For 200 years pirates of the Mediterranean terrorized ships, captured and murdered innocent people, and demanded large extortion payments from European powers. They were known as The Terror. in 1801, the young United States becomes the newest target of the pirates' attacks. By the time Thomas Jefferson is elected president payments to the pirates had reached twenty percent of the entire government’s budget. With only a small navy to challenge the pirates on the open seas the U.S. must find a way to answer the pirates' latest demands.
What happens next changes history forever.
The Declaration of Independence is signed. The war with the British escalates.
Stephen Decatur is born January 5, 1779 in Sinepuxent, MD. His family returns to Philadelphia after previously fleeing the city to escape the British occupation. Stephen’s father, Stephen Decatur Sr., was a privateer and hunted British merchant vessels during the war.
The Naval Act of 1794 authorizes construction of 6 frigates to defend American shipping in the Atlantic Ocean after repeated attacks on American ships by Mediterranean pirates. Stephen Decatur quits school at age 15 and begins working for the ship builder, Gurney and Smith.
The first of the new frigates are completed. Decatur joins the navy and reports for duty aboard the USS United States.
Thomas Jefferson is inaugurated President of the United States.
President Jefferson fails to make peace with the pirates and dispatches the navy to engage the pirates in the Atlantic under the command of Commodore Richard Dale.
Stephen is promoted to first lieutenant and addresses the crew of the USS Essex:
“Comrades, We are about to embark on an expedition which may terminate in our sudden deaths, our perpetual slavery, or our immortal glory. The event is left for futurity to determine. The first quality of a good seaman, is, personal courage. The second, obedience to orders. The third, fortitude under sufferings; to these may be added, an ardent love of country. I need say no more – I am confident that you possess them all.”
After numerous battles at sea Stephen is given command of his own ship the USS Enterprise.
On October 31st 1803, The USS Philadelphia, under the command of William Bainbridge, is captured when Bainbridge unwisely chases a Tripoli vessel too close to the shoals and runs aground. All 380 men are taken to Tripoli in chains and the frigate is placed in Tripoli harbor.
Decatur hatches a plan to sneak into Tripoli Harbor, free the captured crew, and destroy the Philadelphia so it cannot be used against them. The outcome of his plan changes his life and the path of the nation forever.