USS Bainbridge Named After Captain William Bainbridge of the Barbary Wars
It is interesting that the media did not provide a history of the name of the Navy destroyer, USS “Bainbridge”, that recently assisted the crew of the hijacked merchant marine ship, Maersk Alabama.
Research into a book titled To the Shores of Tripoli, by A.B.C. Whipple….reveals the following…
On March 27, 1794 President George Washington signed “An Act to Provide Naval Armament ” authorizing the construction of six frigates (that would create the U.S. Navy after the Revolution.) The frigates were necessary to protect American merchant ships from attack by the North African “Barbary States” of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. Ships in the Mediterranean were routinely taken captive by “pirates”and the crews were taken as prisoners, and held for ransom, or sold as slaves. It became very frequent and was very expensive for the young American nation to pay the ransoms. Americans were sharply divided as whether to continue paying ransoms or use force.
In 1786, initially seeking to pay a tribute payment, and thereby “negotiate” a peace treaty, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams went to Europe to negotiate tribute payments to the pirates. Asking the Ambassador from Tripoli why they preyed upon the American merchants, the answer was that the North African nations justified war against all non-Muslim nations based on the Islamic Koran; and, Muslims who died during a siege were assured to go to paradise. Jefferson reported the Algerian ambassador’s reply to Congress:
“Founded on the laws of their prophet, and written in the Quran, all nations who did not acknowledge their (King’s) authority were sinners, and it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every ‘Musselman’ (Muslim) who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.”
It is interesting to note during our founding era, like today, there was great concern and debate over how to deal with radical Islamist doctrine permitting and practicing shameless extortion of non-Muslims. Some Americans wanted to talk with them to convince them that their actions were wrong. Some of our citizens and politicians wanted to continue paying ransom, thinking the problem would eventually go away.
William Bainbridge was a captain of several ships during the Barbary Wars that ensued. Under John Adams Presidency in 1800, he delivered treaty tribute “gifts” (jizya) for safe travel in the Mediterranean to the Dey of Algiers as captain of the USS George Washington. During Thomas Jefferson’s first days as President , in 1801, William Bainbridge was the captain of the USS Essex in what was the first squadron after their construction was completed (consisting of five U.S. Navy frigates) sent to protect American shipping in the Mediterranean. In 1803 Jefferson sent another squadron, and at that time Bainbridge was the captain of the Philadelphia. The Philadelphia subsequently was taken captive at Tripoli and its 307 officers and crew were held captive in Tripoli for 18 months. After negotiation, 296 surviving Americans were released for a ransom tribute of $60,000 and 89 Tripolitan prisoners that the Americans had taken in resulting squirmishes.
The missing eleven (of the original 307 Americans taken as prisoners from the USS Philadelphia) included 6 who had died in captivity, and 5 who had converted to Islam much to the annoyance of the rest of the crew. The Bashaw of Tripoli offered the 5 converts the choice of staying in Tripoli and living as Muslims, or returning with the Americans. Four of them decided to renounce Islam and go home. The Bashaw of Tripoli regarded this as an insult to Islam. He called his guards to take those 4 men away…One American recalled the look of horror and despair as they passed him. Those four men did not get to go home, and they were never seen or heard from again….
Captain William Bainbridge lived to be a Naval Officer in the War of 1812.
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