“cannot keep those small galleys in port” — USS Constellation Medal

Today, the USS Constellation Medal remembers the efforts of Captain Murray and the frigate in blockading the port on July 22, 1802.

From Sketches of the Naval History of the United States, by Thomas Clark, published in 1813:


On the 22d of July 1802, an engagement took place off Tripoli between the United States’ frigate Constellation, captain Murray, and nine gun-boats.

In the space of half an hour five of the gun-boats were driven on shore, and the remainder into Tripoli. The crew of the Constellation sustained no loss.


More details found in Our Navy and the Barbary Corsairs by Gardner W. Allen, published in 1905:


The Constellation arrived at Gibraltar about May 1, and either there or at Algiers received a number of jeweled muskets and pistols which had been brought from London by an English frigate.

They were a portion of the presents procured for the Bey, and were turned over to Eaton at Tunis, May 28.

Captain Murray, having sent the Enterprise to Gibraltar with a convoy, proceeded in the Constellation off Tripoli, where he found the Boston and four Swedish frigates blockading the port.

A short time before this the Boston had an engagement with three Tripolitan gunboats, one of which was sunk, while the others took refuge under the batteries.

June 26 the Boston sailed for Malta to procure provisions and was to return at once, but did not. The eccentric Captain McNeill seems to have cruised elsewhere for several weeks, touched at Gibraltar in September, where he fell in with the Adams and took aboard her invalids, and then sailed for home, arriving at Boston in October.

While in the Mediterranean he reported to neither Dale nor Morris. The Swedish vessels also went off for provisions in July, leaving the Constellation alone.

One day, as she was lying about ten miles off the port, several Tripolitan gunboats were seen stealing along the shore from the westward. They had left Tripoli in the night to bring in an American prize which was expected from Tunis, but did not appear.

In his report to the secretary of the navy, dated July 30, 1802, Murray says:

“On the 22nd instant we discovered their whole fleet of gunboats about three miles to leeward of the town, consisting of eight sail, with the Admiral’s Galley, mounting long 24 and 18 pr. brass guns, full of men.

“We crowded all the sail we could to cut them off from the forts, and had nearly succeeded, but they plyed their oars and sails with such energy that by the time we got within gunshot of them we were within reach of the shot from their batteries, which began to fire upon us.

“However, we resolved to attack them, and stood on till we were within a mile and a half of the beach. Most of the boats had by this time got nearly on shore.

“The Admiral then began to fire upon us, as did the other galleys, when we rounded too in 12 fathoms of water (our pilot being much alarmed in standing in so near the land) and gave them a very severe fire for about half an hour, which must have done them considerable damage.

“At the same time they had an army of at least 6000 men drawn up along the beach to protect them, which our shot put to the route.

“As the wind was in such a direction that we could not lay longer in our wanted position, we were obliged to haul off, when they got up under the walls of the town.”

In the same letter Murray, in speaking of the difficulties of blockading Tripoli, says:

” We cannot keep those small galleys in port, and they being in every respect so like all the small craft that navigate these seas and lurk so near the land, that the best security for our commerce will be to offer convoy from port to port to such vessels as wish to avail of our protection, and if we are still to carry on this kind of warfare, be assured, Sir, that it will be necessary to increase our force with brigs or schooners which will be fully adequate to any force they can have to encounter with belonging to Tripoli, and they can pursue their small craft in any direction where frigates cannot venture, provided they have sweeps to row after them, for few of their Galleys carry more than 8 guns and 40 men. In the Winter season they seldom venture out, nor will it be safe for us to be on this station in that season.”

August 14 he wrote: ” I have turned off a number of merchant vessels since I have been on the station, but the little craft from Tunis will now and then get in, in defiance of me, by rowing close under the land, and furnish them with many supplies, and I am not satisfied in my mind that this blockade can answer any good purpose.”

Captain Murray was inclined to favor the policy of buying peace with the Barbary powers.

July 31 three Danish frigates appeared and remained off the town twelve days; Murray was unable to ascertain what their business was.

Shortly after their departure the Constellation was obliged to repair to Malta for a temporary supply of water and provisions.

She had been blockading Tripoli as closely as possible for over two months, but as the Swedes had not yet returned, the town was now left entirely unguarded.

Later it was necessary to proceed to Leghorn for further supplies. The Swedes soon made peace, and Tripoli was unmolested for the rest of the year.


The USS Constellation Medal shows with an image of the sailing frigate, circa 1890.

USS Constellation Medal