Monday, May 11, 2009

Early Action Against the Barbary Pirates

Early Action Against the Barbary Pirates

The Nautilus, Enterprise and Intrepid are all names of legendary American warships that began the American naval traditions in the war against the Barbary pirates, and continue them today on ships named after the most famous of the pirate fighters - Decatur, Preble, Somers, Stewart, Bainbridge.

In one of the first American military actions against the Barbary pirates, Lt. Sterrett, aboard the Enterprise, encountered and laid to waste a pirate ship from Tripoli, but because of the diplomatic stipulations of the day, could not take it as a prize.

One account of the engagement is described in a letter of the day from Lt. Richard Somers, aboard the USS Boston, off Tripoli, to Lt. Stephen Decatur, fighting pirates elsewhere in the Mediterranian.

"I was about to close my letter," Somers wrote, "when one of our officers got a letter from a friend on the ENTERPRISE, and as it shows how the Barbary corsairs fight, I will tell you part of it. While running for Malta, on the 1st of August, the ENTERPRISE, came across a polacca-rigged ship such as the Barbary Corsairs usually have, with an american brig in tow. It had evidently been captured and her people set adrift. Sterrett, who commands the ENTERPRSIE, as soon as he found the position of affairs, cleared for action, ran out his guns, and opened with a brisk fire on the Tripolitan. He got into a raking position, and his broadside had a terrific effect upon the pirate. But - mark the next- three times were the Tripolitan colors hauled down, and then hoisted again as soon as the fire of the ENTERPRISE ceased. After the third time, Sterrett played his broadside on the pirate with the determination to sink him for such treachery; but the Tripolitan rais, or captain, appeared in the waste of the ship, bending his body in token of submission, and actually thre his ensign overboard. Sterrett could not take the ship as a prize, because no formal declaration of war had reached him from the United States; but he sent Midshipmen Porter - you remember David Porter who, with Rogers, carried the French frigate L'INSUGENTE into port after Commodore Truxton had captured her - aboard the pirate to dismantle her. He had all her guns thrown overboard, stripped her of everything except one old sale and a single spar, and let her go, with a message to the Bashaw of Tripoli that such was the way Americans treated pirates.

I understand that when rais got to Tripoli with his one old sail, he was ridden through town on a jackass, by order of the Bashaw, and received the bastinado; and that since then the Tripolitans are having great trouble in finding crews to man their corsair ships because of the dread of the "Americanos".

...Now I must tell you a piece of news almost too good to be true. I hear the Government is building four beautiful small schooners, to carry sixteen guns, for use in the Tripolitan war, which is to be pushed actively; and that you, my dear Decatur, will command one of those vessels, and I another! I can write nothing more exhilerating after this; so, I am, as always, your faithful friend, Richard Somers