Weakening the Tripolitan fleet
USS John Adams was another subscription frigate, paid for by the people of Charleston, South Carolina and given to the United States Navy in 1799. Ironically, John Adams later served as part of the squadron which blockaded that port during the American Civil War. Although the ship is little known today, it was one of the most successful American frigates ever built, capturing enemy vessels during the Quasi-War, the Barbary wars, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the American Civil War. It also served to suppress piracy in the Caribbean and the slave trade off the Ivory Coast. John Adams arrived in the Mediterranean in the late fall of 1802 to join the blockade of Tripoli.
Under the command of Captain John Rodgers, John Adams joined the squadron blockading Tripoli in May 1803. While en route to the Mediterranean, Rodgers had looked in at Gibraltar, where he learned of a Tripolitan ship of twenty guns, Meshuda, loading military supplies bound for Tripoli in the British port. While patrolling off Tripoli, John Adams spotted the faster Tripolitan vessel trying to run the American blockade and gain the shelter of the harbor guns. John Adams, which had previously thumbed its nose at the Tripolitan batteries by impudently engaging them in bombardment, moved to engage the Tripolitan ship.
The 32 gun American frigate held the advantage over the Tripolitan, which was the faster of the combatants, and which was sailing under the Moroccan flag. Aware of the ship’s destination and of its cargo of military supplies, Rodgers was fully authorized to detain the vessel, which refused to be boarded, giving him the right to use force to stop it. The action was a sharp one, though brief and Meshuda was soon a prize of the Americans. After capturing the ship Rodgers discovered it was sailing under two captains, one Moroccan and one Tripolitan, and its ownership papers indicated that it was the property of the Pasha of Tripoli, despite its registry to the Sultan of Morocco.
The Americans had a treaty of friendship with Morocco, which dated to 1786 (and which remains in effect over 230 years later) but the realities of the situation in North Africa, in which the political and often family intrigues among the various clans took precedence created an uneasy situation. The rulers of the various Barbary States had enemies among their own people which they feared as much as they did the Americans. Concerned that the Moroccan ports were open to the corsairs, the American Commodore Richard Morris, temporarily in command of the American squadron, lifted the blockade of Tripoli and withdrew most of the American ships to Gibraltar.
Morris thought Gibraltar a better site from which to keep an eye on the Moroccan ports, as well as to monitor ships entering the Mediterranean. The decision cost him his command. When Jefferson learned of the lifting of the blockade of Tripoli he ordered Morris relieved and recalled him to the United States. Rodgers assumed command of the American squadron and reinstated the blockade. Rodgers remained in command until the arrival of Commodore Edward Preble, in USS Constitution. By late summer of 1803 the United States had dealt severe financial losses on the Barbary States, but a clear military victory continued to elude them.