The Barbary Pirates

Discussion in 'Education' started by Xenophon, Apr 14, 2009.

  1. Xenophon
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    Xenophon Gone and forgotten

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    Since we have just seen Muslim pirates in the news, I thought this old article of mine might be fitting.


    Captain William Bainbridge was very concerned. His command, the brand new frigate USS Philadelphia, 36 guns, was in serious trouble this night of October 31, 1803 in the harbor of Tripoli. The ship's trim hull shuttered as the keel grated against uncharted rocks.

    The ship's officers and crew moved swiftly, trying desperately to fill the sails again and heel the ship still further so she might slip loose. But it was to no avail. Bainbridge ordered all surplus cargo dumped overboard, but still the ship refused to budge. She was stuck fast, and Bainbridge (who would be a hero years later in the War of 1812) feared that a calamity of the first order would befall the Unites States, as one of her newest and finest warships was about to be captured by an enemy nation, and he could not prevent it!

    Why was he so desperate in his attempts to lighten the vessel immediately? Part of the answer lay in a warning cry of a lookout, "Here they come!" as Tripoli tan gunboats were sighted putting out from under the great fort. And part lay in the reasons for the Philadelphia having been there in the first place. For since the spring of 1801, the United States had been engaged in a war, it's first with a Muslim state, it's first completely overseas, and this time completely a naval one, with the Barbary nation of Tripoli.

    The spark that set off this conflict had actually occurred with the capture of the American schooner Maria by Algerine pirates in July 1785. During the next fifteen years there were numerous such incidents, leading to a type of extortion by the Barbary nations of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli in which they exacted tribute from the young United States in return for refraining from attacking American shipping in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1796, the United States permitted the shameful approval of tribute money in the amount of $56,000 to be paid to the powerful Pasha of Tripoli for this purpose, and an even larger sum was paid to Algiers as similar extortion money. The aging George Washington strongly opposed such conduct, but since the United States had scrapped its navy after the revolution, America was helpless and defenseless on the high seas. As a result, Congress ordered the formation of the first United States Navy, and money was quickly voted for the purpose of building a cruiser force of Frigates, and many smaller vessels for inshore work. No longer would ships flying the stars and stripes fall victim to vicious pirates, or the young nation be subjected to humiliation, the cry "Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute!" was on everyone's lips.

    By 1801, the American leaders were very angry about the situation with the pirates. When the government refused to consent to any further extortion, the Pasha of Tripoli declared open war on the United States as of May 10. But now things were different, as the United States had ships and men ready and willing to protect her overseas. By July, the United States Navy dispatched a squadron under Commodore Richard Dale to Gibraltar. The flagship was the frigate President, 44, along with the Philadelphia, 36, the Essex, 32, and a 12 gun schooner, the Enterprise.

    In March of 1802, after little action, the squadron was disbanded and a stronger one organized to supplement it. The Constellation, 36, Chesapeake, 36, Adams, 28, New York, 36, and John Adams, 28. In 1803, Commodore Edward Preble, who would turn out to be one the finest flag officers in American history, arrived in the staunch American frigate Constitution, 44 guns, with a number of other vessels. Now things began to happen. Preble had purposely brought along small ships like the 12 gun Vixen and the 16 gun Argus- the latter under the command of a man who would become the greatest hero of the young United States, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur jr.

    With these smaller ships, Preble instituted a series of raids against the Barbary powers and was ready to concentrate his strength against the worst of these opponents: Tripoli. In late October 1803, the frigate Philadelphia, under the command of William Bainbridge, was dispatched to blockade the port. And it was at this time that the ship, as we have already seen, ran aground while chasing an enemy vessel too close to shore.

    As Captain Bainbridge and his crew tried desperately to free the frigate from the shoals, the enemy could be seen approaching in great numbers in the small Tripoli tan gunboats. Everything possible was tried- pumping the bilges dry, heaving the forward guns overboard, chopping down the foremast. None of these emergency moves helped. The cautious enemy gunboats approached so that the way in which the Philadelphia listed was in their favor and the American guns could not be brought to bear. Bainbridge was forced to surrender, with 22 officers and 315 men, and the enemy eventually worked the Philadelphia free at flood tide and towed her into a deeper part of the harbor.

    Now Commodore Preble had a new problem on his hands. Not only had he lost one of his finest ships and several hundred of his men, but once the enemy had trained a proper crew, it would use the Philadelphia against the Americans! Preble worked out a daring plan, and for it selected one of his ablest young officers, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur jr.

    Earlier in the war, an ancient 60 ton ketch, the Mastico had been captured from the Tripoli tans. Decatur was to sail her, as a "trader", directly into the harbor of Tripoli. The pilot would be a Maltese seaman named Catalano, and on deck would be a number of Americans dressed in Maltese clothing. Below decks however, would be 75 other Americans, with a supply of combustibles for setting fire to the Philadelphia.

    Decatur hand picked 84 volunteers, and the first week of February 1804, found the little vessel, now named Intrepid, heading for Tripoli. Now the troubles began. The little vessel was struck by a heavy storm. Food and water began running low. The men were constantly seasick. Since they had no change of clothing, they were constantly wet and miserable. Yet somehow, by February 16, they managed to reach the harbor entrance still afloat. Then a new problem arose.

    According to plan, some boats from the 16 gun brig Siren, which lay three miles out to sea, were to move in under cover of darkness and assist Intrepid's men to escape after they had destroyed the Philadelphia. But, following the storm, a calm settled over the ocean, and the Siren's boats could not make the rendezvous in time. Decatur waited as long as he dared, they gave orders to proceed with the mission.

    One hundred yards from the Philadelphia, the Intrepid was hailed and ordered to anchor where she was. But Decatur was ready with a ruse that was part of the plan. "Tell them", he instructed the Maltese pilot, "that we lost our anchors in the storm and would like to tie alongside, just overnight".

    The ruse worked. Within a few minutes, Catalano had rowed over to the Philadelphia with a line, and several sleepy looking Tripoli tan seamen were actually aiding the American cause by pulling the Intrepid in close. As the ships closed, Decatur gave the signal. Up leaped the Americans, pouring out of the Intrepid's hold.

    "Americans!" shouted a pirate on watch on the Philadelphia's deck. As cries echoed through the ship, enemy seamen scrambled topside, many so terrified that they dove overboard rather then fight. Now the Americans were slashing away with Cutlasses, firing pistols, and creating such havoc that within a few minutes 20 of the enemy lay dead and resistance was over.

    "Strike out the combustibles!" ordered Decatur. From the deck of the Intrepid, pound after pound of powder and matches was tossed upward. And within twenty minutes, the Philadelphia was a raging inferno. Now the guns at the fort at Tripoli were coming into action, sending round after round wildly across the bay. But the Intrepid was already escaping, making her way to the harbor entrance before the Tripoli forces were able to muster their gunboats to give chase.

    The outcome of the incident, one that covered the name of Stephen Decatur with great glory, was that the Pasha of Tripoli was furious. In his great anger, he demanded that the Americans pay him for the loss of the Philadelphia, in the sum of a half million dollars! Upon hearing the ridiculous demand, Commodore Preble laughed outright and asserted that force, not tribute, was the key to making the Barbary nations more respectful of the American flag.

    Consequently, he set sail on July 14, 1804, from Syracuse with the Constitution, the Nautilus, the Enterprise, six gunboats, and two mortar boats. His objective: to attack Tripoli's shipping and fortifications and so harass the Pasha that he would be receptive to peace terms. During a five week period in August and part of September he completed five separate attacks with considerable success. Rather then scatter his shots, by attacking the other Barbary powers, he wisely surmised that a victory over Tripoli would in tune lead the other enemy nations to accept American terms.

    Shortly after the Intrepid action, however, on September 4, 1804, Preble was replaced by Commodore Samuel Barron.

    The strange naval war against Tripoli, while often mentioned as a "little war", was actually far more important to American history then its size and scope would indicate. It taught the United States that a great nation could not exist without a great navy and that honorable peace could never be purchased.

    The Pasha soon came to realize, through the navy's continuing attacks, that further conflict could only ruin him. Still, he refused to end the war. The Americans postponed further operations until the spring.

    On April 27, 1805, the Tripoli tan port of Derna was attacked by several hundred Arabs on land under the command of Hamet Karamanli, ex-pasha of Tripoli, who wanted his old job back. Karramanli was largely successful because of the assistance of an American civilian, Mr. William Eaton, a consular agent, and Lieutenant O'Bannon, with midshipmen Peck and seven marines from the brig Argus. Seeing an opportunity to improve his position, Barron dispatched the Argus, hornet. and Nautilus to launch a coordinated attack from the sea at the same time. Derna was quickly captured, and held until after the pasha had finally agreed to peace negotiations. The war against Tripoli ended with the signing of the peace treaty on June 10, 1805.

    The young United States had won its first overseas war, defeating the forces of tyranny by using the courage and ability of its own people to the utmost ability. We, in these modern times, could learn a lesson from Preble and Decatur, men such as they were could never have stood by and done nothing.
     
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  2. sealybobo
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    sealybobo Diamond Member

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    I heard Piracy was mentioned in the Constitution.

    Lawyers are looking forward to the case of the one pirate that lived. He's only 16 years old.

    But where do we send him if we ever let him go?

    And how do we try him? Kidnapping? Piracy? He was just a pawn. He is not a captain or anything like that.

    This is going to make a great movie.
     
  3. Iriemon
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    Iriemon VIP Member

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    Nice piece. Couple clarifications:

    It was the election of Thomas Jefferson as president that coincided with the change in US policy on paying tribute, as he was strongly opposed to it.

    Nonetheless, as part of the peace deal with the Barbary nations, the US paid them $60,000 for release of US sailors held hostage.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2009
  4. Diuretic
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    Diuretic Permanently confused

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    Informative, thanks Xenophon.

    Interesting about Bainbridge - serendipity that the USS Bainbridge was involved in this one.

    Or am I dreaming? :eek:
     
  5. Kalam
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    Kalam Senior Member

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    What do "Muslim pirates" do differently from other pirates that makes it necessary to give them their own category? :eusa_eh:
     
  6. dilloduck
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    dilloduck Diamond Member

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    hmmmmmmmmm worship allah ??
     
  7. Kalam
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    Kalam Senior Member

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    I'm wondering why any religious specification is necessary.
     
  8. dilloduck
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    dilloduck Diamond Member

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    So we don't get our religious pirates all mixed up, of course !
     
  9. Xenophon
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    Xenophon Gone and forgotten

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    Because I say it is.

    Feel free to start your own thread on any topic you like.
     
  10. Kalam
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    Kalam Senior Member

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    What a thoughtful response.
     

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us makes deal with barbary pirates june 10 1805

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was the treaty of tripoli just a ruse