A very rare engraving depicting one of the most exciting events in the history of the Barbary Wars, the destruction of the U.S.S. “Philadelphia “ by Stephen Decatur in the harbor of Tripoli.
Copper-plate engraving, uncolored, depicting the destruction of the U.S.S. Philadelphia by Stephen Decatur in the harbor of Tripoli, trimmed to within the plate image, with loss to title and imprint at foot, neat repairs to image, 10 1/8 x 14 3/4 in. (Trimmed to within the image area and also shaved with loss to the title and imprint at foot, neat repairs to image area)
Provenance: The Estate of David Spinney.
Lord Nelson is said to have called Decatur’s action “the most bold and daring act of the age.” The engraving shows the Philadelphia on fire in the Tripoli harbor, with a huge column of fire and smoke rising from it. The harbor and city of Tripoli are seen in the background, and in the left foreground is the Intrepid, and smaller boats, preparing to make their escape after their heroic act.
The First Barbary War (1801-1805) began when the Pasha of Tripoli demanded payment from the United States in order to keep American shipping from being attacked in Mediterranean waters (a similar tribute had been paid by the U.S. to Algiers earlier). The new President, Thomas Jefferson, refused, the Pasha declared war, and a squadron of American ships under Commodore Richard Dale was sent to Tripoli to blockade the coast. In October, 1803 one of those ships, the Philadelphia - commanded by Captain (later Commodore) William bainbridge, ran aground in the harbor of Tripoli. The ship surrendered, and the officers and men were taken captive. The Philadelphia itself, however, was deemed too valuable to fall into enemy hands and the decision was made to destroy it. On February 16, 1804, a team of AMerican sailors, commanded by Stephen Decatur, Jr., recaptured the ship and burned her in the harbor of Tripoli.
This engraving is indicated as being “sold in Leghorn,” the Anglicized name of the city of Livorno, on the northwest coast of Italy. Giovanni Battista or “John B.” Guerrazzi also published another engraving recording the Barbary Wars, showing Commodore Preble’s attack on Tripoli (see Olds 107 and 108). Though not formally allied with the United States, the Italian states were also antagonized by the Barbary pirates, and it is not surprising that the Italians would celebrate American successes. The fact that Italian printmakers commemorated these actions with engravings made in a northern Italian port town, and that these engravings survive at all today, is quite remarkable. OCLC lists only a photograph of the present print, in the Library of Congress, which does not have a copy of the original print.
American Naval Broadsides 27; Grolier United States Navy 1776 to 1815, 24; cf OCLC 76958776; Olds Bits and Pieces of American History 104.