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The Dey, The Bey, And Some Jersey Sailors


Chapter 21
Page 214

New Jersey is very intimate with the ocean. For nearly the whole of her length, from Cape May to Sandy Hook, the waves of the Atlantic roll and roar. Wherever one may be in this State, it is not necessary to travel very far in order to smell the fresh sea air.

It is true that but few of the great commercial vessels leave and arrive at the ports of New Jersey, and that the presence of naval vessels in her waters is due to the fact that she is part owner of the Bay of New York; but it is also true, that, although she has not

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sent forth ships to fight the battles of her country upon the ocean wave, she has sent out to command those ships some of the best-known men who have ever worn the American naval uniform.

One of the first occasions in which our naval vessels played a part in foreign waters was of a rather romantic nature, though not particularly calculated to raise our country's flag in our own estimation or that of other nations.

It was at the end of the eighteenth century, when we had begun to trade in various parts of the world, that our merchant vessels sailing on the Mediterranean were greatly molested by the pirates of what was called the Barbary Coast. The half-civilized and warlike people of Tripoli, Algiers, Tunis, and Morocco, had long been in the habit of sending out their armed vessels to prey upon the ships of all civilized countries; and when American ships entered the Mediterranean, they soon found out the state of affairs. Several vessels were captured, and the crews were sent on shore and imprisoned or enslaved.

Nearly all the European maritime powers had defended their commerce against these savage pirates, not by great guns and vessels of war, but by humbly paying tribute. Every year these great nations sent money and gifts to the Dey of Algiers, the Bey of Tunis, and the other rascals; and in consideration of this tribute, their vessels were graciously allowed to sail on the Mediterranean without molestation.

It was not long before the government of the United States saw very plainly that it must pay tribute,

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conquer the Barbary States, or quietly submit to the capture of all American merchantmen which might sail into the Mediterranean. The easiest thing to do was to pay the tribute; and as the other civilized nations did this, the United States followed their example.

In the year 1800 a United States vessel bearing the name of "George Washington," and commanded by William Bainbridge, a Jerseyman who had been at sea ever since he was fourteen years old, sailed to Algiers, carrying on board the ship which bore the name of the great man who had made his country free and independent of the most powerful nation of the earth, the tribute which was annually due from the United States to an African sovereign, the Dey of Algiers.

This commission of the United States vessel seemed more humiliating from the fact that our country had just come out of a war with France, in which our frigate "Constellation" had defeated and captured one of the vessels of that great naval power. But we had agreed to pay for the privilege of trading in the Mediterranean, and, although the countries of the Barbary Coast had no more right in that sea than Spain, France, or Italy, they chose to assert their right, and we had acknowledged it.

When Bainbridge had arrived at Algiers, and had handed over the tribute which he had brought, he supposed that his business was over, and prepared to sail away; but the Dey, who was a potentate accustomed to ask for what he wanted and to get it, informed the United States commander that he wished to send him upon an errand.

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These Barbary powers were all subject to the great head of the Mohammedan nations, the Sultan of Turkey; and the Dey desired to send an ambassador to his imperial master, and as the "George Washington" was about to sail, he determined to make use of her.

When Captain Bainbridge was informed that the Dey commanded him to take the ambassador to Constantinople, he very naturally declined, and thereupon a great hubbub arose. The Dey informed Bainbridge, that, as the United States paid him tribute, its people were his slaves; they were bound, as were his other subjects, to obey his commands, and to do what he told them without hesitation or question. If they were not his slaves, why did they come here, meekly bearing money and other gifts to their master?

All this had no effect in convincing Captain Bainbridge that he was a slave of the Dey of Algiers, and bound to go upon his errands; but there was an American consul there, and he saw that the matter was very serious indeed. The harbor was commanded by forts mounted with heavy guns, and if these were brought to bear upon the "George Washington," she would certainly be blown to pieces without much chance of defending herself; and, moreover, such a conflict would surely bring about a war with Algiers, and it was not at all desirable that an American officer, bound upon friendly business, should provoke war between his country and another.

This reason was a very bitter dose for Captain Bainbridge; but after consideration he found himself obliged to take it. If he refused, there would be a

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United States ship the less; and he knew not how many American ships, now sailing without fear upon the Mediterranean, might be seized and burned, and their crews thrown into horrible slavery. He had no right to precipitate anything of this sort, and consequently, under protest, he agreed to take the Algerine ambassador to Constantinople. But this was not all the high-minded Dey demanded. He insisted that when the "George Washington" sailed out of the harbor, she should sail, not as a United States vessel, but as a ship of Algiers, and that she should carry on the mainmast, where generally floated the stars and stripes, the Algerine flag, while he kindly consented that the flag of her own country might float from the foremast. It was as difficult to refuse this second demand as it was the first, and so the "George Washington" went out of Algiers with the pirate's flag proudly floating from its mainmast.

As soon as he got out of sight of land, Bainbridge hauled down the Algerine flag and put up his own; but this was a very small satisfaction and not particularly honorable.

When the "George Washington" reached Constantinople, she created a sensation. Never before in the waters of the Golden Horn had the stars and stripes been seen, and the people of the city could not imagine where this strange ship came from. Some of these people had heard of America and the United States, but they knew of it only in a vague and misty way, very much as we understand some parts of the interior of China. If Captain Bainbridge had told

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them he was from New Jersey, he might as well have told them he came from the moon.

But the Americans were very well received in Constantinople, and the officers of the government were glad to welcome them and do them honor. Captain Bainbridge and the Turkish admiral became very good friends; and when the latter heard how the former had been treated at Algiers, he condemned the insolent Dey, and laid the matter before the Turkish Government. In consequence of this, Bainbridge was given a paper, signed by the Sultan, which would protect him thereafter from any such disrespectful treatment from any of the minor Mohammedan powers. When Captain Bainbridge had enjoyed all the Turkish hospitality his duties permitted him to receive, he sailed from Constantinople and again entered the port of Algiers. The Dey was glad to see him come back, for he had some more business for him; and our Jersey captain was soon informed that he must sail away again on another errand for his Barbary master. But this time the Barbary master was very much astonished, for Bainbridge peremptorily refused to do anything of the kind.

Now the blood of the Dey boiled hot, and he vowed that if the "George Washington" did not immediately sail forth upon his service, he would declare war upon this miserable little country which owned it, and he would put the commander and crew of the ship in chains, and clap them into dungeons. But Bainbridge did not turn pale, nor did he tremble. He simply pulled from his pocket the paper which he had

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received from the Sultan, and allowed the furious Dey to glance over it. When the raving pirate read the words of his imperial master, all the fury and the courage went out of him, and he became as meek and humble as if he had been somebody come to pay a tribute to himself. He received Bainbridge as a friend and an equal, and, from commanding and threatening him, became so gracious, and made so many offers of service and friendship, that Bainbridge decided to take advantage of this auspicious change of temper.

Not long before, the French consul at Algiers had been seized and imprisoned, together with all the Frenchmen who were doing business in that place; for, so long as people belonged to a country which was a great way off, the Dey considered himself an all-powerful ruler, who could do what he pleased with them without fear of their far-away government. Bainbridge determined to try to do something for these poor men; and when he again met the smiling and pleasant Dey, he urged their release. The paper which Bainbridge received from the Sultan must have been written in very strong terms; for, although the demand of the American captain was a heavy one, the Dey agreed to it, and when the "George Washington" sailed from Algiers, she carried away all the Frenchmen who had been living there.

Bainbridge was not at all satisfied with this Algerine business; and when he reported the affair to the authorities at home, he requested that he might never again be sent to carry tribute to Algiers unless he could deliver it from the mouths of his cannon.

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The next year the Bashaw of Tripoli, who had had no tribute from the United States, began to be very uneasy in his mind because he did not fare so well as the other Barbary potentates, to whom money and merchandise were delivered every year. He accordingly spoke up in defense of his rights. It is not likely that he knew where the United States was, what sort of a country it was, or how large or how small its army and navy might be. He knew that the Americans were miserable, humble people, who paid tribute to the Bey and the Dey, and he could see no particular reason why they should not pay it to the Bashaw. Consequently he wrote a letter to the President of the United States, in which he expressed his views very pointedly, and informed him, that, if proper arrangements were not made in six months, he would destroy all the American ships on the Mediterranean, and declare war against the United States.

Strange to say, a thrill of terror did not run through the government of the United States; and six months passed without any notice having been taken of this impertinent communication. Thereupon the Bashaw cut down the flag pole in front of the American consul's office at Tripoli, and commenced the great work of annihilating the United States of America. He began on the small American trading vessels which he found along the Barbary Coast, intending probably, when his convenience would permit, to sail out upon the Atlantic, find the United States, and help himself to the treasures which its government had so disrespectfully declined to hand over to him. The

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example of the Bashaw had a great effect upon the Dey and the Bey and the sub-Sultan; and Algiers, Tunis, and Morocco also informed the President of the United States that they were going to war with him if he did not immediately promise to pay tribute more regularly and in articles of better quality.

But the United States was getting tired of this sort of thing, and determined, no matter what the other civilized powers chose to do, that no more tribute should be paid by it to these insolent pirates. Consequently our government informed the mighty monarchs of the Barbary Coast that it was quite ready for war, and sent four ships to the Mediterranean, one of which, the "Essex," was commanded by Bainbridge.

But the fleet did not do very much on this expedition, and the war with North Africa dragged considerably. Bainbridge came back to America, and after a time returned in command of the "Philadelphia." There was a small squadron with him, but he sailed faster than the other vessels, and reached the Mediterranean alone. Here he overhauled a Moorish vessel which had captured an American brig under a commission from Morocco. Having rescued the American vessel, the crew of which were prisoners in the pirates' hold, the "Philadelphia" took the Moorish vessel as a prize to Gibraltar, and then started out again to see what could be done to humble the port of Tripoli.

In this undertaking our Jerseyman did not meet with good fortune. In chasing a Tripolitan vessel which was discovered near the harbor, the "Philadelphia"

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ran upon a reef, and there stuck fast. Everything was done that could be done to get her off; even the cannon were thrown overboard to lighten her, but it was of no use. She was hard and fast; and when the people of Tripoli found out what had happened, their gunboats came out of the harbor, and the "Philadelphia" was captured, and all on board, including Bainbridge, were made prisoners. They were taken to Tripoli, and there remained in captivity nineteen months. Now the soul of the Bey swelled high in his bosom as he smiled at this attempt of the little country across the ocean to resist his power.

The Tripolitans found that they had gained a great prize in the "Philadelphia," that fine war ship, which seemed to have been left on the reef as a present to them. After a good deal of work, they towed her into the harbor close to the town, where they repaired her leaks, and put her in order to use against their enemies the Americans, who did not know how to keep a good thing when they had it. When Commodore Preble came, six months afterwards, to blockade the port of Tripoli, he discovered that the "Philadelphia" was nearly ready for sea; and, to prevent the disaster of having a United States ship with United States cannon bear down upon them, he determined to destroy the "Philadelphia," if possible, and an excellent plan for the purpose was devised. A small vessel called the "Intrepid," which had been captured some time previously, was manned with a crew of over eighty men, commanded by Lieutenant Decatur, who, years after, finished the Algerine war.

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This brave little vessel sailed into the harbor as if she had been an ordinary merchantman, and managed to drift down close to the fine frigate which the Tripolitans had snatched from their blundering enemy. The crew on board the "Philadelphia" did not suspect the character of the little vessel which came so close to them, until she was made fast, and more than eighty men sprang up from the places where they had been lying concealed on deck, and swarmed over the side of the frigate.

Among these was a young sailor, Lawrence, from Burlington, N.J., who had begun life

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early, having been a midshipman when he was only sixteen years old. When Commodore Preble asked for volunteers to go on this expedition to snatch from the hands of the pirates the prize which they thought they had won, Lawrence was one of the first volunteers, and acted as second in command of this expedition.

The fight was not long. Many of the turbaned crew jumped overboard, and the others were quickly subdued. It would have been a grand thing if Decatur and his gallant sailors could have carried off the "Philadelphia," and have taken her out to the squadron. But this was absolutely impossible. Her foremast had been cut down in order to lighten her so that she could be floated off the reef, and many of her sails were wanting. Knowing that the vessel would not be found in sailing trim, Preble had issued positive orders that no attempt should be made to capture her, but that she should be burned.

The cannon from the town and from the war vessels in the port now began to fire; but the men with Decatur and Lawrence knew exactly what they had to do, everything having been carefully arranged beforehand. They went to work without losing a minute, and set fire to the frigate in many places. The flames and the smoke spread so rapidly that some of them had hardly time to get out of the hold. Lieutenant Lawrence found he could not get on deck the way he came down, and was obliged to run along the hold and climb up forward. As quickly as possible every one jumped on board the "Intrepid," and, without

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relying entirely on their sails to enable them to get away, they put out sixteen great oars, which were pulled with a will by three or four men to each oar.

Now the whole harbor of Tripoli was in wild commotion. The Americans stopped rowing for a moment to give three great cheers, and soon cannon shot were flying fast and furious after the retreating little vessel. But only one of them touched her, and that passed through a sail without doing much damage; and she rowed until her sails caught the wind, and then went out of the harbor, and returned in triumph to the squadron.

Soon after they had left the "Philadelphia," that great vessel, with her hull blazing and the flames crackling and climbing up her masts, took it upon herself, in these last minutes of her existence, to strike a blow for the flag of her country. Possibly suspecting that some attempt might be made to rescue the ship they had captured, the Tripolitans had loaded all her cannon so as to be ready to fire upon any vessel that might approach her. As the fire spread over her hull, the time came when the "Philadelphia" could do something for herself; and when the guns were hot enough, she let fly a broadside into the town, and then another one among the shipping. How much damage she did, we do not know; but the soul of the Bashaw ceased to swell as he heard the roar of her last broadsides, and beheld her burning fragments scattered over the waters of the harbor.

But when the Bashaw of Tripoli imprisoned Bainbridge, and even after he had seen the frigate he had

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captured disappear in flames and smoke, he found he was not yet rid of Jersey sailors. Some months afterwards, when Commodore Preble was still off the Barbary Coast, there was a vessel in the squadron called the "Nautilus," which was commanded by a young Jerseyman named Somers. He was a brave sailor, and had already distinguished himself on several occasions.

Fighting the Bey was a good deal like trying to get at a rat in a hole, and, although there were some good fights in the Tripolitan waters, the fleet did not meet with much success at first. But the Americans were very anxious to do something effective, for at that time Bainbridge and his crew were imprisoned in the town, and no one knew what hardships and cruelties they might be enduring.

After much consideration it was thought that a good way to strike a decisive blow would be to send a vessel loaded with shells and gunpowder into the harbor of Tripoli by night, and explode her there. This might result, it was thought, in the destruction of the forts and ships, and possibly part of the town, and so terrify the Bey that he would come to terms. Lieutenant Somers, who had been foremost in contriving this project, volunteered to command the expedition. The whole affair was so extremely dangerous that no one was ordered to take part in it, and all those who wished to go went of their own free will.

The "Intrepid," the small vessel on which Decatur and Lawrence had sailed to burn the "Philadelphia," was still with the fleet, and this was heavily loaded with explosives of all kinds. The plan was, that after

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nightfall the "Intrepid" should be sailed as near as possible to the town, and that, after lighting the slow match which communicated with the terrible cargo, those on board should take to two small boats which they had in tow, and row out of the harbor as fast as possible, leaving there the "Intrepid" to hurl fire and destruction into the enemy's strongholds.

Before Somers started out on this perilous voyage, he addressed the few men who were to accompany him, and told them that he wanted no one to go who would not be willing to blow himself up rather than be captured. It was well known that the Tripolitans were short of ammunition, and if they suspected what sort of a vessel it was which floated by night into the harbor, they would board her and capture her, if it should be possible, and thus gain possession of a great quantity of powder and shell. Rather than that this should happen, Somers told his men that he would blow up the little vessel with all on board, if the enemy should take it. But no man flinched; and after they had all taken leave of their friends on the fleet, as if they had been going to execution, the "Intrepid" slowly sailed away into the harbor, and it was not long before she was lost to view in the mists of the night.

But after a time it became apparent to those on the American fleet that she was not lost to view to those in the harbor, for the guns of the fort began to fire on her. Everybody who had a glass kept it fixed on that part of the harbor where it was supposed Somers and his little vessel must be, and in course of time

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they saw a light rapidly moving as if some one were carrying a lantern from one end of the vessel to the other. Then in less than a minute there was a blaze and a roar, and the whole harbor of Tripoli was lighted up as if there had been an explosion of fireworks. Sparks and fiery fragments flew into the air, and the waters seemed to be shaken as if by an earthquake. Then all was silent and dark.

Of course, the "Intrepid" had blown up, but how or why nobody on the fleet could know; nor did Somers and his brave crew ever come back to tell them. Some people thought, and still think, that the "Intrepid" was about to be captured, and that Somers carried out his resolution to blow up the vessel under him rather than allow it to be taken. Others suppose that a red-hot cannon ball from one of the forts may have set the vessel on fire; but the truth no one knows. We only know that this brave young Jerseyman went out to his fate determined to do his duty, no matter what happened, and that he died in doing it.

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