By Frank R. Stockton
Originally published in 1896
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003
NEW JERSEY is very intimate with the ocean. For nearly the whole of her length, from Cape May to Sandy Hook, the waves of the Atlantic roll and roar. Wherever one may be in this State, it is not necessary to travel very far in order to smell the fresh sea air.
It is true that but few of the great commercial vessels that the presence of naval vessels in her waters is due leave and arrive at the ports of New Jersey, and to the fact that she is part owner of the Bay of New York; but it is also true, that, although she has not sent forth ships to fight the battles of her country upon the ocean wave, she has sent out to command those ships some of the best-known men who have ever worn the American naval uniform.
One of the first occasions in which our naval vessels romantic nature, though not particularly calculated to played a part in foreign waters was of a rather raise our country's flag in our own estimation or that of other nations.
It was at the end of the eighteenth century, when we had begun to trade in various parts of the world, that our merchant vessels sailing on the Mediterranean were greatly molested by the pirates of what was called the Barbary Coast. The half-civilized and warlike people of Tripoli, Algiers, Tunis, and Morocco, had long been in the habit of sending out their armed vessels to prey upon the ships of all civilized countries; and when American ships entered the Mediterranean, they soon found out the state of affairs. Several vessels were captured, and the crews were sent on shore and imprisoned or enslaved.
Nearly all the European maritime powers had defended their commerce against these savage pirates, not by great guns and vessels of war, but by humbly paying tribute. Every year these great nations sent money and gifts to the Dey of Algiers, the Bey of Tunis, and the other rascals; and in consideration of this tribute, their vessels were graciously allowed to sail on the Mediterranean without molestation.
It was not long before the government of the United States saw very plainly that it must pay tribute, conquer the Barbary States, or quietly submit to the capture 216 of all American merchantmen which might sail into the Mediterranean. The easiest thing to do was to pay the tribute; and as the other civilized nations did this, the United States followed their example.
In the year 1800 a United States vessel bearing the name of "George Washington," and commanded by William Bainbridge, a Jerseyman who had been at sea ever since he was fourteen years old, sailed to Algiers, carrying on board the ship which bore the name of the great man who had made his country free and independent of the most powerful nation of the earth, the tribute which was annually due from the United States to an African sovereign, the Dey of Algiers.
This commission of the United States vessel seemed more humiliating from the fact that our country had just come out of a war with France, in which our frigate "Constellation " had defeated and captured one of the vessels of that great naval power. But we had agreed to pay for the privilege of trading in the Mediterranean, and, although the countries of the Barbary Coast had no more right in that sea than Spain, France, or Italy, they chose to assert their right, and we had acknowledged it.
When Bainbridge had arrived at Algiers, and had handed over the tribute which he had brought, he supposed that his business was over, and prepared to sail away; but the Dey, who was a potentate accustomed to ask for what he wanted and to get it, informed the United States commander that he wished to send him upon an errand.
These Barbary powers were all subject to the great head of the Mohammedan nations, the Sultan of Turkey and the Dey desired to send an ambassador to his imperial master, and as the "George Washington" was about to sail, he determined to make use of her.
When Captain Bainbridge was informed that the Dey commanded him to take the ambassador to Constantinople, he very naturally declined, and thereupon a great hubbub arose. The Dey informed Bainbridge, that, as the United States paid him tribute, its people were his slaves; they were bound, as were his other subjects, to obey his commands, and to do what he told them without hesitation or question. If they were not his slaves, why did they come here, meekly bearing money and other gifts to their master?
All this had no effect in convincing Captain Bainbridge that he was a slave of the Dey of Algiers, and bound to go upon his errands; but there was an American consul there, and he saw that the matter was very serious indeed. The harbor was commanded by forts mounted with heavy guns, and if these were brought to hear upon the "George Washington," she would certainly be blown to pieces without much chance of defending herself; and, moreover, such a conflict would surely bring about a war with Algiers, and it was not at all desirable that an American officer, bound upon friendly business, should provoke war between his country and another.
This reason was a very bitter dose for Captain Bainbridge; but after consideration he found himself obliged to take it. If he refused, there would be a United States ship the less; and he knew not how many American ships, now sailing without fear upon the Mediterranean, might be seized and burned, and their crews thrown into horrible slavery. He had no right to precipitate anything of this sort, and consequently, under protest, he agreed to take the Algerine ambassador to Constantinople. But this was not all the high-minded Dey demanded. He insisted that when the "George Washington" sailed out of the harbor, she should sail, not as a United States vessel, but as a ship of Algiers, and that she should carry on the mainmast, where generally floated the stars and stripes, the Algerine flag, while he kindly consented that the flag of her own country might float from the foremast. It was as difficult to refuse this second demand as it was the first, and so the "George Washington" went out of Algiers with the pirate's flag proudly floating from its mainmast.
As soon as he got out of sight of land, Bainbridge hauled down the Algerine flag and put up his own; but this was a very small satisfaction and not particularly honorable.