Today, the Gold Liberty Quarter Dollar Coin remembers February 16, 1804 and the willful destruction of the Philadelphia.
In the early 1800s, President Jefferson chose to fight the pirates rather than pay their extortion fees.
In 1803, the Tripoli forces captured the frigate Philadelphia.
Lieutenant Stephen Decatur proposed a plan to either re-capture the Philadelphia or to destroy her.
In early February, he set sail on the Intrepid with his band of volunteers and accompanied by the Siren.
During the evening of February 16, 1804, Decatur and his men burned the Philadelphia in the Tripoli harbor.
The next day aboard ship, Decatur wrote of the effort to destroy the ship.
From the Life of Stephen Decatur, a Commodore in the Navy of the United States by Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, published in 1846:
OFFICIAL REPORT OF THE CAPTURE AND DESTRUCTION OF THE PHILADELPHIA.
To Commodore Edward Preble, commanding the United States Squadron in the Mediterranean.
On board the Ketch Intrepid.
At Sea, February 17th, 1804.
Sir, I have the honor to inform you, that, in pursuance of your orders, of the 31st ultimo, to proceed with this ketch off the harbor of Tripoli, there to endeavor to effect the destruction of the United States frigate Philadelphia, I arrived there in company with the United States brig Siren, Lieutenant Commandant Stewart, on the 7th, but, owing to the badness of the weather, was unable to effect anything until last evening, when we had a light breeze from the N. E.
At seven o’clock I entered the harbor with the Intrepid, the Siren having gained her station without the harbor, in a situation to support us in our retreat.
At half past nine o’clock, laid her alongside of the Philadelphia, boarded, and, after a short contest, carried her.
I immediately fired her in the store rooms, gun room, cockpit, and berth deck, and remained on board until the flames had issued from the spar deck, hatchways, and ports; and before I had got from alongside, the fire had communicated to the rigging and tops.
Previous to our boarding, they had got their tompions out, and hailed several times, but not a gun was fired.
The noise occasioned by boarding and contending for possession, although no firearms were used, gave a general alarm on shore, and on board their cruisers, which lay about a cable and a half’s length from us; and many boats filled with men lay around, but from whom we received no annoyance.
They commenced a fire on us from all their batteries on shore, but with no other effect, than one shot passing through our top gallant-sail.
The frigate was moored within half gunshot of the Bashaw’s Castle, and of their principal battery. Two of their cruisers lay within two cables’ length on the starboard quarter, and their gunboats within half gun shot on the starboard bow.
She had all her guns mounted and loaded, which, as they became hot, went off. As she lay with her broadside to the town, I have no doubt but some damage has been done by them.
Before I got out of the harbor, her cables had burnt off, and she drifted in under the Castle, where she was consumed.
I can form no judgment as to the number of men on board; but there were twenty killed. A large boat full got off, and many leaped into the sea.
We have made one prisoner, and I fear, from the number of bad wounds he has received, he will not recover, although every assistance and comfort have been given him.
I boarded with sixty men and officers, leaving a guard on board the ketch for her defense; and it is with the greatest pleasure I inform you, I had not a man killed in this affair, and but one slightly wounded.
Every support that could be given I received from my officers; and as the conduct of each was highly meritorious, I beg leave to enclose you a list of their names.
Permit me also, Sir, to speak of the brave fellows I have the honor to command, whose coolness and intrepidity were such as I trust will ever characterize the American tars.
It would be injustice in me, were I to pass over the important services rendered by Mr. Salvadore, the pilot, on whose good conduct the success of the enterprise in the greatest degree depended. He gave me entire satisfaction.
I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
The Gold Liberty Quarter Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image of the burning of the Philadelphia in the Tripoli harbor in 1804.