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Capture of USS Philadelphia, 31 October 1803

In October 1803 the U.S. Frigate Philadelphia (Captain William Bainbridge) and Schooner Vixen arrived off Tripoli, with which the United States had been at war, though without much energy, for nearly two and a half years. Under orders from the new U.S. Mediterranean commander, Commodore Edward Preble, they were to closely blockade the North African port in an effort to bring the hostilities to a satisfactory conclusion. Captain Bainbridge soon sent Vixen off to look for some enemy cruisers, while keeping his frigate nearer Tripoli to maintain the blockade. On 31 October Philadelphia sighted an enemy vessel running just off shore and pursued. Realizing that the water was becoming shallow, Bainbridge turned seaward and ran aground on an uncharted reef.

The Tripolitans quickly sent a large force of gunboats to attack the stranded Philadelphia, which was listing so severely that her broadside guns could not fire on the enemy. Though the frigate's crew worked for hours to lighten their ship, throwing overboard guns, equipment and supplies, and ultimately cutting away her foremast, she remained stuck fast. Essentially defenseless, and with Tripolitan reinforcements approaching, Bainbridge surrendered his ship and crew.

Philadelphia was pulled off by her captors and taken to Tripoli harbor, where she represented not just a humiliating defeat, but also a potentially serious threat to American warships and commercial shipping in the Mediterranean sea. Preble resolved to destroy her, a project heroically and successfully carried out in mid-February 1804. However, Philadelphia's officers and men remained captives until the war ended in June 1805.

This page features all the views we have related to the capture of the Frigate Philadelphia off Tripoli on 31 October 1803.


Click on the photograph to prompt a larger view of the image.

Photo #: NH 1071

"A perspective View of the loss of the U.S. Frigate Philadelphia in which is represented her relative position to the Tripolitan Gun-boats when during their furious attack upon her she was unable to get a single gun to bear upon them"


Contemporary engraving after a drawing by Charles Denoon.

Courtesy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1936.

U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 117KB; 740 x 510 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 50458

"The U.S. Frigate Philadelphia on the Rocks off Tripoli"


Lithograph by E.J. Pinkerton, published by F.S. Duval, Lithographer, Philadelphia.

Courtesy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1936.

U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 133KB; 740 x 545 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 56734

Stranding and capture of USS Philadelphia, 31 October 1803


Sketch by William Bainbridge Hoff.
It depicts Philadelphia under attack by gunboats off Tripoli, after she ran aground on uncharted rocks while chasing a small enemy vessel.

U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 117KB; 740 x 465 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 74530

Capture of USS Philadelphia, 31 October 1803


Sketch by Fred S. Cozzens, copied from his book "Our Navy -- Its Growth and Achievements", 1897.
It depicts Philadelphia under attack by gunboats while aground off Tripoli.

U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 117KB; 740 x 580 pixels

 


For higher resolution images see: Obtaining Photographic Reproductions

To the best of our knowledge, the pictures referenced here are all in the Public Domain, and can therefore be freely downloaded and used for any purpose.





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