The ornate, allegorical Tripoli Monument, as it is better known today, is one the oldest military monuments in the U.S. that honors the heroes of the First Barbary War (1801-1805) against the North African Barbary pirates; Captain Richard Somers, Lieutenant James Caldwell, James Decatur Henry Wadsworth, Joseph Israel and John Dorsey. Commodore David Porter (father of David Porter, Jr. of 1812 fame) initiated the project to create a memorial for the six U.S. naval officers who perished.
In 1804, to protect our Mediterranean trade, President Thomas Jefferson ordered the nation’s tiny naval force to protect U.S. trade against the pirates, who demanded ransom for safe passage of merchant ships. “Millions for defense, but not on cent for tribute” had became the rallying cry for this war. Jefferson’s action established the doctrine of extension of power overseas and created a permanent United States Navy.
The monument was carved in 1806 in Italy by Giovanni Charles Micali, of Leghorn, Italy, who designed and executed the Tripoli Naval Monument, with marble from Carrara. The disassembled monument arrived in New York in November 1807 onboard the US frigate Constitution and was soon on its way to the U.S. Naval Yard at Washington..
The monument suffered damage during the British occupation of the yard during the War of 1812, whether it was due to the British or the firing of the yard remains still unclear. The monument remained at the Navy Yard until 1831, when Congress ordered it placed in the center of the reflecting pool at the base of the steps on the west side of the Capitol. In 1860 it was moved to the U.S. Naval Academy.