THE TRIPOLI MONUMENT
By Captain C.Q. Wright, Ch-C, U. S. Navy, Retired
Recent events along the North African shores may serve to recall our own little war in those parts, and to arouse renewed interest in the unique monument erected by our naval officers as a labor of love and token of loyalty to brave shipmates lost in that brilliant struggle.
Naming the Monument
Until removed to Annapolis, it was known as the "Navy or Naval Monument," as was also the Peace Monument in Washington, for many years—the latter also having been erected by navy people, as a naval and marine memorial. Both originated by the Porters—father and son, Commodore David Porter fathered the movement to erect the Tripoli Monument, and Admiral David Dixon Porter carried through the project of building the Peace Monument, as to which it may be of interest to state, in passing, that, as Congress gave the money for some of its statuary as well as the site for its erection, they also assumed to name it or, rather, to restore its name, and, so, instead of Navy Monument, called it officially, the Monument of Peace. However, it is generally known today as the "Peace Monument," Although it is one of the most beautiful and prominent in that much monumented city, a recent description of it by an antiquarian Congressman, in a learned lecture on the monuments there, says of the date of its dedication, "unknown." For a number of years after its erection this fine monument was called the "Navy Monument." Then there was still another "Navy Monument"—a book, published after the war of 1812, by Abel Bowser, commemorating our sea victories in that conflict.
The Vicissitudes of the Tripoli Monument
The wanderings of the Tripoli memorial have been remarkable: conceived in the poignant tragedy of a barbarous war; born in a foreign land and under the shadow of an invader's sword; transported in the hold of Old Ironsides to the United States; first landed at Newport, R.I., and, as if unwelcome there, transshipped to Washington, D.C, where was shown further evidence of indifference or unfriendliness in the refusal of Congress to admit it free of duty; and held in some confusion till another service collection was made to defray the expenses of duty and erection; and, at last, landed, and raised in the navy yard at Washington; facing fire and violence six years afterwards, during the War of 1812; after a quarter of a century, removed to the Capitol grounds; and finally, removed to its present imposing and appropriate site in the beautiful grounds of the United States Naval Academy.
"This monument owes its existence not to public gratitude in our national government, nor to patriotic feelings of the citizens at large; but to the private friendship and admiration of the officers of the navy, who, of their own accord, assigned a portion of their pay to the erection of a memorial of actions as heroic as any that were ever achieved in naval warfare; from which, although they shared in the glory, their country alone derived the benefit."
Largely by the influence of Captain David Porter, a subscription was started in the Mediterranean Fleet, towards the end of the Tripolitan War, and when some three thousand dollars had been raised, he was authorized to contract for a suitable monument to be erected to the memory of the six officers who had been the heroic victims of that war.
Accordingly, Porter took advantage of a visit of the ships to the Italian coast, and, after advising with the most competent friends at hand, contracted with Micali of Leghorn for the design and execution of the memorial for the sum of about $3,000. The work was carried forward with so much expedition and skill that, when it was learned that the Constitution was about to sail for the United States and permission was given for its transportation, it was found practicable to crate and ship the monument by that distinguished vessel in 1808, to its destined site, though it had to be landed first at Newport, R.I., and trans-shipped thence by another vessel to Washington, D.C, where it was landed unceremoniously in the navy yard after Congress refused to admit it free of duty. It would appear that the bill to admit the monument free of duty was finally defeated by a "rider" in the Senate adding a thousand dollars for a railing and roof.
A bill to remit the duties on the Tripoli Monument was introduced in Congress about February 24, 1808, and taken up for consideration on the twenty-fifth—the following day—and ordered to the third reading.
And on March 8: "The bill for remitting the duties payable on the importation of a monument, etc., was returned from the Senate with an amendment appropriating $1,000.00 for railing and covering the same; which was negatived in the House by yeas and nays, 59 to 48."
Latrobe, to whom was entrusted the erection of the monument, says:
"On its arrival, it became a question where it should be erected. The Capitol of the United States was pointed out as the proper place. But the unfinished state of that building and the size of the monument were objections. However, Congress was applied to, in the first place, for the sum of a thousand dollars, to defray the expense of putting it up. The application, though renewed in various shapes, proved altogether vain. The idea of placing it in the Capitol of course was given up, and the navy yard, originally the most proper situation, was chosen. To defray the expense of its erection, which could not be much less than eight hundred dollars, a further subscription by officers of the navy was also made, to which other citizens contributed." It is known that a balance left of the sum raised for relief of the victims of the unfortunate Chesapeake affair of the previous year was turned in to this erection fund; and that some of the contributions of officers were "taken off the books." "The Navy Department also gave every aid and facility to the work which could legally be afforded, and, in the year 1808 the monument was placed where it now stands; the principal object of view to all those who enter the yard, either by land or water, and to an extensive portion of the city and of the port."
Cooper, in his Notions of the Americans, says, "The high-spirited contributors to the little work thought the Congress did not pay a suitable respect to their request for a site in a more public situation. They were masters of the navy yard, and, in disgust, they caused their modest memorial to be put up in the center of its area. It may be doubted, after all, if any other situation so appropriate, or so touching, could have been found."
"The monument itself consists of a rostral column of the Roman Doric order mounted on a pedestal to which the character of a sarcophagus is given. The whole forms a well proportioned pyramidal group of sixteen feet base and thirty feet in height. Four life-sized and two smaller human figures surround the column, the larger ones typifying America, Commerce, History, and Victory, and the smaller ones forming adjuncts to the figure representing America and themselves symbolizing posterity. On top of the column is an American eagle bearing a scroll with the federal motto 'E Pluribus Unum' on it. The column also has on the east and west sides each three antique rostra, and on the north and south sides antique anchors in flat relief.
"The pedestal has on its south side the inscription:
'Hic Decorae Functorum in Bello Virorum Cineres'
"The column with its pedestal stands on a square block of rather good proportions. It has an upper border of semi-circular compartments on which are sculptured in basso relievo, alternately, a Turkish turbaned mask and a trophy of Turkish arms. On each side of the block is a panel. That to the south represents in low relief a view of Tripoli, with frigates and gunboats in the foreground attacking the town. On the north side is this inscription: 'Erected to the memory of Captain Richard Somers, Lieutenants James Caldwell, James Decatur, Henry Wadsworth, Joseph Israel, and John L. Dorsey, who fell in the different attacks that were made on the city of Tripoli, in the year of our Lord 1804, and in the twenty-eighth year of the independence of the United States.' On the east side is: 'The love of glory inspired them; fame has crowned their deeds; history records the event; the children of Columbia admire, and Commerce laments their fall.' On the west side is: 'As a small tribute of respect to their memory and of admiration of their valor so worthy of imitation, their brother officers have erected this monument.'
"The block on which these inscriptions are cut is raised upon three steps at three angles of which are placed three of the four life-sized figures already referred to as surrounding the column. At the southeast is a female figure with a diadem of feathers on her head, and a short, petticoat-like garment of ostrich feathers around her waist. She wears Roman leggins and shoes, but is otherwise nude, except for the garment about her waist. She leads up two children and represents America.
"At the northwest angle is a figure representing History. She is fully clothed and holds a book in her hand (the left) and a pen of bronze gilt in her right. She is looking up toward the column and is commencing to write.
"At the northeast angle is a figure of Commerce standing. His right hand points to the column, and in his left is the caduceus. This is the chief sculptural feature of the monument from the point of view of artistic excellence.
"At the northwest of the pedestal, or rather of the block that supports the pedestal and column, and therefore higher than any of the previously mentioned figures, is a Winged Victory. In her right hand she holds a wreath of laurel over the sarcophagus, and in her left is a branch of palm of bronze gilt.
"At the four corners of the base of the monument are four urn lamps of black variegated marble, with flames of bronze gilt, one such lamp at each corner, that is.
"The whole monument is placed on a square mass of solid freestone about five feet high and sixteen feet wide, and excepting the base the whole work is executed in white Carrara marble.
"The dimensions are:
"Foundation 15 feet 3 inches square and about 13 inches above ground.
"Masonry block 11 feet, 3 inches square and 71 inches high.
"Three marble steps 7 inches high each, and 10 feet 8 inches, 8 feet 9 inches, and 6 feet 10 inches square, respectively.
"Block supporting pedestal and column 44 inches high, with a smaller block 22 inches high between it and the pedestal, which is 7 ¾ inches high and about 15 inches square.
"The column is 42 inches in circumference or about 13.4 inches in diameter. It is about 14 feet high above the pedestal."
The foregoing is Latrobe's description of the monument as it first stood in the Navy Yard, Washington.
Of its place in the Washington navy yard, its conspicuous situation is shown in the old 1827 sketch of that yard, where it is marked as standing immediately inside the main gate, and in the midst of the main avenue, flanked by the flag pole and two captured bronze guns—the same which are now seen there. Tradition has it that Commodore Thomas Tingey, commandant of that yard during the first quarter century of its existence, was not enthusiastic in his reception of the monument there, not having been advised particularly of its history, purpose, authorization, destination, etc., but after it had been declined for the Capitol grounds (probably, on Latrobe's advice) and accepted by the Navy Department for the yard, it was Tingey who placed it so conspicuously, and who displayed deep indignation over its mutilation in August, 1814. It was said of this brave officer that he was the last to leave the yard after, by express direction of the Secretary of the Navy, he had set fire to it, and the first officer to re-enter it after the British marines marched away. Here his word was law, and he ruled the yard with a high but efficient hand. After his death, an outrageous story was jokingly circulated in naval circles to the effect that he had willed the navy yard to his family—the point of the yam arising from his long tenure of office, and his rather dictatorial manner and method of administering it; and some air of truth may have been derived from the fact of his having left property adjacent to the yard to his heirs. Commodore Tingey was a distinguished citizen in and around the Capital, as well as an able, conscientious, and highly respected naval officer.
As to the two trophy guns mentioned, it seems a strange oversight and an unfortunate one that they should not have been removed with the monument, to which they naturally lend themselves, to Annapolis, when that beautiful memorial found its final resting-place.
But while it stood in its commanding position in the navy yard, it witnessed many stirring and momentous events: almost immediately after its erection, came the boom and roar and flame and fate of 1812, and the terrible history of 1814—the loud preparation of ships and gunboats at the yard, the war councils and hastening troops in that vicinity, the short blast of battle at Bladensburg within hearing, the retreating troops, the little president atrot on horseback, with the dueling pistols which had been loaned him by the Secretary of the Treasury bobbing up and down in the deep pockets of his long coat, while Barney lay at the spring, near where he had fallen, having his wounds washed and dressed by a British naval surgeon. Then, as news of defeat arrived, and all hope of defense vanished with the retreating forces beyond Georgetown, Tingey, in tears, but with steady step and voice, emerges from his quarters near by, and taking stand beside the monument to his dead comrades, obeys the orders of Secretary Jones, and gives the signal to fire the yard. Then succeeded that awful evening and night of destruction there, the abandonment of the yard, with its trophies and property, and the coming next morning of the enemy.
Then, three days later, on August 27, occurred the blowing up and abandonment of Fort Washington, a few miles down the Potomac, and the fall of Alexandria, in full view.
As the eventful years passed by, came an affair which touched very closely the soul of the monument—the general court-martial assembled in the Washington yard to try its sponsor and godfather. Commodore David Porter, on charges growing out of the cruise against pirates in the West Indies. Daily, distinguished visitors entered and passed under its shadow, and, in 1829, Tingey died there, gazing upon it.
Hull succeeded Tingey in command of the yard, and during the summer of 1829, at the request of the District Court, there was made in the yard a model of a ducking stool, which was exhibited before the judges, during the trial of Mrs. Anne Royall, on the charge of being a common scold. So states Sarah H. Porter, page 137.
After a quarter of a century had elapsed, the old agitation was renewed for its removal to a site in the west Capitol grounds, the former objections, as to the unfinished state of the building, no longer existing, though, in fact, the building was far from completion, and Latrobe was no longer there.
In the dearth of data of the handling of the monument from time to time and from place to place, there has not been found any record of the discussion of the question of its removal from the yard. But this site had always had its advocates, and, it may be fairly conjectured, the much heralded spring-water supply, being piped from Smith's farm, several miles north of the city, may have been a factor in influencing the movement to give the monument a place of honor under the shadow of the great national building, for, as will presently be seen, this water became a distinct feature of its new setting.
The U.S. Weekly Telegraph of May 12, 1831, says: "It must be gratifying to our fellow citizens to learn that the beautiful monument in the navy yard…is now undergoing a complete repair. The mutilated and destroyed ornaments are to be replaced, and the whole is to be removed and fixed upon the oval plat of ground on the upper glacis immediately west of the Capitol. It will there form an object of more conspicuous interest than in its former situation, and will, besides, add much to the beauty of the edifice." Then follows a quotation from the Fredericksburg Arena, of contemporary date, which opens with the interesting statement concerning the monument, "Though in a state of dilapidation, this beautiful specimen of the arts cannot be viewed without emotion," and closes with the statement that "the expense of the removal and repairs will be defrayed by the Navy Department."
The second session of the twenty-first Congress appropriated the liberal sum of twenty-one hundred dollars for the removal of the monument (1831) which, in 1808, they had refused a free passage of our customs, and the meager cost ($1,000) of its erection.
From: American State Papers— P. 37, Vol. 4
Removal of Naval Monument
Navy Commissioners Office.
November 24, 1831.
The amount appropriated for removing and reconstructing the Naval Monument, was $2,100.00
Of this sum the disbursements to the present time amount to—1,502.50
There will be due to contractors on the completion of the work—564.96
For extra work—32.54
The inscriptions on the monument being very faint, it has been proposed to improve them; and for this purpose, should it be approved, there will be required an additional appropriation of one hundred and thirty dollars.
With very great respect, I am. Sir,
Your most obedient servant,
(Signed) Jno. Rodgers.
Hon. Levi Woodbury,
Secretary of the Navy.
Secretary Woodbury, in his annual report for the year 1831, said, "Under an appropriation made at the last session, the naval monument has been removed from the navy yard in this city to a site west of the Capitol. The expense has not exceeded the estimate, although, in addition to repairs, about two hundred dollars worth of labor, not included in the estimate, will be required fully to compensate the contractor, if he proceeds to renew the inscriptions, besides giving uniformity of color to the statues. But this, as the appropriation is already exhausted, must depend solely upon the liberality of Congress (Q)."
When completed, the monument stood just west of the nearly finished marble building, and was placed in the midst of an oval basin which contained nearly 79,000 gallons of fresh water, running in from a large pool above, and in which swam numerous gold fish. Sessford says the basin was of freestone, and Cook mentions the iron railing.
But it is to be feared that, as time went on, the monument, with its limpid pool, shrubbery, and gold fish, was slighted, and allowed to become dingy or bedraggled in appearance, for we hear of Porter's disgust upon his return to the United States when he learned of its removal, and saw it in "a muddy duck-pool," neglected and out of place. "About 1829, Commodore Hull, commandant of the yard, proposed to Commodore Porter the removal of the monument to a place near the Capitol, but P. objected, claiming that the navy yard was its proper element and the place for which it was originally intended; and he made the same reply to a member of Congress. But while Porter was away from the country, the monument was removed to the Capitol grounds, and the obnoxious inscription (concerning its mutilation in 1814) was removed." When Porter returned and discovered the removal, his comments were characteristically bitter, and in the correspondence which ensued, he adds, "And, to cap the climax of absurdity, the Naval Monument had, as an evil omen, I presume, been placed in a small circular pond of dirty fresh water (not large enough for a duck paddle to represent the Mediterranean Sea." A&N Chronicle, April 18, 1839, pages 258-62. And in this Sessford appears to have agreed with him, for in 1834 he says, in his Annals of Washington, "The fountain is neat and ornamental, but too confined. The Naval Monument loses its effect from being so near the Capitol. Were it removed to the island in the Botanic Garden, properly elevated, with a sufficient sheet of water around it, it would be seen to more advantage." This note of disapproval was still pursuing the monument when a little later Watterston, referring to it, says: "This neat and beautiful monument was formerly erected in the navy yard, a much more appropriate place than the one in which it now stands," and, no doubt, he with many other critics, was gratified when it was finally determined to remove the monument again—this time to its final, and quite appropriate, resting-place—the handsome grounds of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., which occurred in the summer of the lowering year, 1860, the appropriation passing for it on June 22.
The progress of the removal was mentioned from time to time by the Washington correspondent of the Baltimore Sun, as follows:
August 2, 1860: "The Naval Monument is down, and all except the figures are taken to the navy yard, from thence to go by boat to Annapolis."
August 13: "The Naval Monument is at the wharf being put up for transportation to Annapolis, and will probably be sent off this week."
September 4: "The statuary of the Naval Monument is about to be shipped on the steamer Anacostia. She is waiting for repairs to her machinery before leaving."
October 15: "Tomorrow the Anacostia will leave with the remainder of the Naval Monument for Annapolis."
And on November 5, the Annapolis correspondent of that paper stated: "Workmen are now engaged in re-erecting the Naval Monument."
Thus, after lying forlornly in its crates a second time in the navy yard at Washington, this exquisite memorial finally reached its welcome place sixty-two years ago, there, in a congenial atmosphere, to abide undisturbed permanently.
No record has been found of the adoption of the new name—The Tripoli Monument.
Aside from its charming character as a work of art, it has an eloquent story to tell—of heroic sacrifice for cause, flag, and country, and of no less admirable qualities of shipmates who were faithful to the memory of their heroic dead.
It is well placed, where so many thousands of young officers pass and repass it daily, catching the thrill of its story, and learning the very names of its martyrs, as a part of the training and character they receive and absorb amidst the inspiring experiences and atmosphere of that institution.
Well would it be for all Americans to know more of the story of our monuments.
The Tripoli Monument stands as an eloquent memorial of brave patriotism and reckless devotion to lofty duty, and as a deathless mark of gratitude and loyal remembrance by surviving shipmates.
As fair as their record of glory,
It stainless stands under the sky,
A beautiful, white sculptured story,
Of deeds that we cannot let die.
Sources: Alden, Latrobe, Watterston, Columbia Historical Society Reports, National Intelligencer, American State Papers, Naval Chronicle, Annalitical Magazine, David Cook, Mr. Fairman, arcurator, Office of the Architect of the Capitol, etc.