Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates

$ 27.95

Brian Kilmeade, Don Yaeger

From the authors of the New York Times bestseller George Washington’s Secret Six, the little-known story of Thomas Jefferson’s battle to defend American sovereignty against Islamic pirates

With George Washington’s Secret Six, Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger crafted a fun and compelling pop history narrative that brought to life an obscure episode in George Washington’s career. Now with their latest book, they do the same for Thomas Jefferson.

Only weeks after Jefferson’s inauguration in 1801, the Pasha of Tripoli ordered the flagstaff at the American consulate chopped down. It was an act of war—and a personal challenge to Jefferson. He had refused to pay off the pirates who ran Tripoli, and he now had to decide if the fledgling United States would stand up to the kidnapping of American ships and sailors.

Though inclined toward diplomacy, Jefferson saw the need for force after the USS Enterprize engaged with a better-armed Tripolitan ship on the prowl for Americans. The pirate commander resorted to treachery (twice hauling down its flag as if to surrender, only to resume firing again once the Enterprize held its fire).

Jefferson ordered a troop surge, dispatching warships to protect American shipping in the Mediterranean. The tiny American flotilla—with three frigates representing half of the U.S. Navy’s top-of-the-line ships—had some success in blockading the Barbary coast. But that success came to an end when the USS Philadelphia ran aground in Tripoli harbor and was captured.

Kilmeade and Yeager recount the dramatic events building up to this little-known war and the heroics that led to its resolution. They tell the story of a twenty-five-year-old sailor named Stephen Decatur, who sailed into the enemy harbor, his boat disguised as a Maltese merchant ship. He stole aboard the Philadelphia and sets her afire before escaping amid a torrent of enemy gunfire.

Less successful was a failed attack on Tripoli harbor, but William Eaton’s daring attack on the port of Derna regained ground. He led a detachment of Marines on a five-hundred-mile trek across the desert to surprise the port. His strategy worked, and an American flag was raised in victory on foreign soil for the first time. A peace treaty was quickly signed.

Few remember Decatur and Eaton today, but their legacy lives on in the opening lines of the Marines Hymn: “…to the shores of Tripoli / we fight our country’s battles / in the air, on land, and sea.” This story of bravery, diplomacy, and battle on the high seas deserves to be told in full.