Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Richard Somers & the Barbary Pirates

Master Commandant Richard Somers, USN
b. September 15, 1778 Somers Point, New Jersey d. September 4, 1804, Tripoli

Richard Somers & The Barbary Pirates - 200 Years at Martyr's Square

Master Commandant Richard Somers, USN is buried outside the walls of the old castle fort at Tripoli in what is now known as Martyr's Square, the epicenter of the Libyan revolution.

The bones of Richard Somers lie in the hard, sunbaked sand alongside the remains of two other officers - Lt. Henry Wadsworth and Lt. Charles Israel, not far from the grave that contains the remains of the volunteer seamen who died together aboard the USS Intrepid in Tripoli Harbor on September 4, 1804.

The recent revolution in Libya, the passage in the House of Representatives of the Rogers/LoBiondo Amendment to the 2012 Defense Authorization bill calling for the repatriation of these men, and its consideration by the Senate and evaluation by the Joint Armed Services Committee Conference has raised hopes that the remains of these American heroes will be someday repatriated home.

Since all three of the published biographies of Richard Somers - by James F. Cooper, Dr. J. B. Somers, M.D. and Barbara E. Koedel are currently out of print, I have pieced together this synthesis of the previously published works with the latest known research, put it into chronological order and compiled it all together, with the anticipation of increased public interest in the subject, and the hope that it will someday be published and perhaps made into a documentary film.

William E. Kelly, Jr.
(609) 425-6297



By Dr. J. B. Somers, MD

Life of RICHARD SOMERS, A MASTER COMMANDANT IN THE U.S. NAVY, Collated by J.B. Somers, M.D. (Philadelphia, Collins, 1886, 2004, ACHS).

(Dedicated to Mrs. Hannah Somers Davis, now in her ninety first year of her age, whose abiding interest in Somers’s has stimulated the writer to perform this LABOR OF LOVE AND DUTY for a distinguished member of the family.)

THERE are in America two distinct families by the name of Somers. One of English and the other of Germanic origin. The latter are not so numerous as the former, and a tradition exists among them that they too were from English parentage, that the progenitor of their family, sojourning in Germany, married, and hence settled in the Fatherland...

In England, the name is an old and honored one, furnishing a chancellor, according to Campbell, “eminent as a lawyer, a statesman, and a man of letters.” Of the same family was the famous admiral, Sir George Somers, the discover of the Bermudas or Somers Islands...

John Somers, the immigrant to this country, was born in the city of Worester, England, about the year 1640. this was the home also of the chancellor, with whom he was a contemporary...

The Somers family “had long been owners of a small estate in the parish of Seven Stroke, in the county of Gloucester...the site of a dissolved nunnery, called White Ladies. This was situated a short distance beyond the walls of the city of Worester. After the expulsions of the nuns, the dormitory remained entire, and the old hall and refectory had been fitted up into a modern mansion. The property had been granted to the Somers family at the Reformaton, and here they received Queen Elizabeth in 1585; the bed in which she slept, and the cup from which she drank, being preserved by them as precious relicts, even when they took to the Republican side.”

John Somers...embarked for America, fully persuaded of the truth of the principles of George Fox. He is said to have married previously to his departure to a women of Irish extraction, who on her passage to this country gave birth to her first born, but mother and child died and were buried in mid-ocean. Upon his arrival he became a resident of what was then called Upper Dublin, Pennsylvania, now called Somerton. Whilst located there, he married Hannah Hodgkins, who was also a native of the city of Worcester and a member of the Society of Friends. Here their first child was born on October 7, 1685, and duly recorded in the books of the meeting...

We are told by one authority that “in 1681 two ships sailed from London and one from Bristol for the river Delaware, in which there were many Friends.” The probabilities are that one of these bore the progenitor of the Somers’s to our shores.

....at “the first court held at Portsmouth, Cape May County, March 20, 1693, John Somers was appointed supervisor of the roads, and constable or Great Egg Harbor.” He remained a member of the Dublin Meeting long after his settlement at Egg Harbor. In the journeys to and fro the Indian trails and bridle paths were followed from the sea-shore to the Delaware River, the distance being increased by circuitous windings around the heads of rivers and streams. These were not accomplished without considerable danger, as the woods abounded with wolves, panthers, and bears. The times, however, had their compensations, since the deer roamed the forests, wild fowl were abundant, whilst the streams and bays were teaming with fish, oysters and clams.

November 30, 1695, John Somers purchased of Thos. Budd 3000 acres of land for the sum of L240. He died 1723, and was buried on the plantation.

The eldest son of John Somers was Richard 1., born March 1, 1693, who was the grandfather of Lieutenant Richard.

Richard (I) married Miss Judith Letart White, of Acadia French-Canadian extraction….The result of the union of Richard and Judith LEtart was nine children, the sixth one being Richard 2. Somers, the father of the subject of this memoir.

Col. Richard Somers was born November 24, 1737. He was for the times considered a man of extraordinary parts. As a surveyor he located a great deal of land in what is now known as Atlantic County.

He was a colonel in the militia, a judge of the county court, and his name appears among those of the members from his native county in the Provincial Congress for the year 1775; though it would seem that he did not take his seat.

Col. Somers was an active Whig in the Revolution, and was such employed, in the field and otherwise, more especially during the first years of the great struggle for national existence. His influence, in the part of New Jersey where he resided, was of sufficient importance to render him particularly obnoxious to the attacks of the Tories, who were in the practice of seizing prominent Whigs, and of carrying them within the British lines; and Great Egg Harbor being much exposed to descents from the side of the sea, Col. Somers was induced to remove to Philadelphia for protection. As this removal most have taken place after the town had been evacuated by Sir Henry Clinton, it could not have taken place earlier than the summer of 1778; and there is good reason for thinking that it occurred two or three seasons later. Here Col. Somers remained for several years, or nearly down to the period of his death, which event occurred October 22, 1974. He married Sophia Stillwell, of Cape May County, December 3, 1761, by whom he had three children, Constant, Sarah and Richard. 3.

Constant Somers married a Miss Sarah Hand, of Cape May County. He was the first collector for the district and port of Great Egg Harbor, a man of sterling integrity and personal worth. He died in 1797, at the age of thirty-seven years, leaving a son and daughter. The former, who bore his father’s name, was accidentally killed at Cronstadt, Russia, August 29, 1794, whilst yet a youth of seventeen, by falling into the hold of a ship. The daughter, Sarah S. Somers, married first Wm. Leaming and afterward Nicholas Corson, both of Cape May. The hon. J. F. Leaming, M. D. of that county is a son by the first marriage. His mother was the last to bear the name of Somers in that branch of the family, since by her marriage the name became extinct.

Dr. Leaming is in the possession of a very valuable souvenir. There are but three locks of the hair of General Washington now known to exist; one is in Richmond Lodge No. 4, A. F. A. M. Another is owned by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, and a third is in a ring that was presented by Washington to Lieut. Richard Somers, and through whom it descended to its present owner.

Sarah, the daughter of Col. Somers married Capt. Wm. Jones Keen, of Philadelphia, and died in 1850, leaving no issue.

Lieut. Richard Somers, the youngest child of Col. Richard Somers, was born in Somers Point, September 15, 1778. the house is still standing where he first saw the light, and until recently the door lintels bore dates, and the names of the persons who carved them, of upwards a century ago. It has recently been remodeled, and is now occupied by George C. Anderson.

As a matter of historical interest, to show a portraiture of the home of Somers during his lifetime, and but shortly after the death of his father, I include the following advertisement, clipped from Claypoole’s ‘American Daily Advertiser’ for Friday, January 10, 1800.


That well-known pleasantly situated place at Great Egg-harbor Inlet, formerly the Residence of Col. Richard Somers, containing four hundred acres of upland and three of meadow and marsh.

The dwelling house is commodious, with suitable out buildings, and well calculated for store and tavern keeping.

N. B. There are four apple and one peach orchard all in good repair; other advantages from nature, of fish, fowl and oysters unexcelled by any place in the country.

Apply to WM. JONES KEEN, Front St., or on the premises.

At the time that Mr. Keen was seeking a tenant for the “Old House at Home,” Lieut. Somers was voyaging in the frigate United States with Commodore Barry.

After receiving a preliminary education Somers first went to school in Philadelphia, and was subsequently sent to Burlington, where there was an academy of some merit for the period. At the latter place the boy continued until near the time of the death of his father, if not quite down to the day of that event.

There is considerable uncertainty thrown around the precise period when Somers first went to sea. His nearest surviving relative is of the opinion that he had never entered upon the profession when he joined the navy, but this opinion is met by the precise knowledge of one of his shipmates in the frigate in which he first served, who affirms that the young man was a very respectable seaman on coming on board. The result of our inquiries is to convince us that Somers must have gone to sea somewhere about the year 1794, or shortly after the death of his father, and when he himself was probably between fifteen and sixteen years of age. The latter period indeed agrees with that named by the relative mentioned, as his age when he went to sea, though it is irreconcilable with the date of the equipment of the man-of-war he first joined, and that of his own warrant in the navy.

From the best information in our possession, therefore, we are led to believe that the boy sailed first as a hand and then as a mate, if not as a master, on board a coaster, owned by some of his own family, of which more than one plied between Great Egg Harbor and the ports of New York and Philadelphia. This accords, too with his well-known love of adventure and native resolution, as well as his orphaned condition; though he inherited from his father a respectable property, including a portion of the original family estate, as well as of lands in the interior of Pennsylvania.

In his boyhood and youth Somers was remarkable for a chivalrous sense of honor, great mildness of manner and disposition, mingled with a singular firmness of purpose. His uncle, John Somers, who was the head of the family, and as such maintained an authority that was more usual in the last century than it is to-day, is described as an austere accustomed to meet with the greatest deference amongst his kindred, not only for all of his commands, but for most of his opinions. The firmness and decision shown by his nephew Richard, however, in a controversy about a dog, in which the uncle was wrong and the boy right, are said to have astonished the whole family, and to have created a profound respect in the senior for the junior, that continued as long as the two lived. Richard could not have been more than twelve when this little incident occurred.

Somers received his warrant as a midshipman in the spring of 1798. This was virtually at the commencement of the present navy, the Ganges 24, Capt. Dale, the first vessel that got out, being ordered to sea, May 22d of that year. The Ganges was soon followed by the Constellation 38, and Delaware 20, the three ships cruising on the coast to prevent the depredations committed by the French privateers.

The next vessel out was the Untied States, 44, bearing the broad pennant of Com. John Barry, the senior officer of the service. To this vessel Somers was attached, making his first cruise in her.

The United States was then, as now, one of the finest frigates that floats. Equipped in Philadelphia, then the capitol of the country, and the center of civilization, and commanded by an experienced and excellent officer, no young man could have commenced his professional career under more favorable auspices than was the case with Somers. The ship had four lieutenants, Ross 1st, Mullowney 2d, Barron 3d, Steward, 4th. The two latter are now the senior officers of the service. Among the messmates in the steerage, he had for friends and associates Decatur and Caldwell, both of Philadelphia. It is a proof that Somers had been previously to sea, that, on joining this ship, he was named as master’s mate of the hold, a situation uniformly given in that day to the most experienced and trustworthy midshipman. It was while thus associated that the close connection was generated between Somers and Decatur, which, for the remainder of their joint lives, rendered them generous professional rivals and fast personal friends.

The United States sailed on her first cruise early in July 1798, going to the eastward, where she collected a small squadron, that had come out of the ports of New England, and with which she soon after proceeded to the West Indies……Shortly after Mr. Ross left the ship, and Messrs. Mullowney and Barron were promoted. This occurred in the spring of 1700, when Mr. Stewart became 1st lieutenant of the frigate, Mr. Edward Meade 2d, Somers 3d, Decatur 4th...Mr. Stewart being placed in command of the Experiment 12, in the year 1800, Somers ended the war as a second lieutenant of the ship he had joined as midshipman about three years before...

Lueut. Somers left a journal of a cruise in the frigate United States, commencing with Dec. 13th, 1800……

….By this time, however, the want of small vessels was much felt in carrying on the Tripolitan war, and a law providing for the construction of four vessels of not more than sixteen guns, passed in the session of 1802-3. These vessels were the Siren 16, Argus 16, Nautilus 12, Visen 12. As the country at that day had no proper yards, it was customary to assign certain officers to superintend the building and equipping of vessels on the stocks, the selections being commonly made from those it was intended should subsequently serve in them. On this occasion Decatur was attached to the Argus; it being understood he was to take her to the Mediterranean and give her to Hull, receiving the Enterprise from the latter in exchange, as the junior officer. Stewart was given the Siren, as his due; Smith got the Vixen, and Somers the Nautilus.... (Spring of 1803)

The Nautilus, the first and only command of Somers [other than the Intrepid], was a beautiful schooner of about 160 to 170 tons, and mounted twelve 18 lb. cannonades, with two sixes, having a crew of from 75 to 95 souls. This was a handsome situation for a young sailor of twenty-four, who had followed his profession but about nine years, and who had been in the navy but five, having commenced a midshipman. In that day, however, non one envied Somers, or believed him unduly favored, for he was thought to be an old officer, though he had not been half the time in the service which is now employed in the subordinate situations of midshipman and passed midshipman.

The Mediterranean squadron, which sailed in the summer and autumn of 1803, was that which subsequently became so celebrated under the orders of Preble. It consisted of the Constitution 44, Preble’s own ship, the Philadelphia, 38, Capt. Bainbridge; Argus 16, fist Lieut. Com. Decatur, then Lieut. Com. Hull; Siren 16, Lieut. Com. Stewart; Vixen 12, Lieut. Com. Smith; Enterprise, 12, first Lieut. Com. Hull, then Lieut. Com. Decatur; and Nautilus 12, Lieut. Com. Somers. These vessels did not proceed to their station in squadron, but they left home as they got ready. The Enterprise was already out; but of the ships fitting, the Nautilus was the first equipped and the first to sail. Somers left America early in the summer, and anchored in Gibraltar Bay on 27th of July. The remaining vessels arrived at different times…..

….Preble made a formal declaration of the blockade of Tripoli, before which he believed that the Philadelphia and Vixen were then cruising; though, unknown to him, the latter had been temporarily detached, and the Philadelphia was in possession of the enemy….

A spirit of high emulation existed among the young commanders by whom Preble now found himself supported. Hull was the oldest in years, and he had hardly reached the prime of his life, while Stewart, Smith, Somers and Decatur were all under five and twenty. With the exception of the commodore, no commanding officer was married, and most of them were bound together by the ties of intimate friendships. In a word, their lives, as yet, had been prosperous; the past left little opportunity for that spirit of selfishness which is so apt to generate quarrels, to get possession of minds so free and temperaments so ardent.

This is the proper place to allude to a private adventure of Somers, about the existence of which there would seem to have been no doubt, though like so much that belonged to this interesting man, its details are involved in obscurity. While at Syracuse, where the American vessels made their principle rendezvous, he was walking in the vicinity of the town in the accompany with two brother officers, when five men carrying swords, who were afterwards ascertained to be soldiers of the garrison, made an attack on the party with an intent to rob. One of the gentlemen was provided with a dirk, but Somers and the other were totally unarmed. The officer with the dirk used the weapon so vigorously as soon to bring down one assailant, while Somers grappled with another. In the struggle Somers seized the blade of the antagonist’s sword, and was severely cut in the hand by the efforts of the robber to recover it; but the latter did not succeed, the weapon being wrestled from him, and plunged into his own body. This decided the matter, the three remaining robbers taking to flight….

The harbor of Tripoli lies in a shallow indentation of the coast, being tolerably protected against easterly and westerly gales by the formation of the land, while a reef of rocks, which stretches for a mile and a half in a northeasterly course, commencing at the town itself, breaks the seas that roll in from the northward. The reef extends nearly half a mile from the walls, entirely above water, and is of sufficient height and with to receive water batteries, containing the Lazaretto and one or two forts. It is this commencement of the reef which constitutes what is usually termed the mole, and behind it lies the harbor proper. At its termination is a narrow opening in the reef which is called the western entrance, though which it is possible for a ship to pass, though the channel is not more than two hundred feet in width...

In the bottom of the bay, or at the southeastern angle of the town, stands the Bashaw’s castle, a work of some size and force. It lies rather more than a half mile form the western entrance, and somewhat more than a mile from the outer extremity of the reef....


– 200 YEARS FROM THE POINT – A Biography of America’s Forgotten Hero

The outline of the walls and watchtowers of the old castle fort were the last thing Richard Somers saw before the explosion of the USS Intrepid in Tripoli harbor.

The fort stood out above the waterline just as it does today over two hundred years later.

In Tripoli, two centuries is like yesterday, as Roman emperors walked through the same ancient arches two thousand years ago, when the fort’s foundations were already a thousand years old.

It was from the fort’s ramparts that many battles were fought, including the US Navy’s attacks against the tyrant of Tripoli, Yousef Karamnali, who was defeated in battle but permitted to remain in power by a treaty that he repeatedly broke.

A hundred and fifty years later Benito Musellini gave speeches from the same ramparts of the fort and Nazi general Irwin Rommel plotted his North African strategy in the shadows of its walls.

Master Commandant Richard Somers and the 12 officers and men of the USS Intrepid are buried outside those same walls in a grave that was partially disrupted by an Italian army road work crew in 1930. They discovered the remains of five of the men and reburied them in crypts at a nearby walled enclosure they call Old Protestant Cemetery.

In 1949, when the USS Spokane put into Tripoli, they honored these men by conducting a ceremony at the cemetery that included the mayor of Tripoli, Yousef Karamanli, a direct descendent and namesake of the pirate king who Somers had fought a hundred and fifty years previous.

As the walls of the old red castle fort are now on the horizon again, ground zero in the revolutionary battle of Tripoli in 2011, we are reminded that Richard Somers and the men of the Intrepid are buried there, in the square outside the walls of the fort that is the epicenter of the revolution, Martyr’s Square.

The only martyrs actually buried there are Somers and the US Navy heroes who once fought for the same ideals that the Libyan revolutionaries say they are now fighting for – liberty, freedom, justice and democracy.


An American sailor who saw Richard Somers and the Intrepid sail into Tripoli Harbor that fateful night made a sketch of the ship.

Glory, at Last! A Narrative of the Naval Career of Master Commandant Richard Somers 1778-1804 (Barbara E. Noebel, 1993, ACHS)

Young Richard

The ketch INTREPID, Master Commandant Richard Somers commanding, slipped into Tripoli Harbor during the evening of September 4, 1804. Within seconds the sky was illuminated by soaring rockets and exploding bombs. It was the mission of Somers’ expedition to destroy the shipping in the port, hoping to force the Bashaw of Tripoli to released the many American prisoners being held for ransom. Somers, his two lieutenants, and a crew of ten gave their lives in a cause of vital importance to them, but one which many of us know nothing about. What kind of man would risk so many lives for love of country and fellow man?

Richard Somers, Junior, was born on September 15, 1778, son of Colonel Richrd and Sophia Somers, in Somers Point, New Jersey, had an older brother Constant, and an older sister, Sarah. His father was active in the Revolutionary War, serving as a Colonel in the country militia and promoting privateering. He kept meticulous records of transactions of selling gunpower for the militia and outfitting privateers. So, young Richard entered a world of challenge and excitement. 1.

Somers Point is located on the southern coastline of New Jersey and was a thorn in the side of the British during the Revolutionary War. Many of their vessels were captured by privateers and taken via Somers Point up the Great Egg Harbor River to Mays Landing for safekeeping and sale by vendue.

There was a small fort of four cannon overlooking the Great Egg Harbor Bay which discouraged British landings and scavenging for food. Colonel Richard was in the middle of all of this. It became so dangerous at his homestead that he moved his family to the relative safety of Philadelphia in March, 1881. 2. Thus, young Richard was to spend nine of his formative years in the city, becoming a sophisticated young man when his family moved back to New Jersey in 1790.

The docks at Front Street in Philadelphia.

According to the Colonel’s ledger and account books, they first lived on Vine Street, then Front Street and finally, in 1785, in Captain William Graydon’s house at Callowhill and Front. Somers was a storekeeper, renting three stores in Philadelphia from William Miller. He also maintained a store at Job’s Point, near Somers Point, in New Jersey, which his elder brother Constant ran for him. There were many transactions of goods sent to and merchandise...


received from Job’s Point. This was all done via sloop, so young Richards was well acquainted with the wharves and coasting trade. 3.

Richard’s formal schooling probably began in 1785 when his father’s ledger showed an account with “Mr. Yerkees for tuition for Richard,” 4. Yerkess had a single school at this time. Such a school is described as “making their scholars good writers, good arithmeticians, good readers, and intelligent grammarians; and then…they were qualified by their own separate exertions, to improve themselves at home. 5. Later entries mentioned tuition to Mr. Simmerman and Mr. Ely, both of whom are identified as “School Master.” 6. I have been unable to identify these men with a specific school.

Sever biographies of Stephen Decatur state that he, with Richard Somers, Charles Stewart and Richard Rush, attended the Episcopal Academy of Dr. Abercrombie “where the discipline was strict, and the educational standards low, and the code of conduct derived from that of the court of Louis XVI….They lived much out of doors, boating, swimming, fishing. Somers was the strongest of the four, but Decatur was the best skater, very quick at repartee and a clever mimic. All were high spirited as eagles, and they were involved in not a few fisticuff ‘duels’ settled in the old Quaker burying-ground.” 7.

In a letter to Mrs. Decatur in 1846, Richard Russ remarks about the Academy: “….The Elite of the town went to that school….” 8. All of this is possible but there is no mention of the Academy in the accounts of Richard’s father…..

A ledger contains an entry dated October 1791, stating “Left my son Richards at Woodbuary….to go to Mr. Hunter school.” Savage (Stillwell) and Richard, Junior were enrolled in Andrew Hunter’s academy at Woodbury, New Jersey, for further education. Although there are entries indicating that Savage took courses in bookkeeping and Navigation and Surveying, there is no mention of specific studies for young Richard. 10. However, there is a small notebook identified as “Richard Somers His Book,” dated 1792, with notes on navigation, so he was familiar with it. 11. Commencement was on September 20, 1792, so they were in Hunter’s school for at least a year….

On October 22, 1794, Col. Richard Somers died. His estate was equally divided among his three children, with assurance that his mother would be taken care of. Richard, Junior inherited the homestead and other lands. He now emerges as the carbon copy of his father, supervising the cutting of timber, shipping it in local vessels to be sold at other ports, and taking care of the property….

Sophia Somers, Richard’s mother, died on February 3, 1797; 15. his brother Constant died on June 22, 1799; 16 his sister had married William Jonas Keen and they lived in Philadelphia. There was no reason for Richard to settle in Somers Point by himself, so he made his home with the Keens and made trips to New Jersey to manage his property there…..

So, Richard grew up and considered himself a young gentleman, not a farmer!....

The official profile sketch accepted by the U.S. Navy is again only his head

(James F.) Cooper interviewed his fellow officers and spoke to his next of kin, his sister Sarah, and described him:

In person, Somers was a man of middle stature – rather below than above it – but stout of frame; exceedingly active and muscular. His nose was inclining to the acquiline, his eyes and hair were dark, and his whole face bore marks of the cross of the French blood that was said to run in his veins. He was mild, amiable, and affectionate, both in disposition and deportment, though of singularly chivalrous notions of duty and honor. 20


The sign in Arabic at the front gate of the Old Protestant Cemetery in Tripoli some of the men of the Intrepid are buried in crypts. The sign says that this is an historic site that contains antiquities and should not be disturbed.

Once you enter the gates of the Old Protestant Cemetary, there's no going back, as you are sucked into the vortex of history - as the Secrets of the old cememtery are not easily extracted, but the questions bekon you and you must know the answers as to how these people got there, who are they, and what secrets do they possess?

Especially the men of the Intrepid.

Part I 1778 - 1804

Richard Somers & the Tripoli Pirates

PART I Chapter 1

Richard Somers, Jr. was born during the American Revolution, on September 15, 1778 at the home and tavern of his father, Col. Richard Somers, Sr., a building that stood at the intersection of Shore and Bethel Roads in Somers Point.

It is now a totally remodeled office building that stands today as the Somers Manor office building. There is a small marker at the site, and Veteran’s Park is just across Bethel Road.

A month after Richard was born, on October 15, his father Col. Richard Somers was involved in the Battle of Chestnut Neck, which is known in the British Naval Annals as the Egg Harbor Expedition, the purpose of which was to destroy the village of rebel pirates.

Some might consider it ironic that Richard Somers, who would become famous as a pirate fighter, was the son of an American revolutionary privateer, who the British called a rebel pirate.

As a Colonel in the local revolutionary militia, Col. Somers was responsible for a regiment of local volunteers and mlitiamen who were mustered together whenever needed, but he also commanded a number of local schooners that were given letters of marques by the Continental Congress authorizing them to attack and commandeer British merchant ships.

Those ships that were captured off the coast of New Jersey were taken to Egg Harbor or Chestnut Neck, where the captured crews were transferred inland to Mays Landing or Batsto and then on to Philadelphia while the cargos were auctioned off to the highest bidders. When they began to brazenly advertise the auctions of the contents of British ships in the Philadelphia and New York newspapers, the British Admiral in New York referred to the operations at Chestnut Neck as a “nest of rebel pirates,” which is what historian Frankly Kemp named his book that details the battle.

The British invaded Chestnut Neck with a fleet of ships and soldiers who captured several ships and burned the town to the ground, but Somers and his men put up some resistance and fought a guerilla style campaign that kept the British at the mouth of the river, away from Batsto, and were chased up the river where one of the British ships ran aground. While viewed as a success by the British, they failed to capture Batsto, where much of the rebel army's ammunition was made, and dissuaded them from venturing too far into rebel territory very often.

The local Col. Richard Somers chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution conduct an annual memorial service at the monument which includes Somers’ name, and stands at the base of the Parkway Exit (#48) just south of New Gretna.

The threat of a British invasion of Somers Point further south at Egg Harbor was also very real, as it was well known to be the home of Col. Somers, and he took precautions.

About a mile south of the home of Col. Richard Somers on Shore Road is Somers Mansion – originally the home of Col. Somers’ father, John Somers - a large brick house built in the late 1600s that still stands today as the oldest building in Atlantic County.

As the home of his grandfather, Somers Mansion was quite familiar to young Richard Somers, and he undoubtedly spent time there growing up, as that was the focal point of Somers Plantation, a self-sufficient community of a half-dozen or so Quaker families. While some Quakers distain violence and warfare, the Somers were said to be “Hickory” Quakers. When the young boys were bad, it is said they were taken to the hickory bush in the back of Somers Mansion and whipped with a hickory branch.

That is also where it said a tunnel was constructed, originally designed as an escape tunnel if the British attacked unexpectedly. They could go down into a cellar with their most prized possessions and escape through the tunnel that ran underground about six hundred yards to the Highbanks. It came out above the bay near the mouth of the Egg Harbor river, where a boat would be waiting to enable their escape up river. The tunnel was said to have also been used by pirates, or to escape from them when they put in to plunder the few houses of the small fishing and boat building town.

Other than sensationalized newspaper reports from the 1920s and the questionable memories of locals, no evidence of the tunnel has ever been found.

It is from the bluff of Somers Mansion where you can see the extent of the watery horizon, the bay waters and the barrier of Ocean City beyond, all of which was Richard Somers’ backyard when he was growing up. It was here where young “Dickie” Somers learned to swim, fish, hunt and sail.

Besides the tunnel, Col. Somers also built a small fort that was defended by a few cannons that had command of the bay. Eventually however, after the British attack on Chestnut Neck, Col. Somers decided to remove his family from Somers Point and for awhile they lived in Philadelphia when it wasn’t occupied by the British.

After the eventual success of the American Revolution, life settled back to normal, and life on Somers Plantation consisted primarily of the maritime life of building and sailing schooners to New York, Philadelphia and the West Indies, trading local lumber and raw materials.

News didn’t travel very fast in those days, so it was many months before they learned that Algierian pirates off the Barbary Coast of Africa had seized two American merchant ships en route from Marseille to Gibraltar.

Barbary Pirate Corsair Galley

Then on October 11, 1784, a Morocco pirate corsair seized the American brig Betsey, and in February 1785 Algerian pirates seized two more U.S. vessels. They demand ransom for the enslaved passengers and crews and wanted to be paid an annual tribute in order to discontinue to practice. At first the ransom and tribute was paid, and in 1785 the United States began official diplomatic relations with Barbary States of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli, but it was an uneasy truce that hedged on the payment of ransom and tribute.

Congress had been reluctant to fund the construction of ships or a Navy, but news accounts of the enslavement of the Americans by the Barbary pirates forced their hand and the funding was approved for the construction of six frigates as well as the establishment of a Navy.

In December 1787, former Revolutionary war captain John Barry sailed the ship Asia from Philadelphia to China and back, helping to establish a far eastern trade route, but he wanted a commission as an officer in the new navy.

Commodore John Barry - "Father of the U.S. Navy."

The following June 21 1788, a new Constitution was waiting to be approved by the Pennsylvania assembly in Philadelphia, but those opposed to the strong union of states boycotted the meeting, instigating Capt. John Barry and a few of his fellow “persuaders” to strong-arm two delegates and escort them to the hall in order to ensure a quorum.

As a young boy who grew up in a merchant seafaring family young Richard must have heard the stories of the Barbary pirates, possibly imagining being part of the navy that was being organized to fight them. As the son of a prominent Quaker landowner, Richard Somers was sent away to boarding schools and trained in the arts and sciences and the proper behavior of a gentleman.

In 1791 Richard Somers attended Hunter School, Woodbury, N.J. and in 1792 it is noted that he took classes in navigation.

But Philadelphia was then the capitol of the young nation, and it was there on May 31 1790, when President George Washington signed the first copyright act. A week later, on June 6 1790, Philadelphia Schoolmaster John Barry, a teacher at the Philadelphia Free Academy, published the 1st copyrighted publication in the USA, which was called the “Philadelphia Spelling Book – Arranged Upon A Plan Entirely New.”

When not in school, the 15 year old Richard Somers served as the first mate on a family schooner trading in West Indies, and on one trip to the Caribbean, when the Captain died, young Somers took command and returned the ship safely home.

Captain John Barry was even younger when he became a mate on his uncle’s merchant ship out of Wexford, Ireland, eventually landing in Philadelphia, which became his adopted home. As an expert sailing Captain, Barry was given command of warships during the revolution, with an excellent and courageous record in combat against the British.

In 1794 Congress passed the Navy Act, creating a new Navy, and authorized the construction of a fleet of frigates, one of which was to be built in Philadelphia by Joshua Humphries under the direction of John Barry.

On June 14 1794 President Washington ordered Captain John Barry “to form and train a class of midshipmen who would then be commissioned as Ensigns, and form the nucleus of a new American navy.”

President George Washington and Captain John Barry with Midshipman - possibly Richard Somers or Stephen Decatur

Barry was promised a commission as Captain, United States Navy and supervised the construction of the frigate USS United States, which was constructed on the docks just south of Philadelphia, where the Navy Yard is today.

On October 22 1794, Col. Richard Somers, Sr. died and it was around this time that Richard moved to center city Philadelphia to live with his sister Sarah, who was married to William Keen, an attorney.

On April 9 1795 William Keen’s sister Betsy had married John Barry’s nephew, merchant sea Captain Patrick Hayes. The ceremony took place at Christ’s Church and was presided over by the Reverend Bishop William White, who had earlier married John Barry and Sarah Austin.

Bishop White was co-founder of the Philadelphia Free Academy, so it wasn’t surprising that young Richard would be enrolled there. John Barry the schoolmaster was a namesake, neighbor and fellow Hibernaian with sea Captain John Barry, and while they were not related, they must have known each other.

It was at the Philadelphia Free Academy where young Somers met schoolmates Steven Decatur, Jr., son of U.S. Navy Commodore Steven Decatur, Sr., and friend of Somers’ father from their Revolutionary War days. Other students at the Academy included Charles Stewart, who would, like Somers and Decatur, become famous as a naval hero, and Richard Rush, son of prominent Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush, who included the Barry and Keen families among his patients.

In their book A CALL to the SEA – Captain Charles Stewart of the USS Constitution (Potomac Books, 2005)Claude Berube and John Rodgaard write, “Young Charley attended Dr. Abercrombie’s Academy in Philadelphia. Known later as the Episcopal Academy, it was attended by the elite sons of the city. 3. Little other than the name of the school is known, except that it was one of several Episcopal academies located in the city before the turn of the eighteenth century. One such Episcopal academy was founded in 1785 by Reverend William White to educate the sons of Philadelphia’s Episcopalian community. Courses included Greek, Latin, mathematics, and business – all practical courses for young boys who would become the city’s merchants, traders, and ship owners, if not captains. At the academy, Charley met three other youths whose futures figured prominently in his life and in the U.S. Navy and diplomatic service.”

“The first and most famous friend was Stephen Decatur, Jr., the son of an American Revolutionary War ship captain, Stephen Decatur Sr. The elder Decatur was a sailing master on board a ship owned by the Philadelphia merchant firm of Stewart and Nesbitt.”

“A second friend, Richard Somers, less than two months Stewart’s junior, was born in Great Egg Harbor, New Jersey, but during the Revolution his family lived in Philadelphia. His father served as a militia colonel and judge…..”

“In scenes that would replay themselves in their naval careers, the young Stewart, Decatur, and Somers often crossed the street from the academy, located on Fourth Street, to settle their arguments with fisticuffs. Stewart remembered that Decatur “would sooner lose his dinner than miss an opportunity of avenging the wrongs of some small boy who had been imposed upon by a superior in size. Steve was the universal champion of the small boy.” 5. Fortunately they did not have the pistols they used later in formal duels. 6. But if one feature of Philadelphia life influenced Stewart, Decatur, and Somers more than any other, it was the call to the sea.”

At the Philadelphia Free Academy, schoolmaster John Barry would play a significant role in the education of Richard Somers, Stephen Decatur and Charles Stewart. After graduation they would come under the stewardship of Captain John Barry, who would complete their education as officers in the new US Navy, and thus making the Philadelphia Free Academy an early Annapolis, where the first young officers of the US Navy were trained.

Captain John Barry, while overseeing the construction of the USS United States, must have been dismayed by the news reports of a December 21, 1795 of a United States treaty with Morocco and Algiers, because under a rider attached to the Congressional authorization of the funding of the Navy, such a treaty would automatically suspend work on the six frigates.

Then in January 1796 the Secretary of War reported that all six frigates could still be completed within the year, but in April 1796 Congress only approved the completion of three ships at Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore, the United States, the Constitution and the Constellation.

On September 19, 1796 an estimate for outfitting the United States with 305 officers and men, fifty-four marines, for one month came in at $7, 285.

Around the same time, on the other side of the world, a French built Ketch the Gheretti/Mastico was launched, and would later achieve fame as the USS Intrepid.

Washington, on his birthday February 22, 1797, issued Commission No. 1 in the American Navy to John Barry, though it was backdated “to take rank from the fourth day of June, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-four,” three years earlier, when Barry began to oversee the construction of the United States.

On March 4, 1797 John Adams became president and on June 7, 1797 the Treaty of Tripoli was approved by Senate. [See: NARA Treaty Series #358 – American State Papers – Foreign Relations - #18-19.]

Four months later, on July 10, 1797 the frigate United States was launched at the South Philadelphia wharf to a crowd of 30,000 people, most of the citizens of the city.

There were 350 applications for 59 commissions in new U.S. Navy, and on March 9, 1798 Charles Stewart was commissioned Lieutenant, which actually predates the Congressional authorization of the Navy, an event that officially occurred on April 30 1798, when Congress established the Department of Navy. It was to be directed by secretary of cabinet rank, and Benjamin Stoddert, a Maryland merchant, was given the appointment and he immediately gave John Barry the necessary supplies to complete outfitting the USS United States.

The same day the Navy was officially established midshipman warrants were issued to Richard Somers and Steven Decatur, who were ordered to sea on the shakedown cruse of the USS United States under Commodore John Barry.

That Barry would select Charles Stewart as one of his first officers and Somers and Decatur as two of his first two midshipmen could not have been a coincidence, as they had all been educated together at the Philadelphia Free Academy, and were well known to Barry through his association with the Keen family and Bishop White, the founder of the Academy.

There is also evidence that Decatur and probably Somers and Stewart as well, worked on the construction of the United States while they were students at the Academy. Situated in the same small center city neighborhood – the Academy, Barry’s home and the Keen residence were all within walking distance of each other and Independence Hall.

Legend has it that Somers, Decatur, Stewart and other students would often settle disputes by engaging in fisticuffs in the old cemetery behind Independence Hall, where John Barry is buried today, and Barry’s statute guards the back door to the hall where the Liberty Bell rung.

On May 7, 1798 President John Adams appeared in Philadelphia at rally, an event that Somers undoubtedly observed, as it is recorded in the Keen family records that he returned home more than once that day to retrieve funds from the tiller. The following day Richard Somers took the oath of allegiance and became a midshipman in the newly constituted United States Navy.

It was about time, as the United States was then engaged in a quasi-war with our former allies, the French, as well as having unsettled affairs with the Barbary pirates.

On May 30, 1798 Richard Somers returned to Egg Harbor to get his affairs in order, and records indicate he launched a new schooner at Mays Landing and met with a girl friend before returning to duty.

Somers may have still been at home on June 8, 1798 when, just off the coast of Egg Harbor, Stephen Deactur’s father Commodore Stephen Decatur, Sr. captured a French prize, Le Croyable while commanding the 20 gun Sloop Delaware.

On July 7, 1798 the USS United States got underway under Capt. John Barry with Charles Stewart as an officer and Somers and Decatur as Midshipmen, and headed south for the West Indies in search of French ships.

On Nov 4, 1798, while the new American Navy was still getting organized, Congress reluctantly agreed to pay tribute to Tripoli, considering it the only way to protect U.S. shipping.
It was at that time, in 1798, when Somers is said to have been given a ring by George Washington, who had served as the first President until a year before.

One possible occasion was on November 9, 1798, when the frigate to which Somers had recently been assigned as a Midshipman, the USS United States, was anchored at Chester, Pennsylvania. At 7 P.M. that evening, Captain John Barry and the ship’s designer and builder Joshua Humphries came aboard. Shortly thereafter, George Washington arrived at Chester, where the horse troops of Philadelphia received him. Washington stayed in Chester overnight, possibly aboard the United States, which gave him a 15-gun salute upon his departure the next morning.

Since Richard Somers was one of the young officers that Barry had recruited, based on Washington’s June 14 1794 orders “to form and train a class of midshipmen who would then be commissioned as Ensigns, and form the nucleus of a new American navy,” it is likely that it was on this occasion that Washington presented Somers with the ring that includes a lock of Washington’s hair.

If Washington dined aboard the United States with Barry and Humphries, it is likely that the officers and midshipmen were also invited to dine at the Captain’s table.

On January 20 1799 Richard Somers given commission as Lieutenant, and on June 2,1799 Richard Somers had his brother-in-law William Keen write out his last will and testament, as Keen had also done for John Barry.

Later that month Richard’s brother Constant died in boating accident in Russia, apparently falling to his death, and was buried at sea.

That same year the Schooner Nautilus was built as merchant vessel on Maryland’s East Shore, and would later be purchased by the Navy and become Richard Somers’ first command.

Then an add appeared in the local paper on January 10 1800 – To Be Rented – Great Egg harbor Residence of Col. Richard Somers, Apply to Wm. Jones Kean , Front St. Phila.

With the death of his father, mother and brother, and with Richard Somers at sea in the Navy, William Keen elected to lease the Somers family home and tavern where Richard was born.

Somers was appointed first lieutenant to the Boston, a 28 gun, 250 man sloop sent to deliver Chancellor Livingston to France, and patrol the Mediterranean. When the 1801 Treaty of Tripoli was violated by Yousuf Karamanli, pasha of Tripoli Somers aboard the Boston was there and it was while serving as first officer on the Boston when Somers first saw Tripoli harbor and the old castle fort on the horizon, not aware of the hand that fate would later play.

As Dr. Somers attests, "After landing the minister, the Boston proceeded to the Mediterranean....He visited many ports, gave frequent convoys, and even went off Tripoli, the scene of war, but from accident or design, all this was so timed as to destroy every thing like concert and combination. In this cruise Somers had an opportunity of seeming many ports of Italy, Spain, and the islands, and doubtless he acquired much of that self-reliance and experience which are so necessary to a seaman in his responsible station of a 1st Lieutenant. He was then a very young man, not more than 23; and this was a period of life when such opportunities were of importance. Nor does he seem to have neglected them, as all of his contemporaries speak of his steadiness of character, good sense, amiable and correct deportment, with affection and respect. The Boston returned home at the close of 1802, when Capt. McNeil retired from the service, under the reduction law, and the ship was laid up never to be employed again. The commander subsequently returned to the seas, in the revenue service, but the frigate lay rotting at Washington, until she was burned at the inroad of the enemy, in 1814, a worthless hulk."

When President Thomas Jefferson refused to make the annual $250,000 payment in tribute, Yousuf Karamanli, the Pasha of Tripoli symbolically declared war on the US by cutting down the flagstaff in front of the US Consulate.

Tripoli Slave Market

In July 1801 the schooner USS Enterprise, under Lt. Andrew Sterrett, encountered the ship Tripoli in the act of pirating an American merchant ship, and engaged in the first battle between the Americans and Barbary pirates.

The action was described by Somers in a letter to Decatur, along with the fact that the Congress had approved the funding of a fleet of Schooners, one of which was to be given to Somers and another to Decatur and used to fight the pirates.

Somers wrote, "My Dear Decatur: Here we are going aloft, with a fair wind, while I am perfectly sure that the sail reported off the starboard quarter is one of the squadron - ...if Commodore Dale wins in this chase, he will be a seaman equal to Paul Jones himself. For Captain McNeill is one of the very ablest seamen in the world, and, much as his eccentricities annoy us, his management of the ship is so superb that we can't help but admire the old fellow...he is doing a good service giving convoy and patrolling the African coast so that the Barbary corsairs are beginning to be afraid to show their noses when the BOSTON is about."

"...While running for Malta, on the 1st of August, the ENTERPRISE came across a polacca-rigged shp such as the Barbary Corsairs usually have, with an american brig in tow. It had evidently been captured and her people sent adrift. Sterrett, who commands the ENTERPRISE, as soon as he found the postition of affairs, cleared for action, ran out his guns, and opened a brisk fire on the Tripolitan. He got into a raking position, and his broadside had a terrific effect upon the pirate. But - mark the next - three times were the Tripolitan colors hauled down, and then hoisted again as soon as the fire of the ENTERPRISE ceased. After the third time, Sterrett played his broadside on the pirate with the determination to sink him for such treachery;but the tripolitan rais, or Captain, appeared in the waist of the ship, bending his body in token of submission, and actually threw his ensign overboard. Sterrett could not take the ship as a prize, because no formal declaration of war had reached him from the United States; but he sent Midshipman Porter - you remember David Porter... - aboard the pirate to dismantle her. He had all the guns thrown overboard, stripped her of everything except one old sail and a single spar, and let her go, with a message to the Bashaw of Tripoli that such was the way Americans treated pirates. I understand that when he got back to Tripoli,...he was ridden through town on a jackass, by order of the Bashaw, and received the bastinado; and hat since then the Tripolitans are having great trouble in finding crews to man their corsair ships because of the dread of the 'Americanos.'"

USS Enterprise engages pirate corsair Tripoli

"Now I must tell you a piece of news almost too good to be true," Somers wrote to Decatur, "I hear the Government is building four beautiful small schooners, to carry sixteen guns, for use in the Tripolitian war, which is to be pushed actively; and that you, my dear Decatur, will command one of those vessels, and I another! I can write nothing more exhilerating after this; so, I am, as always, your faithful friend, Richard Somers."

Congress had ordered the construction or purchase of four schooners - the Siren (16 guns), the Argus (16), Nautilus (12) and Vixen (12), with Somers, age 24, being given command of the Nautilus.

On May 13, 1803 Richard Somers was ordered to oversee the refurbishing of the schooner Nautilus, and a week later Captain Edward Preble was given command of the Mediterranean squadron, with frigate USS Constitution (44) as his flagship. Somers’s schooner Nautilus ordered to join the Mediterranean squadron under command of Captain Edward Preble.

On September 13, 1803 Commodore John Barry died. The former Captain of the USS United States, and primary mentor of Stewart, Somers and Decatur, had been offered command of the Mediterranean Squadron, but declined because of his health.

Somers and Nautilus reach Gibraltar on September 14, 1803 and shortly thereafter Captain Preble made a successful demonstration in Tangier, convincing the emperor of Morocco to cease and desist from pirating American ships or his ships would bombard the city.

Commander of the Mediterranean Squadron Commodore Captain Edward Preble (Maine neighbor of the family of Lt. Henry Wadsworth)

1803 October 31 USS Philadelphia, Captain Bainbridge in command, runs aground off Tripoli, surrenders with full compliment of crew, 300 men.

Captain Bainbridge of the USS Philadelphia and the Basha

On November 7, 1803 The Argus, under Stephen Decatur, joined the Nautilus and Constitution in Gibraltar.

1803 Dec 23, Lt. Stephen Decatur, commanding the schooner Enterprise, captured a Barbary pirate ketch, which is entered into the US Navy logs as the USS Intrepid.

Stephen Decatur, Jr.

1804 February 16 Decatur leads mission aboard Intrepid into Tripoli Harbor disguised as a pirate ship and successfully scuttled the captured frigate USS Philadelphia, one of the first covert special operations of the US Navy, which England’s Lord Admiral Nelson is quoted as calling “The most bold and daring act of the age.”

Burning of the Philadelphia in Tripoli Harbor.

In July 1804 the Mediterranean squadron headed for Tripoli, lead by Preble’s flagship, the frigate Constitution, four brigs, the Argus, Siran, Vixen and Scourge, two schooners, Nautilus (Somers) and Enterprise (Decatur) and eight gunboats (156 guns in all).

1804 July 25 - Septebmer 4 - Battle of Tripoli.

On August 2d and 7th,and again on August 28th and September 3d, 1804 - Somers and Stephen Decatur lead flotillas of gunboats against Tripoli fleet, and won the battles decisively, though Decatur’s younger brother James was killed, as was another young officer, Lieut. Caldwell, whose body is not recovered.

Dr. J.B. Somers, MD wrote: "The Tripolitans fully expected the attack of the 2d of August, though they little anticipated the desperate character, or the results. They had anchored nine of their large, well-manned gunboats just outside of what are called the Harbor Rocks, or the northeastern extremity of the reef, evidently with a view of flanking the expected attack on the town, which, lying on the margin of the sea, is much exposed, though the rocks in its front were well garnished with heavy guns. Accustomed to cannonading at the distance of a mile, those gunboats expected no warmer service, more especially as a nearer approach would bring their assailants within reach of the castle and batteries. In addition to the nine boats to the eastward, there were five others which also lay along the line of rocks nearer to the western entrance, and within pistol shot of the batteries in that part of the defences. Within the reef were five more gunboats and several heavy galleys, ready to protect the outer line of gunboats at need, forming a reserve."

"Com. Preble had borrowed only six gunboats from the King of Naples, and these were craft that were much inferior in size and force to the generality of those used by the enemy...These six boats were divided into two divisions; to the command of one was assigned Lieut. Com. Somers, while Lieut. Com. Decatur led the other. Somers was thought to be the senior of the two, though Decatur was at this time actually a captain, and Somers himself was a master Commandant, as well as Stewart, Hull and Smith, though the intelligence of these promotions had not yet reached the squadron."

With Somers was Lieut. James Decatur, the younger brother of Stephen Decatur, Jr.

Dr. Somers tells us, "It was the intention of Preble to attack the eastern division of the enemy's boats with his own flotilla, while the ketches bombarded the town, and the frigate and sloop covered both assaults with their round and grape shot. With this object in view, the whole force stood in towards the place at half-past one, the gunboats in tow. Half an hour later the latter were cast off and formed an advance, while the brigs and schooners, six in number, formed a line without them,and the ketches began to throw their shells. The batteries were instantly in a blaze, and the Americans immediately opened from all their shipping in return."

"Circumstances had thrown the divisions of gunboats commanded by Somers to leeward of that commanded by Decatur. It was on the right side of the little line, and, under ordinary circumstances, it would have been the most exposed, being nearest to the batteries and the weight of the Tripolitan fire, but Decatur gave a new character to the whole affair by his extraordinary decision and intrepidity. The manner in which this chivalrous officer led on in a hand-to-hand conflict will be related in his own biography, but it may be well to state here that he was sustained only by Trippe, in No. 6 and his brother James, in No. 2;....No. 5, Lieut. Bainbridge, was disabled in approaching, though she continued to engage, and finally grounded on the rocks....Somers found himself alone, within the line of small vessels, and much exposed to the fire of the leeward division of the enemy's boats, as well as to that of the nearest battery...As soon as he ascertained he could not fetch into the most weatherly divison of the enemy, Somers had turned like a lion on that to leeward, and engaged the whole of that division, five in number and at least of five times his own force, within pistol-shot,...In the end, the enemy was obliged to make off, and Somers was extricated from this perilous position by the approach of the Constitution, which enabled him to obey the commodore's signal to bring out his boat in triumph."

"Although the extraordinary nature of the hand-to-hand conflict in which Decatur had been engaged threw a sort of shade over the efforts of the other vessels employed that day, the feeling of admiration for the conduct of Somers in paricular was very general in the squadron. Apart from the struggles with the pike, sword and bayonet, his position was the most critical of any vessel engaged in the attack, and no man could have behaved better than he was admitted to have done..."

Fourteen men were killed and wounded in the attack, while three enemy boats were captured and taken. "The Americans employed themselves between the 3rd and 7th of August in altering the rigs of the three boats they had taken in their first assault, and in equipping them for service...At half past two the ketches began again to throw their shells, and the nine gunboats opened a heavy fire, still in two divisions commanded as before (by Somers and Decatur) though the enemy this time kept his small vessels too far within the rocks to be liable to another attempt at boarding. While No. 1 was advancing to her station on this occasion, Somers stood leaning against her flagstaff. In this position he saw a shot flying directly in a line for him, and bowed his head to avoid it. The shot cut the flag-staff, and on measuring afterwards it was rendered certain that he escaped death only by the timely removal. The boats were under fire three hours in this attack; one of them, commanded by Lieut. Caldwell, of the Siren, having been blown up...."

Lieut. Caldwell's body washed ashore and the American prisoners from the Philadelphia, locked in the gallows of the old castle fort, could only watch as dogs ripped his body apart.

Dr. Somers notes that, "A strange sale hove in sight near the close of this attack, and she proved to be the John Adams 28, Capt. Chauncey, last from home. This ship brought out the commissions already mentioned, as having been issued sometime previously. By this promotion, Somers became a master commandant, or a commander, as the grade is now termed; a rank in the navy which corresponds to that of a major in the army, and which entitles its possessor to the command of a sloop of war."

"It was the 28th of August before another attack was made on Tripoli, in which Somers participated. The ketches bombarded it on the night of the 24th, but finding little impression made by this mode of assault, Commodore Preble determined to renew the cannonading. On this occasion Capt. Somers led one division of the gunboats, as before, while Captain Decatur led the other, the latter having five of these craft under his orders, and the former three. The approach was made under the cover of darkness, all of the boats anchoring near the rocks, where they opened a heavy fire on the shipping, castle, and town. The brigs and schooners assisted in this attack, and at daylight the firgate stood in, and opened her batteries. The Tripolitan galleys and gunboats, thirteen in all, were principally opposed to the eight American gunboats, which did not retire until they had expended their ammunition. One Tripolitan was sunk, two more were run on shore, and all were finally driven into the mole by the frigate."

"On the third of September, a fourth and last attack was made on Tripoli by the gunboats, aided by all the other vessels. The Turkish boats did not wait, as before, to be assaulted off the town, but, accompanied by the galleys, they placed themselves under Fort English, and a new battery that had been built near it, with an intention to draw the American's shot in that direction. This change in disposition induced Preble to send Captain Decatur and Somers, with the gunboats, covered by the brigs and schooners, into the harbor's mouth, while the ketches bombarded more to leeward. On this occasion, Somers was more than an hour hotly engaged, pressing the enemy into his own port."

"The season was now drawing to a close," Dr. Somers' account explains, "and the arrival of reinforcements from America had been expected in vain for several weeks. It was during this interval that a plan for destroying the enemy's flotilla as it lay anchored in the innermost harbor was conceived, and preparations were soon made for putting it into execution. The conception of this daring scheme has been claimed for Somers himself, and not without a share of reason. There existed between him and Decatur a singular professional competition that was never permitted, however, to cool their personal friendships. The great success of the latter in his daring assaults stimulated Somers to attempt some exploit equally adventurous, and none better than the one adopted and offered. The five attacks on Tripoli, with the vigorous blockade, had produced a sensible effect on the tone of the bashaw,and it was hoped that a blow as appalling as that now mediated might at once produce a peace...."

"....That Commodore Preble says that the project has long been in contemplation, though he does not say who suggested it. The plan was as follows: The ketch that had originally been taken by Decaturin the Enterprise, and in which he had subsequently carried the Philadelphia frigate, was still in the squadron. She had been named the Intrepid, for the brilliant occasion on which she had first been used, but had since fallen from her high estate, having latterly been employed in bringing water and stores from Malta. The craft had been constructed for a gun vessel by the French in their expedition against Egypt; from their service she had passed into that of Tripoli; had fallen into the hands of warriors from the new world; by them had been used in one of the most brilliant exploits of naval warfare, and was not about to terminate her career in another of the most desperate and daring character. It was proposed to fit up the ketch in the double capacity of the fire-ship and infernal, and to send her into the inner harbor of Tripoli by the western passage, there to explode in the very centre of the vessels of the Turks. As her deck was to be covered with missiles, and a large quantity of powder was to be used, it was hoped that the town and castle would suffer not less than the shipping. The panic created by such an assault, made in the dead of night, it was fondly hoped would produce an instant peace, and, more especially, the liberation of the crew of the Philadelphia. The later object was deemed one of the highest interest to the whole force before Tripoli, and was never lost sight of in all their operations."


On September 4,1804, on board the Intrepid rearmed as a fireship, Somers lead a crew of two officers and ten men back into Tripoli harbor with the intention of setting her to sail into the anchored enemy fleet, lighting a fuse and escaping in two row boats.

The Intrepid

By the Intrepid suddenly exploded prematurely, killing the three offices (Somers, Wadsworth, Israel) and ten seaman.

1804 September 5 Captain Bainbridge, skipper of the scuttled USS Philadelphia, and ship’s doctor Dr. Cowdery (who would later become first chief surgeon of the United States), and a detachment of prisoners bury the 13 bodies that washed ashore, three identified as officers, one cable's length east of the old castle fort.

On September 9,1804 William Eaton arrived and reported to Commodore John Barron, who replaced Captain Preble as commander of U.S. naval forces in the Mediterranean. Preble returned to the United States and was given a hero's welcome.

William Eaton