A Brief History
On April 27, 1805, the United States Marine Corps conducted one of their first famous missions, one immortalized in the Marines’ Hymn, by taking the Tripolitan city of Derna and raising the American flag, the first time the Flag of the United States was raised on foreign soil.
The First Barbary War, also known as The Barbary Coast War or the Tripolitanian War, was fought by the United States against the North African states of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, collectively known as “The Barbary States,” the last three on the list being associate with the Ottoman Empire. The ‘barbarous’ actions’ that precipitated hostilities were the seizing of American ships and crews by pirates working at the behest of the Barbary leaders. The ships, cargoes, and crews were then held for ransom to be paid to those ‘barbaric’ leaders. Crews not ransomed would be sold into slavery. These Barbary Pirates had also victimized the ships of Sweden, who had been at war with the Barbary States since 1800, and this pirating had been going on for over 300 years. Predation against American ships began in 1784, and the US reached a treaty agreement with Morocco by 1786. In 1795 the US agreed to a treaty with Algiers to pay $1 million (a sixth of the US budget back then and 10% of the US budget by 1800, which the US had continued to pay yearly) for the release of hostages and an agreement to end further piracy. Piracy forced the re-forming of the US Navy in 1794 with a primary role of fighting the Barbary Pirates.
Barbary thugs leading the rogue pirate states used Islam as an excuse to prey upon the ships of “infidels.” Any non-Muslims were considered fair and righteous victims of “believers” as indicated by the Quran (Koran), as “all nations that had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners.” (Sound familiar?) Negotiations with such back stabbing, lying, double dealing criminals (they are pirates, after all) did not end the problem. European nations that had adequate naval forces to punish the Barbary States were not preyed upon, and the US got the clue that only force would enforce peaceful commerce
President Thomas Jefferson refused to allow the United States to be bullied by miserable pirates, and this bullying started immediately upon Jefferson being inaugurated as President in 1801 by a demand by Tripoli of a tribute payment of $225,000! Like a spoiled brat not getting his way, the Pasha of Tripoli declared war on the US in May of 1801, though Algiers and Tunis did not join in. Frigates sent by Jefferson to protect American shipping successfully ruled the seas of North Africa, but no real threat to the homeland of the pirates existed. US Navy and Marines were fighting off Tripoli by 1804 but initially failed in attacking the shore portion of the port. Marine Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon led a ground force of 8 Marines and 500 foreign mercenaries from Alexandria, Egypt on a march overland to Derna (or Derne) adjacent to Tripoli successfully taking the city, marking the first incident where a US Flag was raised over a conquered foreign place. This victory enabled the US to force the release of hostages and bring a victorious end to the First Barbary War and providing the basis for the refrain, “to the shores of Tripoli!”
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For more information, please see…
Scott, Richard. Jihad at Sea: The Barbary War, America’s First Encounter with Radical Islam. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.
Smethurst, David. Tripoli: The United States’ First War on Terror. Independently published, 2017.