This Labor Day Monday, September 2, you may be one of thousands of visitors who will pass through Somers Point on the way home from the Boardwalk and beaches of Ocean City, New Jersey.
If so, take a look at the 300 year old house on the hill to your right as you get off the bridge. And think about Richard Somers, the grandson of the man who built that house.
I invite you to join me and dozens of local residents at 1:30 P.M. that day when we gather again by that old house to hear the remarkable story of America’s first war against Jihad that brought Somers and 12 other young Americans to their deaths in Tripoli on September 4, 1804.
Few high school or college textbooks today even mention that war today. In the 1960’s, I was taught this basic story:
“In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson sent the American fleet to the “Barbary Coast” of North Africa to fight pirates who were attacking American ships, stealing their cargoes, and holding their crews for ransom. Three years later, Richard Somers and his crew were killed when their explosive packed ship Intrepid detonated prematurely while on a daring mission to destroy the last remaining pirate ships in Tripoli”.
But over the years, I learned these important new details at the September ceremonies in Somers Point.
While a handful of inexperienced young Americans fought and died alone 5,000 miles away from home, the most powerful sea powers of Europe paid “tribute” or bribes to make peace with these “pirates”.
The Barbary “Pirates” were recognized and protected by the Europeans as “corsairs” or “privateers” who were licensed and employed by Muslim governments that had legally declared “holy war” or “Jihad” against America.
In 1785, the Europeans set up a meeting in London between American ambassadors John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and the ambassador for Tripoli, so that we could also pay tribute and make peace.
At this meeting, the Tripoli ambassador gave this response when Adams and Jefferson asked why his country was attacking us:
“It is written in our Koran, that all nations which have not acknowledged the Prophet are sinners. It is the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave them. Every Muslim who is killed in this warfare is sure to go to paradise”.
This is why Thomas Jefferson immediately bought an English translation of the Koran for his library.
After the meeting, both Jefferson and Adams strongly urged Congress to build a navy and go to war. They said paying bribes would only make these Muslim kingdoms stronger and more dangerous.
But in 1785, America had no Constitution, and the 13 separate states were unwilling to pay for a navy. For the next 15 years, Americans joined the Europeans and paid tribute to the Barbary Kingdoms.
But by 1798, Americans had enough. We built a navy to fight French pirates in the Caribbean. Then in 1801, we sent our fleet to North Africa.
At first, the Europeans laughed at us. Most of our ships were commanded by men like Richard Somers who were just over 20 years old.
But these young Americans shocked the world. They quickly destroyed Muslim fleets that had defied the strongest European navies for centuries.
At that time, most Americans mastered reading, mathematics, and basic science when they finished school by age 16. A booming economy with low taxes, few permits, and unlimited opportunities gave them years of skills and leadership experience running farms, ships, and businesses by age 21.
A final detail is that the war that killed Richard Somers was America’s first war to end slavery.
For some 300 years, the powerful Muslim kingdoms of North Africa captured more than a million Europeans and 12 million Africans, and sold them as slaves around the world.
America’s war against them brought this to an end. And it made many white Americans aware of the evil of slavery—and the need to abolish it in this nation of liberty.
Before leaving the Jersey Shore for the summer, bring your family to the Somers Mansion in Somers Point at the Somers Mansion in Somers Point at 1:30 P.M. on Labor Day Monday, September 2. Admission is free. You are also invited to help www.libertyandprosperity.org sponsor events like this by attending a fundraising cash-bar buffet to pay expenses. That will be at Gregory’s Restaurant, 900 Shore Road in Somers Point immediately afterwards. Tickets are $25 per person, $35 per couple.