This Day In History: 0000-08-01

August 1, 1801

On this day in 1801 Lieutenant Andrew Sterrett, in command of the U.S. Navy frigate Enterprise, defeated the corsair Tripoli in an engagement off the North African coast. In the engagement, the Tripoli lost sixty out of eighty crew members, while the Enterprise sustained no casualties. This action demonstrated a major weakness of the Barbary pirates. Their light ships, manned by crewmen who were not well drilled in gunnery, were no match for professionally manned naval vessels.

The pasha of Tripoli had declared war on the United States on May 10, 1801 in response to America’s refusal to pay tribute in exchange for secure safe passage for its merchant fleet. America however, had not yet made its formal reply. Although Sterrett’s victory was clear, the lack of a formal state of war prevented Sterrett from claiming the ship as a prize. The Tripoli was sent home after her guns were thrown overboard. The pasha greeted the defeated captain of the Tripoli with outrage. Upon returning to port he was publicly beaten, then forced to ride through the city backward on a donkey.