITUTION, took her to sea on the second of her War of 1812 cruises, and destroyed HMS JAVA in battle on 29 December 1812. Bainbridge was stationed at Boston, in charge of building the ship of the line INDEPENDENCE, during most of the rest of the war. In July-November 1815, she was flagship of his squadron during an expedition to the Mediterranean to supress the renewed threat posed by the Barbary states.
Commodore Bainbridge was commander of Navy forces afloat at Boston for much of the rest of the decade, and in 1820-21 flew his flag in the ship of the line COLUMBUS during another Mediterranean cruise. He was later Commandant of the Boston Navy Yard, served as a Naval Commissioner in 1825-1828 and then was Commandant of the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Bainbridge returned to the Boston command in 1832, but ill health forced him to leave that post in 1833. He died at Philadelphia on 27 June of that year.
Ships named after Commodore William Bainbridge: