Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Decatur's Bold And Daring Act - The Philadelphia in Tripoli 1804


For the US Navy frigate Philadelphia, October 31, 1803, began as another routine day off Tripoli harbor, on the North African coast in what today is Libya. The United States, at war with Tripoli since 1801, had sent squadrons annually to protect its Mediterranean shipping and blockade the city-state. Philadelphia, commanded by Captain William Bainbridge, was part of the 1803-04 squadron led by Commodore Edwin Preble. The ship was one of five "subscription" frigates built for the Quasi-War with France, which was fought between 1789 and 1800. These vessels had been paid for by citizens of the cities in which they were constructed. Philadelphia, built in its namesake city, was the largest of the five, 157ft long and 39ft wide, and displacing 1,240 tons. Rated at 44 guns, in 1804 it carried a battery of 28 18-pdr long guns and 16 32-pdr carronades. In point of fact, Philadelphia was smaller than the US Navy's first 44-gun frigates, including the other 44-gun frigate in that year's squadron, Constitution. This vessel was 175ft long, displaced 1,576 tons, and carried a main battery of 24-pdr long guns. Regardless, Philadelphia was larger than most European frigates, and on a par in both size and broadside with European frigates rated at 44 guns. It was a formidable warship.