Four Naval Heroes In One Chapter
FIGHTS WITH THE PIRATES OF THE GULF AND THE CORSAIRS OF THE
WE have so far been reading the story of legal warfare; now let us turn
to that of the wild warfare of the pirate ships. Pirates swarmed during
and after the War of 1812, and the United States had its hands full in
dealing with them. They haunted the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean
Sea, and they went back to their old
bad work in the Mediterranean. They
kept our naval leaders busy enough for a number of years.
The first we shall speak of are the Lafittes, the famous sea-rovers of
the Gulf of Mexico. Those men had their hiding places in the lowlands of
Louisiana, where there are reedy streams and grassy islands by the
hundreds, winding in and out in a regular network. From these lurking
places the pirate ships would dash out to capture vessels and then hurry
back to their haunts.
The Lafittes (Jean and Pierre) had a whole fleet of pirate ships, and
were so daring that they walked the streets of New Orleans as if that
city belonged to them, and boldly sold their stolen goods in its marts,
and nobody meddled with them.
But the time came when they were attacked in their haunts and the whole
gang was broken up. This was near the end of the war, when the
government had some ships to spare. After that they helped General
Jackson in the celebrated battle of New Orleans, and fought so well that
they were forgiven and were thanked for their services.
When the War of 1812 was over many of the privateers became pirates. A
privateer, you know, is something like a pirate. He robs one nation,
while a pirate robs all. So hundreds of those men became sea-robbers.
After 1814 the seas of the West Indies were full of pirates. There was
no end of hiding places among the thousand islands of these seas, where
the pirates could bring their prizes and enjoy their wild revels. The
warm airs, the ripe fruits and wild game of those shores made life easy
and pleasant, and prizes were plentiful on the seas.
When the war ended the United States gained a fine trade with the West
Indies. But many of the ships that sailed there did not come home again,
though there were no hurricanes to sink them. And some that did come
home had been chased by ships that spread the rovers' black flag. So it
was plain enough that pirates were at work.
For years they had it their own way, with no one to trouble them. The
government for years let them alone. But in time they grew so daring
that in 1819 a squadron of warships was sent after them, under Commodore
Perry, the hero of Lake Erie. Poor Perry caught the yellow fever and
died, and his ships came home without doing anything.
After that the pirates were let alone for two years. Now-a-days they
would not have been let alone for two weeks, but things went more slowly
then. No doubt the merchants who sent cargoes to sea complained of the
dreadful doings of the pirates, but the government did not trouble
itself much, and the sea-robbers had their own way until 1821.
By that time it was felt that something must be done, and a small fleet
of pirate hunters was sent to the West Indies. It included the famous
sloop-of-war Hornet, the one which had fought the Peacock, and the
brig Enterprise, which Decatur had been captain of in the Moorish war.
The pirates were brave enough when they had only merchant ships to deal
with, but they acted like cowards when they found warships on their
track. They fled in all directions, and many of their ships and barges
were taken. After that they kept quiet for a time, but soon they were at
their old work again.
In 1823 Captain David Porter, he who had fought so well in the Essex,
was sent against them. The brave young Farragut was with him. He brought
a number of barges and small vessels, so that he could follow the
sea-robbers into their hiding places.
One of these places was found at Cape Cruz, on Porto Rico. Here the
pirate captain and his men fought like tigers, and the captain's wife
stood by his side and fought as fiercely as he did. After the fight was
over the sailors found a number of caves used by the pirates. In some of
them were great bales of goods, and in others heaps of human bones. All
this told a dreadful story of robbery and murder.
Another fight took place at a haunt of pirates on the coast of Cuba,
where Lieutenant Allen, a navy officer, had been killed the year before
in an attack on the sea-robbers.
Here there were over seventy pirates and only thirty-one Americans. But
the sailors cried "Remember Allen!" and dashed so fiercely at the pirate
vessels, that the cowardly crews jumped overboard and tried to swim
ashore. But the hot-blooded sailors rowed in among them and cut fiercely
with their cutlasses, so that hardly any of them escaped. Their leader,
who was named Diabolito, or "Little Devil," was one of the killed.
In this way the pirate hordes were broken up, after they had robbed and
murdered among the beautiful West India islands for many years. After
that defeat they gave no more trouble. Among the pirates was Jean
Lafitte, one of the Lafitte brothers, of whose doings you have read
above. After the battle of New Orleans he went to Texas, and in time
became a pirate captain again. As late as 1822 his name was the terror
of the Gulf. Then he disappeared and no one knew what had become of him.
He may have died in battle or have gone down in storm.
But the pirates of the West Indies and the Gulf were not the only ones
the United States had to deal with. You have read the story of the
Moorish corsairs and of the fighting at Tripoli. Now I have something
more to tell about them; for when they heard that the United States was
at war with England, they tried their old tricks again, capturing
American sailors and selling them for slaves.
They had their own way until the war was over. Then two squadrons of war
vessels were sent to the Mediterranean, one under Commodore Bainbridge,
who had commanded the Constitution when she fought the Java, and the
other under Commodore Decatur, the gallant sailor who had burned the
Philadelphia in the harbor of Tripoli.
Decatur got there first, and it did not take him long to bring the Moors
to their senses. The trouble this time was with Algiers, not with
Tripoli. Algiers was one of the strongest of the Moorish states.
On the 15th of June, 1815, Decatur came in sight of the most powerful of
the Algerine ships, a forty-six gun frigate, the Mashouda. Its
commander was Rais Hammida, a fierce and daring fellow, who was called
"the terror of the Mediterranean." He had risen from the lowest to the
highest place in the navy, and had often shown his valor in battle. But
his time for defeat had now come.
When the Moorish admiral found himself amid a whole squadron of American
warships, he set sail with all speed and made a wild dash for Algiers.
But he had faster ships in his track and was soon headed off.
The bold fellow had no chance at all, with half-a-dozen great ships
around him, but he made a fine fight for his life. He did not save
either his ship or his life, for a cannon ball cut him squarely in two;
and when his lieutenant tried to run away, he came across the brig
Epervier, which soon settled him. But the Mashouda had made a good
fight against big odds, and deserved praise.
After that another Algerian ship was taken, and then Decatur sailed for
Algiers. When he made signals the captain of the port came out. A
black-bearded, high and mighty fellow he was.
"Where is your navy?" asked Decatur.
"It's all right," said the Algerian, "safe in some friendly port."
"Not all of it, I fancy," said Decatur. "I have your frigate Mashouda
and your brig Estido, and your admiral Hammida is killed."
"I don't believe it," said the Algerian.
"I can easily prove it," said Decatur, and he sent for the first
lieutenant of the Mashouda.
When the captain of the port saw him and heard his story, he changed his
tone. His haughty manner passed away, and he begged that fighting should
cease until a treaty could be made on shore.
"Fighting will not cease until I have the treaty," said Decatur,
sternly; "and a treaty will not be made anywhere but on board my ship."
And so it was. The captain of the port came out next day with authority
to make a treaty. But the captain did not want to return the property
taken from the American ships, saying that it had been scattered among
"I can't help that. It must be returned or paid for," said Decatur.
Then the captain did not want to pay $10,000 for a vessel that had been
captured, and he wanted tribute from the United States. He told Decatur
what a great man his master, "Omar the Terrible," was, and asked for a
three hours truce.
"Not a minute," said Decatur. "If your ships appear before the treaty is
signed by the Dey, and the American prisoners are on board my ship, I
shall capture every one of them."
The only concession Decatur would make was to promise to return the
Mashouda. But this was to be taken as a gift from the Americans to the
Dey, and as such it must not appear in the treaty. The Algerian, finding
that all his eloquence was wasted on the unyielding Yankee, hurried
ashore with the treaty, arranging to display a white flag in case of its
An hour after he left an Algerian man-of-war was seen out to sea, and
the American vessels got ready for action. But before anything was done
the captain of the port came out with a white flag. He brought the
treaty and the prisoners. That ended the trouble with Algiers. When the
ten freed captives reached the deck some knelt down and gave thanks to
God, while others hastened to kiss the American flag.
Then Decatur sailed to Tunis and Tripoli and made their rulers come to
terms. From that day to this no American ship has been troubled by the
corsairs of Barbary.