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The Bark Covered House
Chapter 23. Grandfather's Powder Horn—War with Pirates


TIME sped on. The earth had traveled its circuit many times since father sold his little place in Putnam County, State of New York, and bade adieu to all the dear scenes of his childhood and youth and came to battle, for himself and family in the wilds of Michigan. And he did his part bravely. He was a strong man; mentally and physically strong, and possessed just enough of the love of a romantic and strange life, to help him battle successfully with the incidents and privations common to such as settle in a new country, with but little capital. He worked his way through. He had a very retentive memory and possessed the faculty of pleasing his visitors, to no common extent.

Father at the close of the Tripoli war, 1805, was about the age that I was when we started for Michigan. He often told me of the war with Tripoli and trouble with Algiers. He gloried in the name of an American and often related the prowess and bravery of our soldiers, in defending their flag and the rights of American citizens, at home and abroad, on the land and on the sea.

Of course when the Fourth of July came round I went to celebrate the day. As cannon were almost always fired at Dearbornville, on that day, I would go out there to listen to the big guns and their tremendous roar, as they were fired every minute for a national salute. The sound of their booming died away beyond Detroit River, in Canada, and let the Canadians, and all others in this part of the universe, know that we were holding the Fourth of Jul), in Dearbornville. When I went home at night I told father about it, and what a good time I had enjoyed, and that they fired one big gun in honor of Michigan.

On such days his patriotic feelings were wrought up and he talked much of wars, patriotism and so forth. On such an occasion he told me that his father, William Nowlin, was a captain of militia, in the State of New York, when he was a boy. That I was named for him and that, when he was done with it, I should have my grandfather's ancient powder-horn. It is red and carved out very nicely, covered with beautiful scrolls and old-fashioned letters. The two first letters of my grandfather's name, W. N., are on it, and toward the smaller end of the horn—my father's given name, John. These were inscribed on it long since the horn was made. It was made when Washington was about twenty-five years old, and, no doubt, saw service in the French and Indian war, in the defence of the English colonies of America. Its history, some of it, is shrouded in mystery. It has passed down through the revolutionary war, and the war of 1812, through four generations of men, and was given to me by my father as an heir-loom, a relic of the past.

Next to my father's given name is the inscription, E. b. Then follows these old lines:

"I, powder, with my brother ball,
A hero like, do conquer all."

"'Tis best abroad with foreign foes to fight,
And not at home, to feel their hateful spite,
Where all our friends of every, sex and age,
Will be expos'd unto their cruel rage."

Lieut. AbI Prindel's. Made at No.4. June 30th, 1757.

The letters are old fashioned, the "s" on it is made as an "f" is made now. I presume it was a present from Lieut. Prindel to grandfather. This horn is sixteen inches long, measures nine and one-half inches around the butt and would hold fully four pounds of powder.

Father said in the war with Tripoli, 1803, one of the Barbary States, Captain Bainbridge sailed, in the Philadelphia, to Tripoli and chased one of the pirate boats into the harbor. He ventured a little too far and ran aground. The officers were made prisoners and the crew slaves, to the Turks, and joined their countrymen who had preceded them. But, father said, the Americans were too brave a people to be subjected to slavery. Other Americans rescued them and it was proved that the United States would protect their flag throughout all the world. He often told me of Commodore Decatur and William Eaton. They were among his ideal American heroes. He said that Decatur conceived the idea of retaking the "Philadelphia" and destroying her. He sailed into the harbor of Tripoli at night and up to the "Philadelphia," made his vessel, the "Intrepid," fast to her side and sprang on board. There he had often walked before under very different circumstances, in the light of other days, when thousands of miles away, and among his friends. Now how changed the scene! The "Philadelphia" was in an enemy's hands, and her guns loaded, to turn on her former owners at a moment's notice. Decatur was followed by seventy or eighty men, as brave Americans as ever walked on deck. The surprise was complete, and the astonished Turks now saw the decks swarming with Americans, armed and with drawn swords in their hands. Some of the Tripolitans lost their heads, some of them cried for quarter, others tried to climb in the shrouds and rigging of the ship and some jumped overboard.

In ten minutes' time, Decatur and his crew were masters of the frigate. Now what grieved him most was that the noble ship, which they had rescued from the barbarous Arabs, had to be burned, it being impossible to remove her from the sandbar where she lay. So they brought, on board the "Philadelphia," combustible material, which they had with them on the "Intrepid," and set her on fire. In a short time the flames were leaping and dancing along the sides of the doomed ship. The devouring fire, greedily burning, cracking and hissing, destroyed the timbers, leaped up the spars, caught hold of the rigging and lighted up the whole place. It could have been, and was, seen for miles. The spectacle was awfully grand as well as sublime. Tripoli was lighted up and hundreds of people could be seen in the streets, by the light of the burning ship.

The land forts and corsairs were all in plain sight of the American fleet. The light enabled the enemy to see the bold "Intrepid," with her valiant crew, leaving the burning ship and sailing away toward the American blockading fleet. The forts and some of the galleys opened fire upon them; it was one continuous roar of cannon belching forth fire and missiles of death. The balls and shot went singing over their heads and around, some striking the water and raising a cloud of spray which flew in all directions. But the victorious crew paid no attention and quietly sailed away to join their country's defenders. They were soon beyond the reach of the foe and out of danger. Then they had time to consider what they had accomplished. They had entered the enemy's stronghold, re-captured and burned the "Philadelphia" and put her Arab crew to the sword, or driven them into the sea. All this they did without the loss of a single man. Father said that the inhabitants of Tripoli were Turks who exacted taxes and received tribute from all Christian nations; that they had taken some of the American seamen and held them as slaves. The Bashaw declared war with America, (a country about which he knew but very little.) He put his American slaves in chain-gangs, in this way they were obliged to labor for that government. There was no chance for them to escape and they must remain in slavery unless rescued by their countrymen. Father said that the Turks of Tripoli were a band of pirates, in disguise, robbers upon the high seas.

The war occurred during the administration of President Jefferson. Congress sent Commodore Preble with a squadron of seven sail, and a thousand men, armed with heavy cannon. They appeared before Tripoli; the reigning Bashaw refused to treat for peace or give up his slaves, without he received a large ransom. Then it was that the thunder of the American cannon broke upon Tripoli and the bombardment of that city commenced, 1804. They were answered by hundreds of the enemy's guns. The earth trembled, the sea shook, the wild waves danced and the white caps broke as the cannon balls glanced on, plowed their way and plunged into the water. The strong buildings of Tripoli trembled to their foundations and hundreds of Arabs, who were out upon their roofs when the battle commenced, to witness it, in five minutes' time were skedaddling for their lives. The Bashaw's castle and the entire city felt severely the heavy blows of the American cannon. The enemy's fleet took refuge under the forts and away from the ships of North America. The "Constitution" sunk one of their boats, run two aground and the rest got under shelter the best they could.

One of the last wonders of the wrath of the Americans was poured out upon Tripoli in the shape of a fire ship. It contained one hundred barrels of powder stored away below deck, in a room prepared expressly for its reception. On the deck, over the powder, was placed hundreds of shells and pieces of iron, which the powder, when it exploded, would hurl as messengers of destruction among the enemy. The "Intrepid" was the ship selected for the daring deed. She was Decatur's favorite; with her he captured the "Philadelphia." There were twelve American braves who volunteered to take the fire-ship into the enemy's squadron and, near the fort, to fire it with a slow match. Then they were to try and escape back to their countrymen, in a small boat. When it was night they hoisted their sails and the ship quietly started through the darkness, but before they had gone as far as they wished to get, among the enemy's boats, they were discovered from the fort and an alarm raised.

The great Decatur, with his comrades, stood gazing at the craft as it receded from them and the sails disappeared in the distance and darkness of the night. What must have been their feelings, as the noble ship disappeared? They were, no doubt thinking of their comrades, so brave, who might be going into the jaws of death. Could it be possible that they would never return, that they would never meet any more? They looked and listened, but they were gone, no sound of them could be heard. Awful suspense—all at once the fort opened fire on the brave crew. The light of their batteries brightened up the shore and the thunder of their cannon shook sea and earth. But where were the twelve Americans? Brave fellows, where were they? They had, no doubt, failed to get as far as they wished to, before they were discovered, and risked their lives a little too long. They applied the fire to the trail of powder and the ship was blown up. Tripoli had never been shaken before, nor had she ever witnessed such a sight. The flames shot up toward the sky; the whole city was illuminated and the report and awful force caused by the blowing up of the ship, made the enemy's vessels in the harbor heave to and fro, and rock as though in a storm. Men's hearts failed them; they did not know but that they were going to sink. The city itself was shaken to its foundation, from center to circumference. Men stood trembling and gazed with horror and astonishment. Not another cannon was fired, and the noise they made was no more when compared with the noise of the explosion, than the sound of a popgun compared to the sound of a cannon, in fact it was no comparison at all. Thousands stood ghastly and pale not knowing what the next moment might reveal. The proud Bashaw had been badly "shook up" and disturbed in his dreams of conquering the Americans. He had heard of the advance of William Eaton and he made up his mind that it was dangerous, for him, to carry on a war with beings who fought more like devils than men, so he concluded that he would go in for peace. The twelve brave men, who went with the fireship, were never heard of again. They returned to their comrades, to tell the thrilling story of their last adventure, never, no never. They had sold their lives, for their country, dearly. They were never to see their homes in North America, or their loved ones again; they had met their fate bravely and sacrificed their own lives for their country's glory.

Father also related the adventures and hardships that were encountered and overcome by William Eaton, who formed a union with Hamet, the elder brother and rightful heir to reign at Tripoli. Hamet had been driven from his country and family, wife and children, and was in hopes, by the aid of Eaton and the American war, of being reinstated at Tripoli. He joined with General Eaton, who had received his commission from the American government, and assumed the title of General. In conjunction with Hamet, he raised an army of twelve hundred men, adventurers of all nations, who volunteered to fight under the American flag. They started from Alexandria, in Egypt, and marched a thousand miles across the desert of Barca. They bore in their advance the American flag, something that had never been seen in that country before. After a tedious march they arrived at Derne, a city on the Mediterranean, belonging to Tripoli. General Eaton summoned the city to surrender. The Governor sent him this reply, '1v head or yours." Then the American general drew up his men and rapidly advanced to attack the fort, which defended the city. He met with a strong resistance, the enemy numbering about three thousand. A terrible fire of musketry enveloped the combatants in fire and smoke. The voice of General Eaton, though he was wounded, was heard, amid the din of battle, encouraging his men.

After a severe contest of about two hours they charged and carried, by storm, the principal fort. They tore down the Tripolitan flag and ran up the stripes and stars in its place. This was the first time it had ever been raised over a fort on the Mediterranean Sea, or in fact the old world. General Eaton was fortifying, making the place stronger, receiving some volunteers, through the influence of Hamet, and preparing to march upon Tripoli to help the American fleet. But he was in need of supplies and every day was expecting to receive them.

As the city and harbor were under his control, he had everything in readiness for his march, excepting the supplies, when the American Frigate, the "Constitution," appeared and announced that peace was declared, 1805. The conditions were that Hamet should leave the country and his wife and children should be sent to him. The American prisoners were to be exchanged and the American seamen not to be compelled to pay tribute any more.

The Americans who had been enslaved by the government of Tripoli were to be paid for the labor they had performed. It is evident that the reigning Bashaw was alarmed for his own safety and was glad to compromise.

Father said it always grieved him to think, that the Americans who had been held as slaves at Tripoli never returned to their native home. They were paid for their service during the time they had been enslaved, went on board a ship, sailed for North America and were never heard of again. They slept the sleep of death with the twelve most brave beneath the dark cold waves, never more to see their families or friends.

Father often repeated such stories in our wilderness home in regard to this war, the revolutionary war and the war of 1812. I and the other children always listened to these tales with much attention and interest. It was the way I received most of my know!- edge, in regard to such things, in those days. As we lived in the woods of Michigan my means of acquiring book-knowledge were very limited. Now, I believe, if I were to read the sum and substance of the same thing every month in the year, for years; the way he related those old stories would still be the accepted way to my mind. Although they might be clothed in language more precise and far more eloquent it would not appear so to me.


 


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