The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805, by Richard Zacks, was one of those books I could not put down. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen on the next page, the next chapter. I had to follow William Eaton from one escapade to the next.
There are so many Americans who devoted their lives to the service of this country, and William Eaton is one of them. Most of us have never heard of this man who attempted to stop the piracy of Muslim attacks on American ships. Early on, he had the support of his president, Thomas Jefferson. Later, though, Jefferson had qualms about interfering (he called it “intermeddling”) in another country’s government. Because of this, Eaton shipped out without sufficient funds, men, or supplies. This left Eaton to deplete his own financial reserves, and to become deeply in debt.
How Eaton managed reveals the story of a heroic, but almost futile, adventure. As today, there were two prongs to American foreign policy: military force and diplomacy. According to Zacks, these two “were operating in denial of the others’ existence”. Some things never change, do they?
Sacks reveals how our government betrayed William Eaton, refusing to pay monies owed him, and relenting only after he was near financial ruin. The book also focuses on Tobias Lear, who was a constant thorn Eaton’s side, undermining him at every opportunity. The truth of Lear’s many nefarious activities eventually surfaced, and in 1812, he killed himself. Jefferson left office in disgrace over multiple issues.
The U.S. Marine Corp, which rose out of this conflict was a lowly, un-respected group of sailors; overworked and underpaid, they remained so until World War II. It was then that they became the most elite military force in the world. Zacks says it was then that they evolved from being known as “The Desperate, the Drunk, the Marines” to The Few, the Proud, the Marines”.
It was from this conflict that grew the tradition of the Marine dress uniform including a sword (the pirates wore curved swords). It was also from this conflict that the Marines proudly sing,
“From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli,
we will fight our country’s battles on the land as on the sea.
First to fight for right and freedom,
and to keep our honor clean,
we are proud to claim the title of United States Marine.”
If you love history and true adventure stories, you will love The Pirate Coast by Richard Zacks.