Thursday, March 15, 2012

Secrets of Old Protestant Cemetery - Tripoli, Libya

Secrets of the Old Protestant Cemetery

The official Libyan history book Secrets of the Old Protestant Cemetery by Abdu Hakim Amer Al-Tawil, (Tripoli: Libya; Libyan Center for Historical Studies, 2008), refers specifically to Richard Somers and the Intrepid crew.

The book apparently maintains that the graves of the three officers of the Intrepid became the foundation for the historic cemetery.

British officials at their embassy in Tripoli in the 1940s had informed Mustapha Burchis that they built the walls in 1830, and they were constructed around five pre-existing graves – (see Naval Proceedings – M. Burches, 1950).

There is a conflict here, in the fact that there were three officers and not five, but substantiation that the British built the cemetery walls was apparently confirmed by the primary editor of “Secrets,” Abdu Hakim Amer Al-Tawil, who had, in March 2001, posted, on a genealogical website, a request for information on former British diplomat Hanmer Warrington. The posting read:

Annunziata Warrington, 1800's, Libya

“From the text of the establishment plate of the ‘Old Protestant Cemetery’ in Tripoli-Libya (September 1830), one can easily understand that one of its establishers is the Agent and consul general of U.k. in Tripoli-Libya: ‘Mr. Hanmer Warrington’, whom the grave of his wife, a young daughter and at least 2 of his sons were among the graves of this cemetery, one of them is ‘Hanmer George", father of "Annunziata.’”

“Since I am the new discoverer of this cemetery, busy these days in writing a book considered to be the first ever comprehensive study wrote about this cemetery, and since the writing of the gravestone of ‘Annunziata's’ father was damaged to the limit that it is no more readable, the only information available about him is that he married the Maltese woman ‘Palmyra’, had a daughter from her named ‘ANNUNZIATA’, borned and lived in Libya until 1903, then she died in the fifties of the 20th century with unknown date and place of death. You will be very appreciated if you can send me - to my P. O. Box not e - mail- all information you have about this daughter, including -of course- her portrait.”

This seems to confirm that the cemetery walls were built by the British around some pre-existing graves, possibly those of the Intrepid officers, and seems firmly grounded in fact, however I received a note from Hanseatic Hoelun of Sweden, who wrote: “Abdu Hakim Al-Tawil's book (Secrets of the Old Protestant Cemetery, Tripoli, Libya) mentions that the Old Protestant Cemetery was established by the Swedish-Norwegian consul, Adolf Hahr (my Great-great-great grandfather) Has anyone checked with the Government of Sweden, which maintains excellent archives?”

[Records at reflect that Adolf Hahr (1793 - 1861) Born in Signildsberg Manor, Håtuna Uppsala Cnty, Sweden on 26 May 1793 to Anders Hahr and Anna Maria Rahling. Adolf married Charlotta Christina von Scheele and had 6 children. He passed away on 9 Oct 1861 in Hölö Parsonage, Södermanlands, Sweden.]

While visiting the museum and archives at the Old Castle Fort, Captain Gregory Miller received a copy of “Secrets” from then Director of Antiquities Dr. Giuma Anag.

Miller reported, “Despite the very positive tone of my negotiations with Dr. Giuma in August 2009, US relations with Libya seemed to noticeably chill after Scotland's release of the Lockerbie Pan Am bomber...While Dr. Giuma and his staff fully embraced the concept of a cooperative cemetery restoration project…Dr. Giuma's successor as Minister of Archaelogy and Antiquities (name unknown) retained the copy of my engineering assessment report and took immediate action on it. Ironically, the cemetery walls and the entry doors were fully restored in 2010--completely funded by the Qaddafi! Subsequently, a Libyan archaeological team was undertaking a meticulous restoration of each of the grave sites until a protest was filed by the AMEMB DCM and the restoration project was halted in the summer of 2010.”

“As for LT Somers, I do not believe Dr. Giuma or his staff knew anything about the purported grave site. He was very supportive of any and all historic preservation projects and shared with me his long term pipedreams of excavating whatever might be left of the Philadelphia and the Intrepid. These would have been very ambitious undertakings as 400 yds of what used to be Tripoli Bay has been reclaimed. Currently, the wrecks of both vessels are likely under a 4-lane coastal roadway.”

“In our second meeting, upon my queries about LT Somers, Dr. Giuma directly polled his staff as to the known existence of any Barbary War gravesites in the vicinity of the Red Castle. One of his senior staff members, offered that he had heard that some very old bones had been exhumed during an excavation project by the Italians in the 1930's but they had been subsequently paved over. Dr. Giuma directed Dr. Turjman to try to locate the site. Dr. Turjamn and I spent the next afternoon surveying the perimeter of the castle but did not focus our efforts on Green Square. Most of the areas adjacent to the Red Castle had, indeed, been paved over but much of this was cobblestone paving. We found no markers or indications of any burial sites.”

Miller offered his copy of the “Secrets” book to the Navy to translate from Arabic to English, but they declined. This fact led to mistaken belief that the Navy and DOD were not interested in the research presented by the book but when the Sec. of Defense visited he met those involved in the research and writing of the book.

After the Navy declined to review and translate “Secrets,” Miller lent his copy of the book to Chipp Reid, whose book The Intrepid will be soon be published. Reid took the book to the U.S. Navy Academy in Annapolis, and had some professors translate the portions of the book that are related to the Intrepid. Reid said a large portion of the book (70 pages) is dedicated to the Intrepid and the war and battles with the Americans at the turn of the 18th century.

As part of an article posted at the, entitled, “We know exactly where they are,” Reid summarized some of what he learned from the translations of the book provided to him.

According to Reid, “The Libyan history is the definitive narrative of the Old Protestant Cemetery. It documents every person - male and female - buried in the cemetery, including a brief biography of each person. The history lists the name and disposition of each of the 75 people buried in the cemetery from 1830, when it was built, to 1890, when use of the cemetery ceased because there was no longer any space. It also specifies which bodies (or remains) are still in the cemetery and which bodies (or remains) various governments or families removed over time.”

[3 Abdu Hakim AlYTawil, Secrets of the Old Protestant Cemetery (Tripoli, Libya: Libyan Center for Historical Studies, 2008), pp. 71-76. (Tranlsation by Prof. of Arabic Studies Hezi Brosh, United States Naval Academy) 4 Ibid., pp. 80-81.]

Reid: “Attempts to cast doubt over the accuracy of the Libyan history are spurious at best. The Libyan historians went to great lengths to source everything in the cemetery history, including American historians, when they wrote about the crew of the Intrepid and the Philadelphia.”

According to the Intrepidproject account, “The Old Protestant Cemetery remained a dusty, near-forgotten spot some two miles from the medina or old town of Tripoli until the 1920s when Italian road engineers came across the mass grave of the enlisted men of the Intrepid. According to Italian maps and accounts contained in ‘Secrets,’ the engineers found the bodies close to the water while they worked on constructing a landfill for the future Al-Fatah Highway. With help from the Libyans, who knew the general location of the Intrepid enlisted men's mass grave, the Italians exhumed the remains they found, identified them as American using bits of uniform and buttons, and interred the remains in a pair of empty Cemetery coffins.” 5 [5 Ibid., pp. 122-136]

As reported by Reid, “...During a road construction project, Italian workers unearthed the beach grave of the enlisted men. With the help of Libyan authorities, the Italians identified the remains as that of the Intrepid crew and put the remains in two, possibly three, empty stone coffins in the Old Protestant Cemetery next to the graves of the American officers.”

The problem here is the three “graves of the American officers” are three stone crypts, while the American officers were buried in graves dug into the ground by the party of American prisoners from the Philadelphia. If they were buried in graves, how did they end up in the above-ground stone crypts?

That the Italian army road crew uncovered the remains of some of the men of the Intrepid and reburied them in crypts at the Old Protestant Cemetery was, for some time, a contentious point that some refused to believe. This was so despite the fact that historian Frank Kemp had corresponded with an Italian soldier who participated in the relocation of the remains, Dr. G\iuma Anag referred to the discovery of the remains and their relocation at the cemetery to the first American officials to return to Tripoli during the Gadhafi regime, as well as the reference to the Italians by Admiral Roughead in his determination that the cemetery is to be the final resting place for those men.

So now it should be firmly established that at least some of the remains of the Intrepid men were “unearthed” from the “beach grave” and relocated to Old Protestant Cemetery from that location, and that location – what Reid calls “the beach grave” of the enlisted men, is the Original Grave Site, while the Old Protestant Cemetery is where these men were relocated.

According to Reid, and apparently “Secrets,” the Old Protestant Cemetery was constructed around the original graves of the Intrepid officers. It should be easy enough to determine if the remains of the Intrepid officers are indeed in three of the crypts at Old Protestant Cemetery by simply opening them and photographing and examining what is there. This effort would include a search for possible clues (such as buttons or rings) and the taking of DNA samples that can be compared to the DNA samples obtained from the families of the officers (Somers, Wadsworth, Israel). This should lead to the positive identification of at least three of the remains, if the remains of the officers are in the cemetery.

It is the location of the “beach grave,” the original grave of the enlisted men that will be more difficult to find. But that location hasn’t moved in two centuries and is confined to an area within one square mile South and East of the old castle fort, somewhere between the fort and the cemetery. That location can be narrowed further through the examination and analysis of the maps, charts, aerial and satellite photos and reports produced by the Americans, Libyans, Italians, British, Sweeds and others.

According to Reid: “Bainbridge's account makes it very clear that American prisoners buried the three officers apart from the enlisted men. Cowdery describes the burial in his ‘American Captives in Tripoli’ (Boston: Belcher & Armstrong, 1806) as ‘By permission, I took our boatswain and a gang of men and buried these bodies, a little east of the wall of the town.’ Bainbridge's description is far more complete. ‘The ten seamen were buried on the beach, outside the town and near the walls: while the three officers were interred in the same grave, on the plain beyond, or a cable's length southward and eastward of the castle.”1 1 James Fenimore Cooper, Lives of Distinguished American Naval Officers, (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1846), Vol. 1, p. 112.

Reid: "’Secrets’ also makes great use of archival and modern-day maps, showing the city of Tripoli as it was in 1804, 1830, 1890, 1911, 1920, 1950 and the present day. In each case, the history uses these maps to detail changes to the topography of the city - mostly from landfill projects that allowed the construction of two multi-lane highways. The maps also show the increasingly precarious nature of the location of the cemetery. It currently sits on a small sandstone outcrop next to the Al-Fatah Highway and is increasingly in danger of collapsing onto the road and into the Mediterranean.”

“At the same time, the Libyans embarked on their own two year project to fully document all of the dead in the Old Protestant Cemetery. In so doing, the Libyans identified what they believe is a sixth grave containing Intrepid crew remains.”

“According to ‘Secrets,’ nearly a third of the international deceased originally buried in the cemetery have since been repatriated to their home countries.6[6 Ibid., pp. 331-336.]

Reid: “Currently, the Old Protestant Cemetery contains the remains of the 13 Americans from the Intrepid, several Danes, French, Swedish, Russian, Swiss, English, and Canadian deceased. In all, according to "Secrets," the cemetery currently the holds the remains of 58 people from the international community. As such, it would be impossible to make the Old Protestant Cemetery solely an American cemetery. Anders Jorle, acting chief media officer of the Swedish Foreign Ministry, confirmed the presence of Swedish remains in the cemetery, although he was unaware of how many Swedes are interred there or how long they have been there.” 7 [7 Interview with Anders Jorle, November 21, 2011.]


Based on the evidence, there is only one conclusion - most if not all of the Intrepid crew of is buried in the Old Protestant Cemetery...roughly 1500 meters from the Red Castle on the shoreline of the port of Tripoli. Every available source confirms this. The strongest confirmation of the officers' graves being the foundation of the OPC is not Libyan, but the foremost US naval historian of his time, Gardner W. Allen. In his "Our Navy and the Barbary Corsairs" (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1905), Allen conducts an in-depth look at the reports of both Turkish and American sources and rightfully concluded that, "The bodies were buried south of the town, the three supposed officers by themselves."8[8 Gardner W. Allen, Our Navy and the Barbary Corsairs (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1905), pp. 209-210.]

“Since every source points to the Old Protestant Cemetery and no source again says this location there can only be one, unmistakable conclusion: the crew of the first USS Intrepid remains buried in the Old Protestant Cemetery, a graveyard that is crumbling, contains international remains and is wholly unsuitable as any sort of lasting monument to their heroism. There is only one recourse: we must recover and return the remains of Master Commandant Richard Somers and his men and give them a proper military burial in the United States.”

We know Exactly where they’re buried

"All reliable sources point to Tripoli's Old Protestant Cemetery - and none say otherwise."Although mystery continues to surround the exact circumstances of how and why the first USS Intrepid exploded and sank September 4, 1804 in Tripoli, Libya, there is no mystery as to where the 13 men who sailed into glory that night now lay. Every available source - American, Libyan, Italian, Swedish and Danish - points to one place, the Old Protestant Cemetery, as the final resting place of Master Commandant Richard Somers and his men. Just as important: there is no evidence that Somers and his men are buried in any other place.

[BK Notes: I have a copy of the "Secrets of Old Protestant Cemetery" on the way and will post parts and review it as soon as I get the relevant parts translated.]

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