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Tripoli Monument (sculpture)

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The Tripoli Monument is the oldest military monument in the United States.[1] It honors heroes of the United States Navy from the First Barbary War (1801–1805): Master Commandant Richard Somers, Lieutenant James Caldwell, James Decatur (brother of Capt.Stephen Decatur), Henry Wadsworth, Joseph Israel, and John Dorsey. It was carved in Livorno, Italy[2] in 1806 and brought to the United States on board the famous 1797 frigate USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides").[1] From its original installation in the Washington Navy Yard at the new national capital of Washington, D.C. in 1808, it was later moved to the west front terrace of the United States Capitol facing the National Mall in 1831, and finally to the United States Naval Academy campus in Annapolis, Maryland in 1860.[2]

Tripoli Monument
United States Naval Academy
Tripoli Monument.jpg
Campus of the U.S. Naval Academy
For the memory of Somers, Caldwell, Decatur, Wadsworth, Dorsey, Israel
Unveiled1808 (sculpted 1806)
Location38°58′59″N 76°29′15″W / 38.98311°N 76.48759°W / 38.98311; -76.48759Coordinates: 38°58′59″N 76°29′15″W / 38.98311°N 76.48759°W / 38.98311; -76.48759

the Officers' and Faculty Club[1]
Designed byGiovanni C. Micali
As a small tribute of respect to their memory and of admiration of their valour so worthy of imitation their brother officers have erected this monument.[1]



The white marble sculpture consists of a thirty foot high column topped by an eagle and mounted on an elaborate base adorned with allegorical figures representing Glory, Fame, History, and Commerce. History, on the northwest corner, is represented by a seated female figure holding a book in her proper left hand and a pen made of bronze gilt in her proper right hand. She looks up and begins to record the event that she sees. Commerce, on the northeast corner, is represented by a male figure pointing to the column with his proper right hand and holding a caduceus in his proper left hand. Winged Victory stands beside the column, her proper right hand holding a laurel wreath over a sarcophagus and her proper left hand holding a bronze gilt palm branch. The column is adorned with two rows of antique "beaks of galleys" and two rows of antique anchors carved in relief. The sculpture rests on a square base constructed with blocks of stone and adorned with an urn on each corner.[2]

The monument is made of Carrara marble with a sandstone base and measures 360 by 192 by 192 inches (9.1 m × 4.9 m × 4.9 m). It is also known as the U. S. Naval Monument, the Naval Monument, and the Peace Monument.[2] The designer was Giovanni Charles Micali (sometimes Giovanni Carlo Micali), who signed his work as Giov. Charles Micali Invento·In Livorno 1806.[2]


On the north side of the monument's base is Micali's signature as described above.[2] On the west side of the monument's base is inscribed:[1][2]

The love of Glory inspired them
Fame has crowned their deeds
History records the event
The children of Columbia admire
And commerce laments their fall

On the east side of the monument's base:[1][2]

As a small tribute of respect to their memory
and of admiration of their valour
so worthy of imitation
their brother officers
have erected this monument

On the south side of the monument's base:[1][2]

Erected in the memory of Captain
Richard Somers, Lieutenant
James Caldwell, James Decatur,
Henry Wadsworth, Joseph Israel,
and John Dorsey who fell in the different
attacks that were made on the city of Tripoli
in the Year of our Lord 1804
and in the 28 year of the independence
of the United States

On each face of the larger bottom base is inscribed:[1][2]


Near the monument is a brass historical plaque placed there after a restoration undertaken in 2000. The first two paragraphs of the plaque are[1]


The oldest military monument in the United States honors heroes of the War against
the Barbary Coast Pirates, the new republic's first war. In 1804, President Jefferson ordered
the nation's tiny naval force to the Mediterranean to protect the expanding trade of the new
United States against the pirates, who demanded ransom for safe passage of merchant ships.

"Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute" 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.

History of the monumentEdit

The Tripoli Monument with Naval Academy midshipmen at Annapolis in the foreground, circa 1868, eight years after its arrival there

At the conclusion of the First Barbary War (1801–1805), Captain David Porter, USN assumed the task of creating a suitable monument for the fallen officers. Working with the Bishop of Florence, Porter commissioned Micali to produce the piece for $3000, half of Micali's usual fee.[2] Completed in 1806, it was shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to Newport, Rhode Island on board the USS Constitution (famous frigate "Old Ironsides"), and then shipped south to the newly laid out national capital of Washington, D.C.. After awaiting funds for assembly and erection, the structure was finally placed at the Washington Navy Yard on the banks of the Eastern Branch (now the Anacostia River) of the Potomac River, as the Naval Monument.[3] Vandalized and damaged by the occupying British at the burning of Washington in August 1814, during the War of 1812, the monument was later restored. In 1831, it was moved to the United States Capitol on the west front facing the National Mall,[2] much to the dissatisfaction of Porter, who found it had "been placed in a small circular pond of dirty fresh water—not large enough for a duck puddle—to represent the Mediterranean Sea."[3]

Resolution came in 1860 when the monument was moved to the campus of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. Even there, as the Academy expanded, the monument was moved and relocated several times around campus,[3] before finally being situated in front the Academy's Officers' and Faculty Club.[1]

In August 1994, the Smithsonian American Art Museum noted that the Tripoli Monument needed treatment.[2] The needed restoration of the monument was completed in June 2000.[1] There is some conjecture that the figures of Glory, History, Commerce, and Fame are not in Micali's original positions. The adjustment may have occurred in the transition to the Capitol in 1831.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Giovanni C. Micali. "Tripoli Monument at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland". Retrieved 8 May 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Tripoli Monument, (sculpture)". Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved 8 May 2014.
  3. ^ a b c Smith, Dody W. (30 May 2011). "Our Oldest Naval Memorial: The Tripoli Monument" (blog). United States Naval Institute. Retrieved 9 May 2014.

External linksEdit