Day: February 1, 2016
Less than 50 years after it gained its independence from Britain, the new American nation faced a crisis. The Barbary states of North Africa preyed upon shipping, taking crews captive and demanding ransom payments and tribute that threatened the infant American economy.
Unsuccessful in its efforts to deal with the pirates through diplomacy, and unable to make the demands for even higher tributes and ransom, Thomas Jefferson, soon after gaining the presidency, chose to demonstrate the new country’s might, and convinced congress to authorize raising a navy and employing it to demonstrate that Americans would fight for the right to trade freely around the world.
Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates by Brian Killmeade and Don Yaeger is the story of America’s first war after independence, focusing as much on the unnamed men who fought it at sea and on the ground as on the figures well known in American history. The war against the Barbary pirates is a chapter in American history that gets little notice in history courses, and is largely unknown to most Americans. It is instructive, though, in that it was the first test of the new nation’s prowess, and many aspects of our modern foreign policy grew out of the experiences of this forgotten period of American history.
It reads like a historical thriller, with accounts of those who fought, gleaned from historical documents and journals of people history has largely ignored. A well-constructed book, my only complaint is that the authors display their own lack of full understanding of American diplomatic history in some parts; for instance, John Adams is referred to as the ambassador to Great Britain, when, in fact, the U.S. didn’t post its first ambassador abroad until 1893. A small error that can be forgiven, in view of the fact that most Americans are ignorant of the nuance and detail of American history, but one that the authors or editors should have caught (Adams is correctly identified as minister to Britain in the photo of him inserted in the book. I also took issue with the authors contention that the depredations of the Barbary pirates was based on religion—that they were Muslims was incidental to the fact that they were greedy and like most pirates of that day down to the present were motivated by the desire to profit from preying on those perceived as weak.
These minor irritants aside, this is still an instructive book. It shows the evolution of America’s overseas policy, and the importance of effective leadership, both political and military, in achieving national security and prosperity, and the contributions to our nation that have been made by people whose bravery and innovation in the face of adversity prevails.
I received this book as a gift. I give it four stars.
February is Black History Month, a time when we celebrate the contributions of people of color to the rich tapestry that is the history of the United States. It’s unfortunate that it has taken the establishment of a special month to highlight the role so prominently played at the time of the historical events, but that was later erased from the history books, or at best, downplayed. One of the figures of our historical past who has yet to receive the full acknowledgement due him is Bass Reeves. Reeves was a former slave who spent the years of the Civil War in Indian Territory in Oklahoma. After the war, he returned to his native Arkansas and became a farmer, and sometimes scout for the deputy U.S. marshals traveling into Indian territory in search of fugitives. Even though he could neither read nor write English, Reeves was an expert tracker who spoke six Native American languages, was handy with his fists, and was so proficient with firearms (fired with either hand) he was banned from entering Turkey Shoots in his community. When Isaac Parker was made federal judge for western Arkansas and the Indian Territory by President Grant, he decided to hire black deputy marshals because they would be able to operate easier in Indian territory than white men would. Reeves was one of the men hired, and his exploits for the next 30 years was the stuff of legend. Despite this, popular media and American history has mostly forgotten him, There have been a couple of minor movies and a few books, but few people know that he’s thought to be the model for the popular ‘Lone Ranger’ character of radio, TV and comic books.
Black History Month is a good time to do some reading that helps to set the historical record straight. A few years ago, when I came across information about Reeves while doing research for my Buffalo Soldier series (stories about the black Ninth Cavalry soldiers known as Buffalo Soldiers by their Native American adversaries), I was fascinated, and decided to do a fictionalized account of his activities. That book, Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal, has been one of my more popular books, with consistent month-to-month sales since it was published in 2014, in both paperback and Kindle versions.
Though fiction, it’s historically accurate, and while I’m a bit biased, I also think it’s an entertaining story.
Paperback and Kindle versions of the book are available at the following link which is the Amazon store on my other blog:
Once there, go to the bottom of the store and click on ‘Page 8.’ The two versions of the book are at the bottom of the page. By clicking on the one you want, you’ll be taken to a page that allows you to purchase the book directly from Amazon.
Some of my other books relating to minorities and their contributions to American history: