James Fenimore Cooper.

The history of the navy of the United States of America (Volume 2) online

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THE government soon became aware of the necessity of
possessing some light cruisers, which are to a marine, what
the eyes and nerves are to the physical formation of man.
Without vessels of this character, a commander could ne-
ver conduct a vigorous blockade, like that required before
Tripoli, in particular; and a law passed February 1803,
authorising the construction of two brigs and two schooji-
ers. In the course of the spring of that year, these vessels
were built, and the navy received an addition to its list, of
the Argus 16, Siren 16, Nautilus 12, and Vixen 12. The two
former were beautiful and very efficient brigs, mounting
16 twenty-four-pound carronades, and 2 long twelves; and
the two latter were schooners, carrying 12 eighteen-pound
carronades, and 2 light long guns, each. They were all
finely modelled and serviceable vessels of their size, and
are now intimately associated with the early traditions of
the navy. There was a singular conformity in their

VOL. II. 1


fates, also, the whole four in the end, falling into the hands
of their enemies.

When Com. Morris was recalled, the necessity of send-
ing out a new squadron was foreseen, the times of the
crews belonging to the ships left under the orders of Com.
Rodgers being so nearly up. Indeed the latter officer,
when he hoisted his broad pennant, was notified that a suc-
cessor must necessarily soon arrive. The new squadron was
so differently organized from the two which had preceded
it, as to leave little doubt that the administration had dis-
covered the error which had been made in sending so many
light frigates on this service; vessels that were nearly use-
less in a bombardment, while they could not command the
shores, and that had no other quality particularly suited to
the warfare in which they were engaged, than a fitness to
convoy. For the latter employment, even, the same force
distributed in twice the number of vessels, would have been
much more efficient and safe.

The vessels now selected to carry on the war against
Tripoli, were of an entirely different description. They
consisted of the Constitution 44, Philadelphia 38, Argus 16,
Siren 16, Nautilus 12, Vixen 12, and Enterprise 12. The
latter was already on the station, and it was intended to
keep her there, by sending out men to supply the places of
those who declined to enter anew. As usual, these ships
sailed as they were ready; the Nautilus 12, Lieut. Com.
Somers, being the first that got to sea. This schooner
reached Gibraltar on the 27th of July, 1803. She was soon
followed by the Philadelphia 38, Capt. Bainbridge, which
anchored at the same place, August the 24th. The Constitu-
tion 44, bearing the broad pennant of Com. Preble, who
had been chosen to command the squadron, arrived Sep-
tember 12th ; the Vixen 12, Lieut. Com. Smith, September
14th; the Siren 16, Lieut. Com. Stewart, October 1st, and
the Argus 16, Lieut. Com. Decatur, November 1st. When


the last fell in with the Enterprise, Mr. Decatur took com-
mand of that schooner, giving up the brig, by arrangement,
to Mr. Hull, who was his senior officer.

The Philadelphia barely touched at Gibraltar, but, hear-
ing that two Tripolitans were cruising off Cape de Gatt,
Capt. Bainbridge proceeded, without delay, in quest of
them. On the night of the 26th of August, blowing fresh,
two sail were made from the Philadelphia, under Cape de
Gatt ; the largest of which, a ship, was carrying nothing
but a fore course. On running along side this vessel, and
hailing, with a good deal of difficulty Capt. Bainbridge
learned that the stranger was a Barbary cruiser. Further
examination discovered that this vessel belonged to the
Emperor of Morocco, and that she was the Meshboha 22,
commanded by Ibrahim Lubarez, and had a crew of one
hundred and twenty-men.

The Moors were made to believe that the Philadelphia
was an English frigate, and they admitted that the brig in
company was an American. The suspicions of Capt. Bain-
bridge were now. awakened, for he could not well account
for the brig's being under so little sail, and he sent Mr. Por-
ter, his first lieutenant, on board the Moor, to ascertain if
there were any prisoners in his ship. When the boat, with
the ordinary unarmed crew, reached the Meshboha, the
Moors refused to let the officer come over the side. Capt.
Bainbridge now directed an armed force to go into the
boat, when Mr. Porter succeeded in executing his orders,
without further opposition.

Below deck, the boarding officer found the master and
crew of the brig in company, which was ascertained to be
the Celica of Boston, a prize to the Meshboha. The brig had
been captured near Malaga, nine days before ; and there
was no doubt that the Moors were waiting for other ves-
sels, Cape de Gatt being a head-land commonly made by


every thing that keeps the north shore of the Mediterranean

Capt. Bainbridge, on receiving this intelligence, did not
hesitate about taking possession of the Meshboha. Her
people could not all be removed until near day-light ; and
during the time that was occupied in transferring them to
the frigate, the brig had disappeared. On the afternoon of
the 27th, however, she was seen doubling the cape, coming
from the eastward, and hugging the land, while she steered
in the direction of Almeria, probably with the hope of get-
ting to the westward of the ships, in order to run to Tan-
giers. Owing to light winds, it was midnight before she
could be re-taken. The Celica was then given up to her
proper master, and she proceeded on her voyage.

It was now all-important to discover on what authority
this capture had been made. The Moorish commander, at
first, stated that he had taken the Celica, in anticipation of
a war, a serious misunderstanding existing between the
Emperor and the American consul, when he left port. This
story seemed so improbable that it was not believed, and
Capt. Bainbridge could only get at the truth by threatening
to execute his prisoner as a pirate, unless he showed his
commission. This menace prevailed, and Ibrahim Lubarez
presented an order from the Governor of Tangiers, to cap-
ture all Americans he might fall in with.

The Philadelphia returned to Gibraltar with her prize,
and leaving the latter, she went off Cape St. Vincent, in
quest of a Moorish frigate that was said to be cruising
there. Finding the report false. Capt. Bainbridge ran
through the straits again, and went aloft, it being under-
stood that the ships employed above, would be coming
down about this time.

Shortly after the Philadelphia had gone to her station off
Tripoli, the New York 36, Corn. Rodgers, and the John
Adams 28, Capt. Campbell, reached Gibraltar, in the expec-


tation of meeting the new flag-ship. In a day or two the
Constitution came in, as did the Nautilus, which had been
giving convoy up the Mediterranean. As soon as Com.
Preble was apprised of the facts connected with the capture
of the Meshboha, he saw the necessity of disposing of the
question with Morocco, before he left the entrance of the
Mediterranean open, by going off Tripoli. Com. Rodgers
was the senior officer, and his authority in those seas had
properly ceased, but, in the handsomest manner, he con-
sented to accompany Com. Preble to Tangiers, leaving
the latter his power to act, as negotiator and commander-
in-chief. Accordingly the Constitution 44, New York 36,
John Adams 28, and Nautilus 12, went into the Bay of
Tangiers, October the 6th, 1803. Com. Preble, on this oc-
casion, discovered that promptitude, spirit and discretion,
which were afterwards so conspicuous in his character;
and after a short negotiation, the relations of the two coun-
tries were placed on their former amicable footing. The
commodore had an interview with the Emperor, which ter-
minated in the happiest results. On the part of Morocco,
the act of the Governor of Tangiers was disavowed; an
American vessel that had been detained at Mogadore, was
released ; arid the Emperor affixed his seal anew to the
treaty of 1786. The Commodore then gave up the Mesh-
boha, and it was also agreed to return the Meshouda, the
ship taken by the John Adams in 1803. Congress, in the
end, however, appropriated an equivalent to the captors of
these two vessels, in lieu of prize-money.

As soon as the difficulties with Morocco were settled,
Com. Rodgers sailed for America ; and Com. Preble devot-
ed himself with energy and prudence in making his prepa-
rations to bring Tripoli to terms. The latter had an arduous
task before him ; and its difficulties were increased by the
circumstance that he was personally known to scarcely an
officer under his command. During the war with France,



the ships had been principally officered from the states in
which they had been built, and Capt. Preble, a citizen of New
Hampshire, had hitherto commanded vessels under these
circumstances. He had sailed for the East Indies in 1800,
in the Essex 32, and had been much removed from the
rest of the navy, in the course of his service. By one of
those accidents that so often influence the affairs of life, all
the commanders placed under the orders of Com. Preble,
with the exception of Mr. Hull, came from the middle or
the southern states ; and it is believed that most of them had
never even seen their present commander, until they went
in person to report themselves and their vessels. This was
not only true of the commanders, but a large portion of
the subordinate officers, also, were in the same situation ;
even most of those in the Constitution herself, having been
personally strangers to the commander of the squadron.*
The period was now approaching when the force about to


* Com. Preble was a man of high temper, and a rigid disciplinarian.
At first he was disliked in his own ship; the younger officers, in particu-
lar, feeling the effects of his discipline without having yet learned to
respect the high professional qualities for which he afterwards became
so distinguished. One night while the Constitution was in the straits of
Gibraltar, she suddenly found herself along side a large ship. Some
hailing passed, without either party's giving an answer. Com. Preble,
who had taken the trumpet himself, now told the name and country of
his ship, and his own rank. He then demanded the name of the stranger,
adding, that he would fire a shot, unless answered. " If you fire a shot,
I'll return a broadside," was the reply. Preble sprang into his mizzen-
rigging, applied the trumpet, and said, "this is the United States' ship,
Constitution, a 44, Com. Edward Preble; I am about to hail you, for
the last time; if not answered,' I shall fire into you. What ship is that?"
"This is his Britannic Majesty's ship, Donnegal, a razee of 60 guns."
Preble told the stranger he doubted his statement, and should lie by him,
until morning, in order to ascertain his real character. He was as good
as his word, and in a short time a boat came from the other vessel to ex-
plain. It was an English frigate, and the Constitution had got so suddenly
and unexpectedly along side of her, that the hesitation about answering,
and the fictitious name, had proceeded from a desire to gain time, in or-


be employed before Tripoli, was to assemble, however, and
a service was in perspective that promised to let the whole
squadron into the secret of its commander's true character.
Previously to relating the events that then occurred, it will
be necessary to return to the movements of the Philadelphia
38, Capt. Bainbridge.

der to clear the ship, and to get to quarters. The spirit of Com. Preble
on this occasion, produced a very favourable impression in his own ship ;
the young men pithily remarking, that if he were wrong in his temper, he
was right in his heart.



IT has been seen that the Philadelphia captured the
Meshboha, on the night of the 26th of August, 1803. The
return to Gibraltar, the run off Cape Vincent, and the
passage up the Mediterranean brought it late in the season,
before that ship could reach her station. Here the Vixen 12,
Lieut. Com. Smith, which schooner had arrived at Gibral-
tar about the middle of September, appeared also, and the
blockade was resumed by these two vessels, the Enterprise
having gone below. Unfortunately, soon after his arrival,
Capt. Bainbridge sent the schooner in quest of a Tripoli-
tan cruiser, that he learned from the master of a neutral,
had got to sea a short time previously. This left the frigate
alone, to perform a very delicate service, the blockading
vessels being constantly compelled to chase in-shore.

Towards the last of the month of October, the wind,
which had been strong from the westward, for some time
previously, drove the Philadelphia a considerable distance
to the eastward of the town, and on Monday, October the
31st, as she was running down to her station again, with
a fair breeze, about nine in the morning, a vessel was seen
in-shore and to windward, standing for Tripoli. Sail was
made to cut her off. Believing himself to be within long gun
shot a little before eleven, and seeing no other chance of
overtaking the stranger in the distance that remained, Capt.
Bainbridge opened a fire, in the hope of cutting something
away. For near an hour longer, the chase and the fire


were continued; the lead, which was constantly kept going,
giving from seven to ten fathoms, and the ship hauling up and
keeping away, as the water shoaled or deepened. At half
past eleven, Tripoli then being in plain sight, distant a little
more than a league, satisfied that he could neither overtake
the chase, nor force her ashore, Capt. Bainbridge ordered
the helm a-port, to haul directly off the land into deep water.
The next cast of the lead, when this order was executed,
gave but eight fathoms, and this was immediately followed
by casts that gave seven, and six and a half. At this moment,
the wind was nearly abeam, and the ship had eight knots
way on her. When the cry of" half-six" was heard, the helm
was put hard down, and the yards were ordered to be
braced sharp up. While the ship was coming up fast to
the wind, and before she had lost any of her way, she
struck a reef forwards, and shot up on it, until she lifted be-
tween five and six feet.

This was an appalling accident to occur on the coast of
such an enemy, at that season of the year, and with no
other cruiser near! It was first attempted to force the
vessel ahead, under the impression that the best water was
to sea-ward ; but on sounding around the ship, it was found
that she had run up with such force, as to lie nearly cradled
on the rocks, there being only 14 feet of water under the
fore chains, while the ship drew, before striking, 18^ feet
forward. Astern there were not 18 feet of water, instead
of 20^, which the frigate needed. Such an accident could
only have occurred by the vessel's hitting the reef at a spot
where it sloped gradually, and where, most probably the
constant washing of the element, had rendered the surface
smooth; and by her going up, on top of one of those long,
heavy, but nearly imperceptible swells,- that are always
agitating the bosom of the ocean.

The vessel of which the Philadelphia had been in chase
was a large xebeck, and her commander, acquainted with


the coast, stood on, inside of the reef, doubled the edge of
the shoal, and reached Tripoli in safety. The firing, how-
ever, had brought out nine gun boats, which now appeared,
turning to windward. Not a moment was to be lost, as it
would shortly be in the power of these vessels to assail the
frigate, almost with impunity. Finding, on further exami-
nation, deep water astern, the yards were next braced
aback, and the guns were run aft, in the equally vain hope
of forcing the ship astern, or to make her slide off the
sloping rocks on which she had run so hard. It was some
time,, before this project was abandoned, as it was the
most practicable means of getting afloat.

On a consultation with his officers, Capt. Bainbridge
next gave orders to throw overboard all the guns, after
reserving a few aft, that were retained for defence; and
the anchors, with the exception of the larboard bower, were
cut from the bows. Before this could be effected the enemy
came within gun shot, and opened his fire. Fortunately,
the Tripolitans were ignorant of the desperate condition of
the Philadelphia, and were kept at a respectful distance, by
the few guns that remained ; else they might have des-
troyed most of the crew, it being certain that the colours
would not be struck, so long as there was any hope of
getting the ship afloat. The cannonade, which was dis-
tant and inefficient, and the business of lightening the fri-
gate went on at the same time, and occupied several hours.

The enemy finally became so bold, that they crossed the
stern of the frigate, where alone they were at all exposed
to her fire, and took a position on her starboard, or weather
quarter. Here it was impossible to touch them, the ship
having sewed to port, in a way to render it impracticable
to bring a single gun to bear, or, indeed, to use one at all,
on that side.

Capt. Bainbridge, now called another counsel of his offi-
cers, and it was determined to make a last effort to get the


vessel off. The water casks, in the hold, were started, and
the water was pumped out. All the heavy articles that
could be got at, were thrown overboard, and finally the
fore-mast was cut away, bringing down with it the main-
top-gallant-mast. Notwithstanding all this, the vessel re-
mained as immoveable, as the rocks on which she lay.

The gun boats were growing bolder every minute, others
were approaching, and night was at hand. Capt. Bain-
bridge, after consulting again, with his officers, felt it to
be an imperious duty to haul down his flag, to save the lives
of the people. Before this was done, however, the maga-
zine was drowned, holes were bored in the ship's bottom,
the pumps were choked, and every thing was performed
that it was thought would make sure of the final loss of the
vessel. About five o'clock the colours were lowered.

It is a curious circumstance that this was the second in-
stance in which an American vessel of war had been com-
pelled to haul down her flag, since the formation of the new
marine, and that in each case the same officer commanded.
After the accounts given in this work, it is unnecessary to
add that on both occasions an imperious necessity produced
this singular coincidence.

The ship had no sooner struck than the gun-boats ran
down along side of her, and took possession. The barba-
rians rushed into the vessel, and began to plunder their
captives. Not only were the clothes, which the Ameri-
cans had collected in their bags and in bundles, taken from
them, but many officers and rnen were stripped half naked.
They were hurried into boats, and sent to Tripoli, and even
on the passage the business of plundering went on. The
officers w^re respected little more than the common men,
and, while in the boat, Capt. Bainbridge himself, was robbed
of his epaulets, gloves, watch, and money. His cravat was
even torn from his neck. He wore a miniature of his .wife,
and of this the Tripolitans endeavoured to deprive him



also, but, a youthful and attached husband, he resisted so
seriously that the attempt was relinquished.

It was near 10 o'clock at night, when the boats reached
the town. The prisoners were landed in a body, near the
bashaw's palace, and they were conducted to his presence.
The prince received his captives in an audience hall, seated
in a chair of state, and surrounded by his ministers. Here
Capt. Bainbridge was formally presented to him, as his
prisoner, when the bashaw himself, directed all the officers
to be seated. The minister of foreign affairs, Moham-
med D'Ghies, spoke French, and through him, the bashaw
held a conversation of some length with Capt. Bainbridge.
The latter was asked many questions concerning the Phila-
delphia, the force of the Americans in the Mediterranean,
and he was civilly consoled for his captivity, by being re-
minded that it was merely the fortune of war.

When the conversation had ended, the officers were con-
ducted to another apartment, where a supper had been pro-
vided, and as soon as this meal had been taken by those who
had the hearts to eat, they were led back to the audience hall,
and paid their parting compliments to the bashaw. Here
the captives were informed that they were put under the
special charge of Sidi Mohammed D'Ghies, who conducted
them to the house that had lately been the American con-
sulate. The building was spacious and commodious, but
almost destitute of furniture. It was one o'clock in the
morning, but at that late hour ev^n, appeared Mr. Nissen,
the Danish consul, bringing with him the consolations of
sympathy and hope. This benevolent man, was introduced
to Capt. Bainbridge, by Mohammed D'Ghies, as his perso-
nal friend, and as one on whose honour, humanity and good
faith, full reliance might be placed. Mohammed D'Ghies,
himself, was known by reputation to Capt. Bainbridge, and
he had shown delicacy and feeling in the exercise of his
trust. His recommendation, which was pointedly signifi-


cant, coupled with the manner of M. Nissen, excited a con-
fidence that in the end proved to be most worthily bestowed.
Every thing that could be devised, at that unseasonable hour,
was done by M. Nissen. This was but the commencement
of a series of indefatigable and unwearying kindnesses that
endured to the last moment of the captivity of the Ameri-

The misfortune that befell the Philadelphia, made a mate-
rial difference in the state of the war. Until this moment,
the bashaw had received but little to compensate him for the
inconvenience to which he was put by the blockade, and
for the loss of his different cruisers. His corsairs had cap-
tured but very few merchant vessels, and they ran the
greatest risks, whenever they appeared out of their own
ports. As yet, it is true, nothing had been attempted
against his town, but he knew it was at any time liable
to a vigorous bombardment. It was thought, therefore,
that he was not indisposed to peace, when accident threw
the crew of the Philadelphia into his power.

The bashaw, however, had now a hold upon his enemy,
that, agreeably to the usages of Barbary, enabled him to
take much higher ground, in proposing his terms. In his
previous negotiations, he had asked a large sum as the price
of the few captives he then held, but the terms had been re-
jected as unreasonable and exorbitant. On board the Phila-
delphia were three hundred and fifteen souls, and among
them were no less than twenty-two quarter-deck officers,*

* William Bainbridge, captain; David Porter, first lieutenant; Jacob

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe history of the navy of the United States of America (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 38)