Objectives: Recurrent depression predicts risk for subsequent episodes, but it is unclear how it relates to demographic features, course of illness, and clinical presentation. Methods: We report on the baseline data for the first 1500 patients enrolled in the Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) study (www.star-d.org). Patients were required to have a DSM-IV diagnosis of nonpsychotic major depression and to score ≥ 14 on the 17-item Hamilton rating scale for depression. Status with respect to recurrent depression and other aspects of illness course and demographic features were ascertained at intake, along with measures of depression and concurrent general medical illness. Results: Patients with recurrent depression were older, had an earlier age of onset, and were more likely to have a positive family history of depression than first episode patients. However, recurrent patients were less likely to be chronic and reported shorter current episodes than first episode patients, something that was largely confined to females. Recurrent patients were more likely than first episode patients to report non-essential aspects of mood, cognition, and somatic symptoms, although largely as a consequence of greater overall depressive symptom severity. Conclusions: As compared to single episode depressions, recurrent depression was associated with greater symptom severity and illness characteristics suggestive of greater underlying risk, but not other demographic characteristics than age. Risk for recurrence appeared to be distinct from chronic depression. A subset of chronic first episode patients may lack the capacity to remit and may therefore be distinct from those with recurrent episodes. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.