1805 Coup Attempt and Treaty

William Eaton and Hamet Karamanli on the March to Derne; from a contemporaneous woodcut.

The Tripolitan War featured more than naval battles—it included an attempt to overthrow the bashaw and replace him with his brother!  Plans for this expedition began in 1801 when consuls James Cathcart and William Eaton learned that the current bashaw had (years earlier) murdered his eldest brother and driven the middle brother, Hamet, into exile.

The coup attempt stalled for a few years, but regained momentum in early 1805 when Eaton met with Hamet and persuaded him to regain the Tripolitan throne.  Eaton promised American military and naval support, for which Hamet would repay the U.S. from tribute extracted from Denmark, Sweden and the Batavian Republic.  Eaton promised more, however, that the Jefferson Administration and Commodore Barron were willing to provide.   See below for the convention made between Hamet and Eaton.  How does Eaton portray himself?







Eaton and Hamet raised an army of about 500 men (mostly Arabs, plus eight U.S. marines and various European adventurers).  Their first (and only) attack, on the coastal town of Derne on April 27, 1805, was a smashing success.  Although heavily outnumbered, Eaton and Hamet’s forces expelled the bashaw’s army and took over the town.  The Marine Corps Hymn commemorates the Derne victory with the line “to the shores of Tripoli.”

However, the coup attempt stagnated as the bashaw’s reinforcements arrived and camped outside Derne.  Eaton and Hamet were unable to press on to Tripoli and overthrow Yusuf.  Commodore Barron, the ranking U.S. officer in the Mediterranean, doubted the viability of the coup attempt.  He withdrew naval support and instructed the ranking U.S. diplomat in North Africa, Tobias Lear, to negotiate an end to the Tripolitan War.  The ensuing treaty required the U.S. to pay $60,000 as ransom for the 300 Philadelphia hostages.  The Tripolitan War had ended.

Route of William Eaton’s Army from Alexandria to Derne, 8 March-25 April 1805; prepared by the Office of Naval Records and Library.








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