Red Castle, Tripoli Harbor.
Burning the Philadelphia at Tripoli

Naval History & Heritage Command photo KN-10849.

Burning the frigate Philadelphia by Edward Moran.

George Brown entered the Navy as a Seaman on board the “Lucky Little Enterprise” at Malta on 8 July 1803. He first served under Lieutenant Isaac Hull as one of the gallant crew of that famous schooner which guarded ships of American commerce from Barbary pirates along the coast of Spain as well as from Tripolitan warships that cruised the Mediterranean. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, Jr., exchanged commands with Lieutenant Isaac Hull on 9 November 1803, Brown having been promoted to quartermaster only five days earlier.

On 23 December, Enterprise captured the ketch Mastico, which had slipped her moorings in Tripoli Harbor with intentions of sailing to Constantinople. Instead, Commodore Edward Preble order her to be fitted out at Syracuse and renamed Intrepid.

On 3 February 1804, with Decatur in command and Brown among the volunteer crew, Intrepid sailed for Tripoli Harbor. On the 16th, in an action that Admiral Horatio Nelson is said to have called “the most bold and daring act of the age,” her crew succeeded in boarding and burning the frigate Philadelphia, which had been captured after running aground on 31 October 1803.

On 20 February, Brown returned with Decatur to Enterprise and took part in the gunboat attacks and bombardments of Tripoli. On 20 September, he was transferred to the frigate John Adams and sailed in her to the United States. He was detached on 22 March 1805. No further record of naval service has been found.

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On the night of 16 February 1804, the brave men entered the harbor in the four-gun schooner of sixty tons and made their way to the captured United States Frigate Philadelphia, which lay within half-gunshot of the Bashaw’s castle and the principal shore battery. Two enemy cruisers were close under her starboard quarter and the enemy gunboats lay off her starboard bow.

On ruse of having lost anchor, the pilot of Intrepid convinced the Tripolitans on board Philadelphia that the ship was a merchantman out of Malta and secured permission to make fast to the captured frigate’s line. Decatur was up Philadelphia’s mid-chains in an instant, followed by sixty men and officers including Brown, who carried the entire fight to the Tripolitans with the sword, swept them overboard and remained until flames appeared skyward from Philadelphia’s hatchways and ports. As Intrepid got from alongside the frigate, flames shot up to the top rigging and Philadelphia’s loaded guns became so hot they went off broadside to the town. Not more than fifteen minutes from time of boarding, the brave men were making their way out of the harbor under fire of enemy shore batteries.

The astonishing feat had been accomplished at the coast of only one man slightly wounded. Before they were out of the harbor, Brown had the satisfaction of seeing the Philadelphia, a veritable torch, drift under the Bashaw’s castle where she was completely consumed. Decatur reported the coolness and intrepidity of his men was such “As I trust will ever characterize the American Tar.” This “most daring feat of the age” brought a new respect and luster for America and greatly increased the prestige of the United States and her Navy throughout the world. Two months’ pay was awarded each of Intrepid’s crew and Congress voted Decatur the present of a sword with grateful thanks for achieving a task of national importance.

Source: Naval History & Heritage Command including Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.