To the Shores of Tripoli: The Barbary Coast Wars
- Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Preble began attacking Tripoli in earnest, but sadly Congress replaced Preble with Captain Samuel Barron. While waiting for the new Commodore, Preble made every attempt to finish the war. Preble decided to send a fire ship into the harbor to destroy the galleys and castle. Lieutenant Richard Somers volunteered to command the enterprise. After the Intrepid was chosen to be the fire ship, she was loaded with 100 barrels of gunpowder, 150 charged shells and a handful of volunteers. On the night of September 4, 1804, the Intrepid sailed into the harbor. Originally the plan was to set the fuse and then abandon the ship with the timing set so that it would blow up when at the most advantageous spot. But something went terribly wrong when suddenly the Intrepid exploded before reaching its destination. It was thought that Tripolitan ships intercepted the Intrepid. Preble explained, "The gallant Somers and heroes of his party, observing the other three boats surrounding them, and no prospect of escape, determined, at once, to prefer death and the destruction of the enemy to captivity and torturing slavery, put a match to the train leading directly to the magazine, which at once blew the whole into the air, and terminated their existence." Unfortunately the fire ship did not accomplish its mission. All the men on board perished. However, before Barron arrived, Preble made five successful attacks against Tripoli.
Captain Samuel Barron lacked initiative and also suffered greatly from a liver problem. American Consul William Eaton accomplished the only thing of note that took place during Barron’s command. Eaton tried to regain the throne for the rightful heir.
Bashaw Yusuf of Tripoli was a greedy, arrogant man. Although Yusuf (Joseph) was the youngest of three sons he became Bashaw by brutally murdering his eldest brother, Hassan. When Hamet, the middle brother, discovered he was to share his older brother’s fate, he escaped to Tunis where he met Eaton and later fled to Egypt. After Tripoli opened hostilities against the United Stated, the idea of helping Hamet reclaim the throne as a means of regaining peace seemed like a probable strategy. In 1804, Eaton was sent to Egypt to find Hamet and offer to help him overthrow his brother. After Eaton found the banished brother, a small force was gathered, consisting of Hamet’s followers, a small number of Greeks, seven marines, and one lieutenant. On March 6, 1805, they began a strenuous march across the Libyan Desert. Traveling throughout the vast wasteland, they suffered from lack of food and water and mutiny among Hamet’s followers. Finally, on April 24th, they reached the outskirts of the Tripoli town of Derna. Several days later, they, along with three American ships, captured the city. Hamet could taste victory. Eaton knew a lasting peace would be established between the two countries after Hamet was on the throne.
Sadly for both men the United States and Tripoli had already begun peace talks before the battle at Derna. Bashaw Yusuf feared his brother would obtain the throne and thought it wise to begin peace negotiations. Since Barron would not fight, and the Consul General for Barbary, Tobias Lear, disliked the Hamet expedition, the peace treaty was completed on June 10, 1805. The agreement released the Philadelphia crew and gave America freedom to trade in the Mediterranean unmolested. The Barbary Coast was peaceful for a time, but soon they began their age-old trade of piracy. Finally, however, after the War of 1812, President Madison sent a fleet to Algeria to settle the matter. Stephen Decatur subdued the tyrants and never again were the American’s threatened by terrorizing pirates in the Mediterranean.
Study Questions and Follow-up Research:
· What four countries made up the Barbary States? Find them on a globe or map of the world.
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