During this time, Marines received the nickname ‘Leathernecks’, after the high collar they wore as protection against pirates’ saber cuts.
Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon and his Marines marched across 600 miles of the Libyan Desert to storm the Tripolitan city of Derna and rescue the kidnapped crew of the USS Philadelphia.
The Marines’ victory helped protect U.S. ships and secure our trading in the area. As a gesture of respect and praise for the Marines’ action at the Battle of Derna, First Lieutenant O’Bannon was presented a Mameluke sword by the Ottoman Empire vicery, Prince Hamet, which is now the oldest ceremonial weapon still in use by United States armed forces today.
The Battle of Derna was the Marines’ first ground battle on foreign soil and is notably recalled in the Marines’ Hymn: “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, we fight our country’s battles in the air, on land and sea”
Many Americans erroneously trace the roots of Islamic terrorism against their nation to September 11, 2001. In reality, the United States’ very first conflict with Muslim terrorists was also its very first war as nation…
And additional reading via “From the mouth of our cannon”: brief history of Bainbridge & Muslim piracy
Following the Revolutionary War, American commerce ships sailing in the open waters of the Mediterranean were being attacked and destroyed by Muslim pirates, led by the “Dey of Algiers,” the Islamic warlord ruler of Algiers. The Muslim pirates were vicious, taking the mostly Christian crews as hostages. At that time, America had no navy to protect the ships and was virtually powerless to fight against the savage attacks. In 1784, the Continental Congress negotiated with the four Barbary States of North Africa (Morocco, Tripoli, Algiers and Tunis) in an effort to stop the piracy. At first, America paid protection money – $18,000 a year – to allow our ships to proceed unmolested by the pirates of Barbary.
As demonstrated in this case, succumbing to the demands of extortion never works out very well. Those who extort always want more, and payment of protection money is always a sign of weakness. Like today, the leaders of America in the late 1700’s tried to settle the piracy issue through diplomacy. As such, two American diplomats, Thomas Jefferson, then the American ambassador to France, and John Adams, the American ambassador to Britain, were dispatched to London in 1786 in an attempt to resolve the piracy issue. They met with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, the “Dey of Algiers” ambassador to Britain. It was during that meeting in London when Jefferson asked the Muslim ambassador why Muslims held so much hostility towards America, a nation they had virtually no contact with at that time.
The answer is as relevant today as it was in 1786 – perhaps even more so. Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja stated :
“Islam was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Qur’an, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Muslim who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.”
Sound familiar? In 1786, diplomacy could not resolve piracy on the high seas due to the religious motivation of the pirates. America paid the leaders of the Muslim pirates millions of dollars as protection money through 1801, until America, with Thomas Jefferson as President said “enough.” Not long after he was elected, he sent a group of American frigates to defeat the pirates. under the motto “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute!” Our navy did so, and after winning numerous battles in North Africa through the heroic efforts of our men in uniform, the piracy against our ships stopped.