Featured Article and Did You Know That?.....

December 2000

Michael Brown Carroll and the Barbary Coast Pirates

For well over 400 years, the Barbary Coast pirates made their living by seizing ships and goods and by enslaving people.  France and England, among other nations, had for hundreds of years been paying “tributes” to the rulers of the Barbary Coast which included Algiers, Tunisia, Morocco and Tripoli (now called Libya).  American ships were protected because prior to the Revolutionary War, our ships flew British flags.  For a while after the Revolutionary War the French protected us. 

By 1785, however, we were on our own.  The newly created United States had downsized the army to less than 700 men and had eliminated the Navy entirely and had sold its last ship. That same year, the Barbary Coast pirates seized the first U.S. merchant ship and took 22 hostages.  By 1793, over 100 Americans were being held hostage (including 16 of the 22 taken in 1785; 6 hostages having died while in captivity).  This on-going situation was the single most important reason why Congress passed and President Washington signed legislation on March 27, 1794 which recreated the Navy under the Department of War.  The Department of Navy, as a separate entity was created April 30, 1798.  It should be noted that the first Secretary of the Navy was Benjamin Stoddert who was born in neighboring Charles County, MD.

Just six months later, on September 7, 1798, Michael Brown Carroll was appointed as a midshipman in the U.S. Navy. Mr. Carroll was born 1768 in St. Mary’s County  at “Susquehanna” which was a part of the approximately 7,000 acres taken by the U.S. Navy in 1942 for the Patuxent Naval Air Station. Mr. Carroll saw action first in the Quasi War with France, but by 1800 he was serving aboard the Philadelphia off the coast of Tripoli.  In 1803, pirates seized the Philadelphia and its crew of 307 was taken hostage after it had become entrenched on a sandbar in the harbor of Tripoli.  Luckily, by that time Michael Brown Carroll had already been assigned to the Siren. Stephen Decatur, with a crew of volunteers, eventually destroyed the Philadelphia in a daring raid in which they posed as pirates using a previously captured Tripolitan ketch, which had been renamed, the USS Intrepid.  The Siren, with Mr. Carroll on board, accompanied the USS Intrepid.  The mission was successful with 20 of the enemy being killed and the Philadelphia destroyed.  As a result of this mission, Stephen Decatur was promoted from Lieutenant to Captain at the age of 25, the youngest Captain ever appointed in the U.S. Navy.

Michael Brown Carroll would continue to serve in the Mediterranean until 1806.  He received his commission, signed by President Jefferson in 1802. He would eventually be promoted to Master Commandant in 1815 after having served in New Orleans during the War of 1812.  Mr. Carroll resigned from the U. S. Navy in 1822 and came back to “Susquehanna” where he died in 1831.  In 1960, the family of Michael Brown Carroll donated to the St. Mary’s County Historical Society the original commission signed by President Jefferson, a sword said to have been presented to him by a prominent Turk after the Battle of Tripoli, and a small portrait all of which are on display at the Old Jail Museum in Leonardtown.

Did you know that?...

The second wife of Nathaniel Eaton, the first head of Harvard University in 1638, was Ann Graves, the sister of Verlinda Graves, wife of Governor Thomas Stone of Charles County? 

Catherine  Louisa Johnson, wife of President John Quincy Adams, was the daughter of Joshua Johnson of Calvert County? 

Margaret Mackall Smith, born in Calvert Co., married President Zachary Taylor and their daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor was the first wife of Jefferson Davis?

In 1970, while a student at Fordham University, Denzel Washington played the role of Matthias De Sousa, an African American who came to Maryland on the Ark and that he was assisted in preparing for this role by Mr. Edwin Beitzell who was then the President of the St. Mary’s County Historical Society?

The crew of the Dove had to sue three times for their wages after their voyage to Maryland?  Mr. Calvert, et al, refused to pay them because the Dove had traveled to Barbados in order for the ship’s captain to collect on a personal debt?


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