Provided by: Mike Bacarella
The Barbary Powers of North Africa Algiers, Morocco, Tripoli and Tunis preyed upon the commerce of all Christian nations of Europe who trade in the Mediterranean. The fact was that as early as the 17th century a system of paying tribute to the marauders was the only means Christian merchants had to ransom themselves form capture and slavery. This protection money was paid just as a means to conduct commerce.
More than 20,000 captives were said to be imprisoned in Algiers alone. Anyone living in the villages along the coasts of the Atlantic and Mediterranean were targets. The chief suffers were the inhabitants of the coasts of Sicily, Naples, and Spain, but the pirates raided towns as far north as Ireland. A list of captives in Algeria reported on April 8, 1799 revealed there were 109 Genoese, 92 Neapolitans, 76 Venetians, 29 Piedmontese and 13 Italians from Rome, Sardinia and Tuscany.
Europe rose up in united protest when on September 5, five Tunisian ships loaded with 999 men invade the island of St. Pietro, Sardinia; the majority of able-bodied men were off fighting the French, the pirates taking advantage of this lack of manpower captured 700 women and children, and 200 old men into slavery. The ransom the dey of Tunis demanded was $640,000, but the King of Sardinia was unable to raise that sum and appealed to the American Consul for help.
Early in 1800 the US sent her tribute money to the dey of Algiers Pasha Yusuf, adding insult to injury he had his pirates commandeer the frigate that brought the tribute the US George Washington and enslaved the crew. The US was provoked and took action. President Jefferson sent a small squadron of ships to blockade the port but proved to be ineffectual.
When the Bashaw of Tripoli demanded more money, and gunpowder and cruisers William Eaton returned to the US reporting the actions against the US, and planned action against the Barbary powers. When US Consul Eaton paid the US tribute to the dey of the Bashaw of Tripoli Yusuff Hamet demanded more, when this was unmet he declared war against the US on May 14, 1801.
A larger squadron of US ships sailed to the Mediterranean to blockade the port of Tripoli. May 31, 1801 Commodore Edward Preble traveled to Messina, Sicily to the court of King Francis Monarch of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. He sought help and found a good ally. The Kingdom was in the throws of war with Napoleon, but Francis supplied the Americans with manpower, craftsmen, supplies, gunboats, mortar boats, and the ports of Messina, Syracuse and Palermo to be used as a naval base to launch operations against a port walled fortress city protected by 115 heavy artillery manned by 25,000 soldiers, assisted by a fleet of 10 ten gunned brigs, 2 eight gun schooner-s, 2 large galleys, and 19 gunboats.
Of a squadron of 1,060 men and officers 1/10th were Sicilians and Neapolitans.
On October 31, 1803 over 300 American sailors from the USS Philadelphia were captured when the ship ran aground on a shoal. They were imprisoned and for ransom in the dungeons and stone quarries of Tripoli.
On February 7th, 1804 Captain Stephen Decatur led a group of volunteers on a small ketch the Intrepid, and piloted by Salvatore Catalano into the Tripoli harbor, boarded the grounded Philadelphia and blew her up.
The joint American and Sicilian naval attacks continued on into the summer and fall of 1804 with numerous bombardments on the city's fortified walls.
At this time General William Eaton planned a Naval and land attack to weaken the well garrisoned fortress. He traveled to Egypt and sought out the rightful ruler of Tripoli, Bashaw Hamet Carmanali, exiled by his brother Yusuff. Carmanali became the commander of a contingent of Mamelukes at the time engaged in a rebellion against the Turks allied with the French. Eaton recruited men in Cairo, Alexandria, and Rosetta during the months of November, December, and January. Eaton recruited ex-soldiers of the Napoleonic wars remaining in that region.
Leading a polyglot army of US Marines, Greeks, Italians, other European mercenaries, Egyptians, and
Arab Beduins across the Libyan desert from Alexandria the plan to attack the Triplopoltian fortress town of
Derne began. On April 27, 1805 the army reached the outskirts of the town and sent an ultimatum of surrender.
The guns of the USS Hornet, Nautilus, and Argus pummeled the town by sea; Eaton led a frontal attack on the port's earthworks. By 4 pm the Marines planted the American flag on the walls of the town. Yusuff offered in a peace treaty to free the US captives with out ransom and vowed not to seize anymore American ships, if he were allowed to continue to reign in Tripoli. Despite Eaton's outraged protests, Yusuff remained dey of Tripoli and poor Hamet went into exile in Sicily.
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