[April 27, 2021] “To the shores of Tripoli …” I’ve sung the words to the Marines’ Hymn more times than I can remember. I know much of their history, as I learned their past for the heroic battles fought. The era of the Barbary Pirates was on my list of readings for a long time because that is where the U.S. Marines rallied to their duty.1
More than one million Europeans were captured and enslaved by Muslim raiders between the 16th and 18th centuries. One village in Ireland, Baltimore, was famously sacked and entirely depopulated by slavers.2
The Barbary Pirates had been raiding merchant vessels for some time and demanding ransom for their return. All countries paid them off, that is until Thomas Jefferson became President. He declared war on the Barbary Pirates on this date, April 27, 1801.
While the Muslim pirates kidnapped and killed innocent people around the globe, much as they do today, President Jefferson knew how to end their reign of terror. With a classic American take-no-prisoners approach, he struck at the heart of their sovereignty. Jefferson did not just refuse to pay ransom money; he sent in the U.S. Marines.
The war had dragged on for several more years. The problem was a Tripolitan pasha, Yusuf Karamanli. U. S. Agent William Eaton led a group of United States Marines under the command of Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon and Berber mercenaries against Karamanli.3
Lieutenant O’Bannon had fought so heroically that the newly installed pasha presented him with a highly decorated sword. That sword became the pattern for Marine Officer’s sword and is still used today. The Marine Hymn, “To the shores of Tripoli,” came from this same battle.
The Barbary Pirates went into retirement at least as far as attacking United States ships. Once again, leaders learned that appeasement is a doctrine of failure. Aggressive, direct action solves problems.
- Before I joined the U.S. Army, I memorized all the words to the hymn in the hope the Marine recruiters would take me on as one of the few, the proud, the marines. Fate would find me raising my right hand and sworn in the Army; my destiny would have been different, indeed.