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The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805 Audio, Cassette – June 1, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
The author of The Pirate Hunter,which made Captain Kidd come to life, focuses here more broadly on a piracy hot spot. Resolved to stop the enslavement of American merchant sailors by North African nations, Jefferson deployed most of the infant U.S. Navy to the Mediterranean and sent a column of troops overland from Egypt to place the pasha of Tripoli's brother Hamet on the throne in 1801. The leader of that motley array of mercenaries, Muslim tribesmen, Hamet's retainers and a handful of U.S. Marines was the colorful and combative William Eaton, who led them more than 500 miles across the desert to "the shores of Tripoli." By the time he arrived, peace negotiations were underway, in the hands of one Tobias Deane, who was neither honest nor competent. Eaton had to abandon Hamet and was in turn virtually abandoned by the Jefferson administration, leaving him with a mountain of debt and a drinking problem that eventually killed him at 47. There has been a dearth of good material on the Barbary War and particularly on Eaton's trek; Zacks has researched thoroughly, writes entertainingly and shows a knack for sea stories and characterization. This is the book that Captain Eaton has long deserved. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
From The New Yorker
In 1805, with the United States at war with Tripoli, a disgraced diplomat named William Eaton embarked on the young nation's first covert mission: to track down Hamet Karamanli, the brother of the Bashaw of Tripoli, and place him on the throne. The quest was ill funded and poorly managed, and had a rather feeble ally in Hamet, who repeatedly attempted to back out of the plot. Eaton was further thwarted by Tobias Lear, the American consul in the Barbary Coast, who eventually negotiated a treaty (and paid a hefty tribute to ransom prisoners and insure peace). Zacks recounts the misadventures of Eaton (and the fledgling Marine Corps) with an enthusiastic flair that at times relies too heavily on romantic conjecture. Still, the narrative is propelled by the entertaining excesses of Eaton's rhetoric, as preserved in his diary and letters.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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The Barbary pirates of north Africa (see earlier post, The Shores of Tripoli, Jefferson in London and the Birth of the US Navy, 4/20/12) had been terrorizing, kidnapping and enslaving westerners for centuries. An old a Barbary maxim statures: "Whoever acts like a sheep, the wolf will eat." Most Western nations had simply opted to pay tribute to the wolf rather than confront the pirates. After the American revolution, the USA no longer had the protection of the Royal Navy on the high seas. In 1803 the entire American fleet consisted of six ships. The Philadelphia, launched in 1799, was a 36-gun American frigate commanded by Captain William Bainbridge (the same Bainbridge after which Bainbridge island in my adopted home state of Washington is named). The US did not want to be mistaken for a sheep and, therefore, dispatched the Philadelphia to the Mediterranean. Bainbridge had orders to confront the Barbary pirates, instead he managed on October 31, 1803 to run his ship aground in Tripoli harbor. The crew of 307 officers and sailors was captured and held hostage by Yussef Karmaanli, the Bashaw of Tripoli. Yussef has the distinction of being the first foreign ruler to ever declare war on the United States.
William Eaton was a flinty New Englander who had served in the continental army during the American Revolution, attended Dartmouth college after the war and served as the American consul in Tunis. Jefferson and his secretary of state, James Madison, opted to dispatch William Eaton to try to effect the release of the American hostages. Yussef Karmaanli had a brother Hamet who was his political rival for the throne of Tripoli. The Jefferson administration hoped Eaton would stir up a civil war that would topple Yussef and liberate the American sailors. It was therefore, the libertarian Jefferson who first implemented an American policy of using a covert force to effect a "regime change" in a foreign country.
William Eaton had some choice words in support of aggressive American action against the pirates of the Barbary coast. He said, "If the Congress do not consent that the government shall send a force into the Mediterranean to check the insolence of those scoundrels and to render the United States respectable, I hope they will resolve at their next session to wrest the quiver of arrows from the left talon of the (American) Eagle...and substitute a fiddle bow or a cigar in lieu."
Eaton was given the vague title of "Navy Agent of the United States for the Several Barbary Regencies". With long delays in orders due to the communications realities of the time, Eaton had been granted great latitude to get the job done.
In spite of a lack of personnel, money and resources Eaton managed to link up with Hamet and lead a rag tag band of US marines (ten in all), Greeks soldiers and native mercenaries on a 500-mile overland desert journey from Alexandria to Derne in Tripoli. Eaton, greatly outnumbered, led these and US naval forces in the battle of Derne on April 27, 1805 and triumphing over the Bashaw's forces capturing the fortifications of Derne in what is now Libya. His faithful Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon of the US marines raised the American flag over a foreign fort for the first time in history. The Marine hymn owes its reference to the "shores of Tripoli" due to this battle. With the capture of Derne and a US naval blockade of Tripoli, victory seemed to be within the grasp of the American forces.
Jefferson, however, had been secretly proceeding down a double-tracked strategy, having also appointed Tobias Lear, formerly George Washington's private secretary, as US consul general to the Barbary Regencies with the task of negotiating a quick peace with Bashaw Yussef. Lear was a Harvard graduate who had embezzled from his boss, Washington and most likely destroyed some of his Washington's private correspondence, particularly with Jefferson. This naturally endeared Lear to Jefferson. Lear succeeded in making peace with Yussef by promising to abandon Derne, give up the naval blockade of Barbary ports and pay the sum of $60,000 for the release of the Philadelphia crew.
Christopher Kelly is the author of America Invades: How We've Invaded or been Militarily Involved with almost Every Country on Earth and Italy Invades
I am 32% of the way through it and there has been very little Thomas Jefferson, a lot of Pirate Coast and almost no Marines. We learn a lot of unimportant facts which sometimes feel like the author has crossed the centerline to hyperboyle.
I suppose the various subplots of this history have their place and provide motivation for the characters, but I suspect the level of detail about these events can be condensed.
I am about ready to move on to something else, finishing this book only when trapped in an airport with nothing left on my kindle but this story.
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