Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Reuban James & Decatur Fight Pirates
Robert J. Allison - From The United States and the Specter of Islam: The Early 19th Century. >
....A popular novel, the Captivity and Suffering of Mrs. Maria Martin, told the fictional story of a woman taken captive in Algiers, who endures solitary confinement for refusing the advances of a lustful Turk. She nearly goes mad, in a scene paralleling the moment of salvation in a conversion narrative, then is released. Published more than a dozen times between 1807 and 1818, Martin’s story presents her self-reliance and ability to preserve her virtue as a moral example. The fact that her story takes place in Algiers, not in Tripoli, underscores the way Americans conflated these various places, a point brought home by another contemporary illustration, Stephen Decatur’s “Conflict with the Algerine at Tripoli.”
As with the blowing up of the Intrepid, this painting is based on a true incident. Decatur, who had been promoted to Captain after his destruction of the Philadelphia, had commanded a ship during the battle of Tripoli harbor, 3 August 1804.
His brother James had commanded another ship, which forced a Tripolitan vessel to surrender. Or so James Decatur thought. The Tripolitan captain struck his colors, but when the Americans boarded he and his crew attacked them and killed James Decatur. At the end of the day, as Stephen Decatur and the other victorious Americans left Tripoli harbor, he learned of the treachery which had killed his brother. He order his ship back into Tripoli, sought out his brother’s killer, boarded the ship, and engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the Tripolitan captain. As Decatur and the Tripolitan were struggling, another Tripolitan sailor tried to kill Decatur from behind. The captain was saved by the interposition of Daniel Fraser, who took the blow aimed at Decatur’s head. This action doubled the heroic character of Decatur, and also made a hero of the American sailor, though subsequently a sailor named Reuben James would also take credit for the act.
Reuben James, or Daniel Fraser, represents the every American who has a part to play in this struggle against tyranny. A contemporary American songwriter promised that if any despot dared insult the American flag, “We’ll send them Decatur to teach the ‘Good Manners.’”6
US Navy warships have been named for both Reuben James and Daniel Fraser, as well as Stephen Decatur.