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This young man bravely offered to steal into the harbor and destroy the ship. His offer was discussed, then accepted, and a boat which had recently been captured was chosen for the expedition. It was loaded with powder and all kinds of things which would burn quickly. Then most of the seventy heroes who volunteered to take part in the dangerous work went below, to remain hidden until their help was needed.
Decatur, and the few men needed to sail the ship, dressed like Mediterranean seamen, and in that disguise entered the harbor of Tripoli at nightfall without arousing any suspicions. Little by little, they brought their boat close up to the Philadelphia. Pretending they had lost their anchor in a storm, they asked and received permission to moor their boat to the frigate, so as to make it safe for the night.
When all this was done, Decatur gave a signal, and the Americans, rushing out of their hiding places, scrambled up over the sides of the Philadelphia. There they had a short but fierce fight with the Tripolitans, who, in their terror of these bold Americans, finally jumped overboard and swam ashore.
The powder was now brought from the vessel to the frigate, which was speedily set afire in many places. Then the Americans rushed back to their boat, and, cutting it loose, began to make their way out of the harbor. As they sailed away they beheld the Philadelphia wreathed in flames, and heard her heated guns go off one after another with a loud and solemn boom. These sounds were also heard by the Americans in their prison, and you may be sure they were proud of the daring of their friends.
.The Tripolitans, in the meantime, were stiff with amazement at seeing the vessel destroyed in their port, directly under their big guns; and before they thought of avenging themselves it was too late. Owing to their terror, Decatur got safely back to our fleet, where he gladly reported the complete success of his undertaking, which had not .cost the life of a single man.
This deed, which the great English admiral, Nelson, called "the most bold and daring act of the age," was soon followed by an attempt to bombard the city. Then there were five naval battles, in one of which Decatur narrowly escaped death at the hands of a Tripolitan pirate. But, although our vessels managed to do considerable harm to the enemy's navy, the war threatened to run on.
XI. DEATH OF SOMERS.
KNOWING that the Tripolitans were short of powder, Richard Som'ers, an intimate friend of Decatur's, next suggested a plan to destroy the Tripolitan shipping by means of a floating mine. This idea was warmly welcomed, and great stores of powder, shot, and iron were placed on board Decatur's boat, the Intrepid. Then Somers solemnly warned the few men who were to go with him that he would blow up the boat, and all on board, rather than let the powder fall into the enemy's hands.
In spite of this warning, many brave men volunteered, and one boy, rather than miss the honor of sharing the danger of the picked crew, hid himself on board the floating mine. At dusk, the Intrepid, manned by thirteen American heroes, entered the harbor of Tripoli.
Meanwhile, the other Americans anxiously watched and listened to find out what would happen. When it was quite dark, and while they were hanging over the railing of the ships, they suddenly saw a little light flit about, as if carried by some one who was moving rapidly.
A moment later there was a dazzling flash, which lighted up the whole harbor. It was quickly followed by a loud explosion, which shook all the houses in Tripoli and the vessels both in and out of the harbor. That was all; and although the Americans peered anxiously into the darkness, waiting for the return of their men, they never came back.
On the next day, thirteen blackened bodies were washed up on shore, but no one has ever known exactly what happened. Some say the explosion was an accident, but others declare that Somers, seeing he was discovered before he could fulfill his object, blew up the vessel with his own hand. His heroic deed has always been greatly admired, and a monument has been erected in his honor on the western side of the Capitol at Washington.
Somers's attempt to set fire to their ships, lack of ammunition, and the fact that there was some trouble in the city, finally induced the Tripolitans to make a treaty of peace with the Americans in 1805. All through the war our navy had behaved so well that the pope declared that the United States, although only thirty years old, had done more in two years to put an end to piracy than all the European states together in nearly three centuries.
During the next seven years American shipping was left alone; but after the War of 1812, about which you will soon hear, the Barbary pirates, thinking the British had destroyed our navy, again began to attack our ships. They also ordered the American consul to leave Algiers, and he saved himself and family from slavery only by paying the dey twenty-seven thousand dollars.
Once more the dey demanded tribute of our country, and as it was not paid as he wished, he declared war upon the United States in 1815. In reply to this declaration, Decatur, the hero of the war with Tripoli, was again sent to the Mediterranean. He boldly forced his way into the bay of Algiers, where he threatened to shell the town if the dey did not surrender all his prisoners, pay for the damage he had done to American shipping, give up all future claim to tribute, and come in person on board the American flagship to sign a treaty.
The dey tried for a while to get better terms, even hinting that he would gladly accept a tribute of powder instead of money. But although Decatur had only four sloops, four brigs, and one schooner wherewith to meet the pirates' strong navy, he firmly answered: "If you insist upon receiving powder as a tribute, you must expect to receive balls with it."
This threat proved enough. The dey was forced to yield, and, coming aboard the flagship, he surrendered his prisoners and signed a treaty in 181 5. To end the trouble with the Barbary pirates once for all, Decatur next visited Tunis and Tripoli, where, in less than two months' time, he forced the rulers to release their prisoners and promise never to harm Americans again. By this time the pirates had learned not to trifle any more with our country, nor have they dared to touch any of our ships since then.