First Barbary War

Young US Navy Fights North African Pirates – Barbary War

Young US Navy Fights North African Pirates

Barbary pirates, who had been plundering the coast of Africa for centuries, faced a new enemy in the early 19th century: the young United States Navy.

North African pirates had been a threat for so long that by the late 1700s most countries paid tribute to ensure that merchant shipping could proceed without violent attack.

In the early years of the 19th century, the United States decided to halt the payment of tribute at the direction of President Thomas Jefferson. War broke out between the short and timid US Navy and the Barbary pirates.

A decade later, a second war settled the issue of American ships being attacked by pirates. The issue of piracy on the African coast faded into the pages of history for two centuries, until Somali pirates clashed with the US Navy in recent years.

Background of the Barbary Pirates

Pirate On Beach Holding Flag and Cutlass Near Pirate Ship

Barbary pirates operated off the coast of North Africa until the time of the Crusades. According to legend, Barbary pirates reached Iceland, attacked ports, captured and enslaved captives, and robbed merchant ships.

As most seafaring nations found it easier and cheaper to bribe pirates than to fight them in battle, a tradition of paying tribute developed for passing through the Mediterranean. European nations often made treaties with the Barbary pirates.

By the early 19th century, pirates were essentially sponsored by the Arab rulers of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli.

American Ships Were Protected Before Independence

Before the United States achieved independence from Britain, American merchants ships were protected on the high seas by Britain’s Royal Navy. But when the young nation was established its shipping could no longer count on British warships keeping it safe.

In March 1786, two future presidents met with an ambassador from the pirate nations of North Africa. Thomas Jefferson, who was the U.S. ambassador in France, and John Adams, the ambassador to Britain, met with the ambassador from Tripoli in London. They asked why American merchant ships were being attacked without provocation.

The ambassador explained that Muslim pirates considered Americans to be infidels and they believed they simply had the right to plunder American ships.

America Paid Tribute While Preparing for War

Preparing for War

US The government adopted a policy of compulsorily bribing pirates, known politely as tribute. Jefferson objected to the policy of paying tribute in the 1790s. Joined by North African pirates in negotiations for free Americans, he believed that paying tribute only invited more problems.

The young navy was preparing to deal with the problem by building some ships destined to fight the pirates of Africa. Work on the frigate Philadelphia was featured in a painting entitled “Preparing for War to Protect Commerce“.

The Philadelphia was launched in 1800 and saw service in the Caribbean before becoming involved in a key event in the First War against Barbary pirates.

1801-1805: The First Barbary War

First Barbary War

When Thomas Jefferson became president, he refused to pay any further tribute to the Barbary pirates. And in May 1801, two months after his inauguration, the Pasha of Tripoli declared war on the United States. The US Congress never issued an official declaration of war in response, but Jefferson sent a naval squadron off the coast of North Africa to deal with the pirates.

The US Navy’s display of force immediately defused the situation. Some pirate ships were captured, and the Americans established a successful blockade.

But the tide turned against the United States when the frigate Philadelphia ran aground in the port of Tripoli (in present-day Libya) and the captain and crew were captured.

Stephen Decatur Became an American Naval Hero

The capture of Philadelphia was a victory for the pirates, but the victory was short-lived.

In February 1804, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur of the US Navy, sailing a captured ship, managed to get into port at Tripoli and capture Philadelphia. He burned the ship so that it could not be used by pirates. The daring action became a naval legend.

Stephen Decatur became a national hero in the United States and was promoted to captain.

The captain of Philadelphia, who was eventually released, was William Bainbridge. He later achieved greatness in the US Navy. Incidentally, in April 2009 one of the US Navy ships involved in the crackdown against pirates from Africa was the USS Bainbridge, named in his honor.

To the Shores of Tripoli

In April 1805 the U.S. Navy, US With the Marines, began an operation against the port of Tripoli. Its purpose was to establish a new ruler.

A detachment of Marines under the command of Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon led a frontal attack on a harbor fort at the Battle of Derna. O’Bannon and his small army captured the fort.

Marking the first American victory on foreign soil, O’Bannon hoisted an American flag atop the fort. The mention of “the coast of Tripoli” in the “Maritime Hymn” refers to this victory.

A new pasha was installed in Tripoli, and he presented O’Bannon with a curved “Mameluk” sword, which is named for North African warriors. To this day the nautical dress swords imitate the sword given to O’Bannon.

A Treaty Ended the First Barbary War

Following the American victory at Tripoli, a treaty was arranged which, if not entirely satisfactory to the United States, effectively ended the First Barbary War.

A problem that What delayed ratification of the treaty by the Senate was that a ransom had to be paid to free some American prisoners. But the treaty was eventually signed, and when Jefferson reported to Congress in 1806 the written equivalent of the President’s State of the Union Address, he said that the Barbary States would now respect American commerce.

The issue of piracy from Africa remained in the background for almost a decade. The problems of Britain’s interference in American commerce took precedence, and eventually led to the War of 1812.

1815: The Second Barbary War

American merchant ships were kept out of the Mediterranean by Britain’s Royal Navy during the War of 1812. But with the end of the war in 1815, problems arose again.

Realizing that the Americans were severely weakened, a leader with the title Day of Algiers declared war on the United States. US The Navy responded with a fleet of ten ships, commanded by Stephen Decatur and William Bainbridge, both veterans of the earlier Barbary War.

By July 1815 Decatur’s ships had captured several Algerian ships and forced the Day of Algiers to make a treaty. Pirate attacks on American merchant ships were effectively put to an end at that time.

Legacy of the Wars Against the Barbary Pirates

The threat of Barbary pirates faded into history, especially as the era of imperialism meant that African states that supported piracy came under the control of European powers. And pirates were mainly found in adventure stories until incidents off the coast of Somalia made headlines in the spring of 2009.

The Barbary Wars were relatively small acts, especially when compared to the European wars of that period. Yet he provided the United States with patriotic heroes and thrilling stories as a young nation. And it can be said that the fights in distant countries have shaped the concept of the young nation itself as a player on the international stage.

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