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    Andrew Sterett, Commander of the USS Enterprise, Recounts His Capture of the Corsair Tripoli

    [Capture of the Tripoli] and [First Barbary War]. Andrew Sterett: USS Enterprise Captain's Log for the Year 1801. Spanning the dates May 9, 1801, through October 6, 1801, the journal is attributed (on the title page) to First Lieutenant Andrew Sterett (1778-1807), commander of the U.S. sloop of war Enterprise, and contains a detailed first-person account of the capture of the Tripolitan corsair Tripoli.

    Shortly after the United States gained her independence, she began paying a modest amount in tribute to the sultans of North Africa to curtail attacks on American cargo ships by state-sponsored pirates from the Barbary Coast. In March 1801, the pasha (bashaw) of Tripoli demanded a new treaty in which he was promised more money. Newly inaugurated President Thomas Jefferson responded by sending to the north coast of Africa a "squad of observation," under the command of Commodore Richard Dale, to protect American merchant ships operating in the area. The squadron included the frigates Essex, President, and Philadelphia, accompanied by the twelve gun sloop of war Enterprise, under the command of twenty-three year old Andrew Sterett. Having resupplied in Baltimore, the Enterprise sailed south to meet the other ships at Hampton Roads, Virginia. The flotilla set sail on June 2 for the Mediterranean and it was not until their arrival off the coast of Gibraltar on July 1 that they were made aware of the Kingdom of Tripoli's (along the coast of modern-day Libya) declaration of war nearly two months earlier (May 10).

    While it is attributed to Sterett, the journal is accomplished in at least two separate hands. The author of the first two-thirds consistently writes in the first person (including a fascinating, eight page essay on Gibraltar's history, climate, geology, etc. which was written during some downtime on July 3) leading us to suppose that the first portion is in the hand of Sterett himself. Around September 2, the handwriting changes and subsequent entries are written in the third person, probably that of an aide-de-camp. Sterett begins the journal with a description of the ship, giving her dimensions and an inventory of arms. Containing a near daily account of occurrences on the month-long journey, each page is divided into twenty-four hours and includes information on the course followed, winds and weather conditions, a recap of the events of the day, the health and punishment of the crew ("July 16. . . James Smith had one dozen lashes for neglect of cleanliness in the Cabin."), and "Results of the Day's Works."

    While crossing the Atlantic, the ship encounters other vessels bound for various destinations, including that noted in an entry dated June 25th, 1801: "At 5 P.M. discovered a Sail to the Southward standing for us. . . a British Frigate from Gibraltar bound to England. At 8 made Sail & parted from the Frigate." The following day, nearing the Strait of Gibraltar, the Enterprise encounters a less friendly group: "At 3 A.M. a Sloop passed...and gave us two Shot, which we returned with one, the Sloop hove about and gave chase, supposing her to be a Spanish Privateer, we continued our course and soon ran her out of sight. . . At 6 P.M. was attacked in the Streights [sic] by two Spanish Gun Boats, fired a Shot to Leeward and hoisted our Colours, finding our Flag had no effect we rounded to, and prepared for Action, which made them cease firing & return into shore." Having arrived on June 27, the crew dropped anchor in the Bay of Gibraltar to await the arrival of the rest of the squadron.

    On July 5, the ships, now operating in a state of war, set sail for Tripoli. Four days later they arrived at the port city of Algiers, "when the Commodore hove out a Signal for the American Consul to come on board which he did." They departed a few days later and by July 13 they had "made the Barbary shore." Having reached the coast of Tripoli sometime around July 25, the squad proceeded to patrol the waters, establishing a weak blockade.

    On August 1, the Enterprise engaged the fourteen gun Tripolitan corsair Tripoli in the first battle of the Barbary Wars. A detailed account of the engagement is given in the journal, in full: "Commenced with pleasant & moderate weather At 4 AM saw two Sails one on each Bow At 8 saw a Sail standing towards us. At ¾ past 8 called all hands to quarters. The Vessel in chase hoisted Barbary Colors and we hoisted English, run down under his Lee and hailed him. Finding he was a Tripolitan Cruiser mounting 14 Guns, ordered him under my Lee which he refused. I hauled down English Colors & hoisted American and gave him a volley of Musquetry [sic]. An Action immediately ensued which last for three Hours with very little intermission from firing greatest part of the time within Pistol Shot. After making three Attempts to board us he [Tripoli Captain Rais Mahomet Rous] hauled down his Colours & threw them overboard then gave us a shot which we returned with a full Broad Side. I sent my first Lieut. on board to take possession of the prize which he found in a very shattered situation, having 18 Shot between wind and Water, her Masts and sails almost torn to pieces by our Shot, most of her Guns dismounted, twenty men killed and thirty wounded. Among the latter was the Capt. and first Lieut. She proved to be a Ship belonging to the Bashaw of Tripoli & commanded by Mahometan [Islamic] Powers. My Lieut immediately had his masts & rigging cut away hove his Guns and Ammunition overboard and took every thing out of her that would be of any service to the Schooner. In attempting to bring two six pounders on board of us in our [. . . illegible] Boat she unfortunately sunk along side of the Wreck. As soon as the Lieut. had accomplished his business on board of the prize he returned, with all the hands he had with him, on board of our own schooner, when I ordered the tow line be cast off left the Wreck, with about 50 Souls alive to the mercy of the Sea and weather without any means of Assisting themselves. During the Stay of our hands on board the Wreck 10 or 12 of the Wounded died, which they cast overboard."

    For his action against the Tripoli, Andrew Sterett received a presentation sword from President Thomas Jefferson. He remained in the Mediterranean for the next year and a half before returning to the United States in March 1803. In 1805, he left the navy to pursue a career in the merchant marines, but died of unknown causes in Lima, Peru, in 1807.

    There are forty-five sketches and paintings scattered throughout the ledger, added at a later date. Many of the drawings depict American patriotic themes, but landscapes, animals, geometric shapes, ships, and people are also represented. The artwork is interesting in itself as it ties in with the provenance of this special book. According to our consignor, the book entered the family through William Dickson Ewin (1808-1886), a native of County Leitrim, Ireland, who immigrated to New York City sometime around 1822. By 1833 he had moved to Baltimore and was a partner in the firm Ewin & Heartte, a surveying and nautical instrument manufactory. How Ewin came by the book is unknown, but it appears that someone in the firm began using it as a ledger as eight pages in the rear contain documentation of sales to local (Baltimore) ships. The book was then given either to William's younger brother, John Ewin (1813-1866), who had also immigrated to the United States and settled in Maryland, or directly to John's son, John Moorhead Ewin (1836-1892), who was born in Baltimore and served briefly in the 8th Massachusetts Infantry at the beginning of the Civil War. What is known is that it was the younger John, the present owner's great-grandfather whose name appears on the inside of the front cover. The book remained in the family and was passed down to our consignor.

    The book itself is heavily worn with cracking on the spine which has exposed the textblock in places. Pages are toned and scattered foxing is present throughout. The binding is tight with the exception of the final twenty-three pages, several pages of which have detached.

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    On July 3, Sterett penned a detailed essay describing the geography and history of Gibraltar, saying, in full:

    "This Wonder of the World stands on a Peninsula at the Southern extremity of the Continent of Europe, and can only be approached by land over a low and very narrow Isthmus, on the Northern part of which is a very strong Fortifycation [sic] belonging to the Spaniards; between the two Fortifycations [sic] is a piece of Land free for both Parties unarmed, called Neutral Ground, where I have been informed British and Spanish Officers have been seen riding and conversing together. All Across the Rock runs an Amazing wall 30 feet high and 15 feet thick which was built by the Moors when the Spaniards first took possession of one part. In taking this part a number of the Moors were taken prisoners and promised their liberty on Conditions they would build a wall of certain Dimensions, to stop all communications between the Moors and Spaniards, and as soon as the work was completed the poor Devils were put to death by their merciless Masters. This will ever remain a Monument of Spanish barbarity. As this Wall was built before the use of Cannon, they had places built to stand on, or rather a second Wall not so high as the first by four or five feet to discharge their Arrows from, where they could be under Shelter, in case of an attack by the Moors.

    "The Climate here is very unhealthy especially to persons of a weak habit. The British make it a point whenever the Climate does not agree with the Health of their Soldiers, to send them immediately off the Rock. When the Levant Winds blow it is most unhealthy; the Air is extremely cold and piercing and immediately afterwards very sultry. the rainy season is from November until April, during which time, Vegetation (not on the Rock, but on the Spanish & Barbary Shores) is in its highest perfection The Rock is barren producing nothing but a few wethered [sic] Shrubs in the Crevices.

    "The Inhabitants get their Supplies of Provisions (except fresh) from England and America, their fresh provisions and Vegetables they are beholden to the Moors for from the Coast of Barbary & the Spaniards from Algeziras [Algeciras], the latter smuggle it in the Night, this must be countenanced by the Governor as there is always a guard at the Wharf where they land. The Harbour of Gibraltar appears (until you get better acquainted) to be a good one, and well sheltered from the Levant Wind from the Eastward, but when they blow the wind appears to blow down the Hill with double force. the Bay is smooth except where the wind is fresh from the Southward, then a very heavy Chop of Sea sits in, which frequently drives Vessels on Shore. Vessels of War anchor in from 12 to twenty fathoms Water, gravelly Bottom, South point of the Battery bearing about S.E. merchant Vessels moor inside the Mole under a good shelter from all Winds. The Tide ebbs and flows regularly, and as the wind is almost always variable it is necessary to moor as soon as you get in, before you foul your anchor. It is a certain sign of a Gale of Wind when you see the Top of Gibraltar capt [sic] with white clouds; I would advice every person as soon as they see that the Care, to send down Yards & Topmasts and Get every thing in readiness to receive it.


    "St. Michael's cave appears one of the greatest in the World. this astonishing place is on the West side of the Rock, about one third from the summit; the entrance to it is small, and before the Cave is a platform built of stone called St. Michael's platform. I went into this place with a Number of Gentlemen with lights, and penetrated through the diff. Windings for near 300 yards when we were apprehensive our lights would be extinguished. The water here by constant dripping in the interior part of the Cave has become perfectly christalized [sic], and forming various figures has a very pleasing effect. In some places you will see the forms of men, in others those of beasts, Trees & From the bottom to the top are several Pillars formed by petrifaction [sic] which seem designed by nature as a support to the Roof - some of them forty five feet or upwards in circumference. the Water here is very cold but has the taste of Sulpher [sic], the Air is very damp and the Stench rising from the Cave is intolerable.

    "Douglass's Cave

    "This is an artificial cave to the Northward of that of St. Michael's cut out of the solid Rock and very highly finished and ornamented with a Stone Sopha [sic]. The Front of this Cave is barricaded with Iron Poles. What could have been the first intent of this I cannot conceive.

    "St. George's Tower

    "Stands on an Eminence to the South, built by Governor O Hara the Highest part of this is 1470 feet above the Surface of the Water. the Tower itself is about 47 feet high; This place is intended as a Signal Tower. Three hundred yards to the Northward of this place is a flight of 304 Steps down a horrid precipice, called the Mediterranean Steps, cut in the solid Rock and neatly polished. Four hundred yards from the Mediterranean Steps is another flight called the New-Foundland Steps. This Passage to this is Subterraneous and a place designed by the Governor for a Garden the Rocks in this place is supported by large Iron Supporters. Five hundred yards from this Place is Mount Misery. we were informed that about nine years ago, the Guard all, except the Centinel [sic] were found dead for two days sucessively [sic], supposed to be occasioned by the Levant Wind Since which time they have not mounted guard in this place. One mile from Mount Misery is the Signal Tower about 1500 feet above the level of the Water. On the East side of the Rock is perpetual Fog occasioned by the tremendous height of the Rocks and the Levant Winds. The East side is perpendicular and inaccessible. Rock Gun Battery stands on the Northern precipice, from whence you may fire a Shot into the Spanish Battery with great certainty. St. George's Battery is a very strong fortress underground, facing the Spanish lines, the Guns pointing out through the Rocks on the Northern precipice. this Battery mounts twenty one twenty four pounders, The distance of the Muzzle of the Guns to level ground down a precipice perpendicular is supposed about one thousand feet. From this Battery we descended a Flight of Steps 100 feet deep through a subterraneous Passage which brought us into another Battery pointing to the passage into the Gates called [here the text ends abruptly before continuing with] this place mounts three 68 pound Cannonades.

    "From those places we were conducted to two other Batteries called upper and lower Union Galleries, both under Ground or rather cut through a Solid Rock; one mounts eighteen, and the other three Nine Pounders. All those Batteries are so well Defended by the amazing thickness of the Rock, that nothing can injure them except the bursting of a Shell through one of the parts. The passages to the Batteries are very light and Roomy, and appear calculated for a Retreat for the Inhabitants in case of Danger. On the N.W. part of the Rock stands an Old Moorish Castle which I had not an opportunity of exploring, but hope some other time to give an Account of it."

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2013
    17th-18th Thursday-Friday
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