Port Folio. "Blowing up of the Fire Ship Intrepid commanded by Capt. Somers in the Harbour of Tripoli on the Night of the 4th. Sept. 1804". From The Port Folio.
December 1810. Line engraving. 9 3/4 x 14. With folds as issued. Expertly repaired two inch tear into image. Backed with archival tissue. Else good condition. Ref.: E. Newbold Smith, American Naval Broadsides: 43, pl. 29 and Irving Olds, Bits and Pieces: 112.
The first Barbary War (1801-1805) was a result of President Jefferson's refusal to pay an increased tribute to Tripoli (now Libya) one of the Barbary States of North Africa along with of Algiers, Tunis and Morocco. These piratical states had been extracting tribute from the European powers since the eighteenth century, in order to ensure the safety of their vessels sailing in the Mediterranean. When the United States became independent, it was deemed prudent to take up this practice, and so the Americans began paying their own tribute in 1784. In 1801, the pasha of Tripoli demanded an increased tribute, to $225,000, from the new President. This Jefferson, who had long argued against the tribute, refused, and the pasha declared war on the United States on May 14, 1801.
The United States sent navy ships to blockade the Barbary ports and they had some success, though in 1803 the frigate USS Philadelphia ran aground in Tripoli Harbor and was captured. In February 1804, Lt. Stephen Decatur, Jr., led a small group into the harbor aboard a disguised USS Intrepid, and they managed to destroy the Philadelphia to prevent its use by their enemies. Later that year in the Americans tried to send the Intrepid, under Commandant Richard Somers, into the harbor again, this time as a fire ship to burn the enemy fleet. According to this print the ship were boarded by an overwhelming number of enemies before their plan could be carried out. Rather than be captured, enslaved, and lose the ship, Somers ordered that the magazine be explored, which killed both the boarders and the entire American crew. It is not clear that events took place in this way, for the ship may have been hit by enemy fire or perhaps blown up accidentally, but this version made for a stirring story, which promoted patriotism and increased the reputation of the U.S. Navy. Despite this set back, the continued American blockade and an overland expedition against Tripoli, led to a peace treaty on June 4, 1805.