7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Barbary Pirates, Naval Hero Stephen Decatur, and the Burning of the Philidelphia!

Many Americans don't realize that the 21st century is not the first time our country has had to fight against Muslim extremists. In fact, our young nation was terrorized for years by the Barbary Pirates.

The Barbary pirates, also called Barbary corsairs or Ottoman corsairs, were pirates who operated off the North African coast. Their hunting grounds consisted of the Mediterranean, the coast of  West Africa, South America, and into the North Atlantic as far north as Iceland, but they primarily operated in the western Mediterranean. They seized ships and also raided coastal towns in pursuit of goods and Christian slaves for the Islamic market.  After American became a new nation in 1776, the Barbary pirates began attacking our ships until a deal was made in which we paid them an annual ransom which amounted to  20% of United States government annual expenditures in 1800, if they would leave our ships alone. (Hard to believe our great nation ever paid an extortion fee to pirates!)

However by 1804, the pirates were getting the upper hand and Congress sent a modest fleet to quell the recent attacks out of Tripoli. Unfortunately, the US Frigate, Philadelphia ran around and was captured by the pirates and they then turned into one of the most fearsome pirate vessels ever to sail. Now, not only was the US Navy severely depleted, but they had to endure being attacked by their own ship!

But the US wanted their ship back. The problem was it was under guard in the well-fortified Tripoli Harbor. They may not be able to recapture it, but they must ensure the pirates didn’t use it against them anymore.

Burning of the USS Philadelphia
by Edward Moran (1897)
Intrepid depicted in foreground
Commander Stephen Decatur was chosen to lead the raid. He had recently captured a small pirate ketch, Intrepid. The plan was to sail into the harbor under the ship’s original pirate colors.  Decatur set out from Syracuse on February 3, 1804 and sailed into Tripoli by moonlight on February 16, 1804. With most of the crew hid below, Decatur asked permission to come tie alongside the Philadelphia..  Permission was granted, and before the pirates knew what was happening, Decatur and his men swarmed the decks. The pirates jumped overboard and swam for shore, and in 20 minutes Decatur had set the Philadelphia ablaze. Back on the Intrepid, they rowed out of the harbor as they watched the Philadelphia burn to the waterline. 

Decatur became a national hero and went on to distinguish himself during another raid on Tripoli in August 1804. He also served honorably in the War of 1812  and finally returned to Tripoli in May of 1815 to sign peace treaties with the Barbary pirates, effectively ending their reign.

I hope you found this little piece of our history as fascinating as I did! 


  1. MARYLU you had my attention from the moment I read PIRATES!! :) You never cease to amaze me with your obvious love for history. I could have used your expertise when I was homeschooling my boys! lol Thanks for sharing this great story.

  2. Great post, Cap'n!!!! I knew it was you writing this as soon as I started reading it! Very fascinating! (I am having deja vu right now; I posted here earlier, but I must have forgot to click Publish) I was wondering if you used any of this info in one of your books? It sounds so familiar.
    Have a great week and God bless!

  3. This is one of the most interesting articles I've read in a while. I had no idea of the extent of the effect of pirates on our country even after the Am Rev. Great article MaryLu Tyndall! am planning on reading this to my son later--we have discussed the Barbary pirates a fair amount and he has mentioned a little of this but he will love the part about Decatur! Blessings!

  4. Recently my husband had told me about President Thomas Jefferson fighting against a particular religion early in our nation's history. Perhaps our current leaders could learn a few tips from Mr. Jefferson. Thank you, MaryLu! This is fascinating!

  5. Incredible history, MaryLu. May God give us many Decaturs in our time to stem the tide of the ideological and spiritual piracy overtaking our land.

  6. Thanks Ladies!! I'm seriously thinking of writing a series about the Barbary pirates... it is SO fascinating.. and so amazing that most people don't even know about it. Hard to believe that our country once paid tribute to pirates to keep them from attacking our ships.. I'm glad Jefferson decided enough was enough! Thanks for stopping by!! Hugs..

  7. MaryLu, loved the article. And if you decide to write that series about the Barbary pirates, I've got my hand waving in the air to be a beta reader, please, please, puh-leeze!

  8. MaryLu, thank you for this post. I am a descendent of Stephen Decatur, a many times over great uncle on my father's side. I don't have the information with me, my brother does, but I believe my great uncle's middle name was Decatur.

    Stephen Decatur died in a dual against Commodore James Barron on March 22, 1820.in Washington DC. The family story is it was over a woman, most likely his wife Susan.
    In Washington. His house is a historical landmark on Lafayette Square. http://www.whitehousehistory.org/decatur-house/

    There is also a street in Washington named after him.

    What you shared in your post, I did not know! I will send this to my brother who is working on our family history.

  9. That was really fascinating, as you said! Thank you for the reminder. Somehow I didn't remember that the Barbary pirates were Muslim. I don't think that fact ever made an impression on me. Now, in light of the world situation, it has more meaning for me.

  10. VERY interesting, Marylu! Go for that new series on the Barbary pirates! I am into pirates myself and doing a lot of research.
    Also suggest all Colonial blog writers add their name just under the titles of their pieces so we'll know quickly who wrote what!
    Blessings, Elva Cobb Martin


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