Page images

ten power over his subjects, the wretched and degraded race of beings, who were dragging out a miserable existence in Tripoli. The hopes of the American prisoners increased, as those of the Bashaw and his troops diminished. The terms for ransom were lowered more than two-thirds; but Preble and Decatur had become stern negotiators, and Mr. Lear chose to let them continue their diplomatic skill. The prospects of a protracted warfare—at an immense expense to the American government; the tedious and gloomy imprisonment of nearly half a , thousand Americans in the dungeons of a barbarian, amongst whom were some of the noblest hearts that

ever beat in human bosoms—the probability that

more American blood must be shed in effecting a complete subjugation of the yet unyielding Bashaw, induced Com. Preble to offer the sum of eighty thousand dollars as a ransom for the prisoners, and ten thousand dollars as presents, provided he would enter into a solemn and perpetual treaty with the American government never to demand an annual tribute as the price of peace. The infatuated and infuriated Bashaw rejected these proposals with affected disdain, mingled with real fear. Com. Preble had nothing now to do but to renew his naval operations. He could entertain no rational hopes from the romantic and chivalreus attempt of Gen. Eaton, who had entered Derne with the Ex-Bashaw Caramalli; and with whom he had made a treaty. This unfortunate prince, with

[ocr errors]

his gallant general, and his rabble army could no sooner have entered the city of Tripoli by land, guarded by more than 20,000 well armed Arabs, than one of the reigning Bashaw's gallies could have sunk the frigate Constitution.” He, therefore, left it wholly with the American consul to arrange affairs with the august court of Tripoli, while he was determined to “manage his own affairs in his own way,” with his squadron in the harbour. Capt. Decatur, the next in command to Com. Preble, his confidential adviser, and the idol of every American in the squadron, stimulated the whole to the exertion of their utmost energy. To repel the idea that the pacific offer of the Commodore arose from apprehensions of defeat, the bombards occasionally disgorged their destructive contents into the city; when upon the 27th Aug. another general attack was made with such effect as to induce the Bashaw to renew negotiations for peace, but nothing definitive was effected. Upon the 3d September, another attack was made, to the very great injury of the Bashaw's batteries, castle and city. Although but few Americans had lost their lives in the various battles, yet the vessels of the squadron had suffered very considerable injury. Capt. Decatur proposed that the Ketch Intrepid, so often mentioned, which he had captured himself, and with which he had destroyed the Philadelphia frigate, should be converted into a fire-ship, and sent into the midst of the enemy’s gallies and gun-boats to complete their destruction. To this the Commodore acceded—loaded her with one hundred barrels of powder, and one hundred and fifty shells ; and fixed upon the night of the memorable 4th of September, for the daring and hazardous attempt. Capt. Decatur would gladly have commanded the expedition, and probably from his seniority might have claimed she command; but his generosity to his beloved brother officers induced him to wave an opportunity of adding another to the numerous laurels that composed the garland of victory upon his brow. Capt. Somers volunteered his services and was designated as the commander; he was immediately joined by Lieuts. Wadsworth and Israel, and a sufficient number of gallant seamen. Although Capt. Decatur was but a spectator of the awfully tremendous scene that followed, the reader may be gratified by a succinct account of it as related by an accomplished eye-witness, to the writer. The evening was unusually calm, and the sea scarcely presented the smallest wave to the eye. That part of the squadron which was not designated as a convoy to the Intrepid, lay in the outer harbour. Two swift sailing boats were attached to the Intrepid, and the Argus, Vixen and Nautilus, were to conduct them to their destination, and receive the crew after the match was applied to the fatal train. At a little before nine o’clock, the Intrepid, followed by the convoy, moved slowly and silently into the inner harbour. Two of the enemy's heavy gallies, with more than a hundred men each, encountered the fire-ship, unconscious that she was pregnant with concealed magazines of death. They captured her of course, as the little crew could not withstand such an overwhelming force for a moment. It being the first prize the Tripolitans had made, the exulting captors were about bearing her and the prisoners triumphantly into port. The crew were to be immured in the same dungeon with Capt. Bainbridge and his crew, who had worn away eleven tedious months in dismal slavery. To Somers, Wadsworth and Israel,

* See Chap" VIII. However much the reader may admire the almost unparallélod exertions of Eaton in the causeof Caramalli, and regret the misfortunes of both, still the cool and reflecting statesman could never give his sanction to a project so extremely difficult of accomplishment, with means so wholly incompetent. Eaton will never be forgotten; but he will be remembered as a victim to his own romantic ambition.

“One hour of virtuous liberty was worth
A whole eternity of bondage,”—

and instant death, far preferable to Turkish captivity. It is still left to conjecture, and must always be so left, by whom their instantaneous release from slavery and from mortality was occasioned. It is with an agitated heart and a trembling hand that it is recorded, that the Intrepid suddenly exploded and a few gallant Americans with countless numbers of barbarians, met with one common and undistinguished destruction.

It is generally understood by American readers, that Capt. Somers, his officers and crew, after being captured, mutually agreed to make voluntary sacrifices of themselves, to avoid slavery and to destroy the enemy. In support of this, the writer is authorised to state, that Capt. Somers, directly before entering into this enterprise, declared that “he would never be captured by the enemy, or go into Turkish bondage.” It is entirely beyond the reach of the most fertile imagination to form an adequate conception of the reality of this awful scene. The silence that preceded the approach of the Intrepid, was followed by the discharge of cannon and musketry, and ended by the fearful and alarming shock of the explosion. Every living Christian and Mahometan, within view or hearing, stood aghast and awe-struck. For the first, the only, and the last time in his life, Capt. Decatur was excited to a pitch of agonizing distress. With agitated strides he paced his deck —cast his eyes into the harbour where his gallant brother, thirty days before, was treacherously slain, and contemplated upon the fractured and mangled bodies of Somers, Wadsworth and Israel, sinking to a watery bed with him. If tears may ever be permitted to bedev the cheek of a warrior, it was a time to weep. If he could have avenged the deaths of his brothers by profession, as he had that of a brother by kindred, not a moment would have been spent in unavailing grief. But barbarous enemies and endeared comrades met with one common destiny, and all was an outspread scene of desolation. The remaining part of the night was as silent as the season that

« PreviousContinue »