Naval Manument Tripoli Fieldguide to U.S. Public Monuments and Memorials Cabrillo
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Naval Monument Tripoli
Town, State
Annapolis, MD
ID #
Compilation Date (Initial)
July 16, 2007
Compilation Date (Latest)
July 16, 2007
Site Worked Last
June 04, 2013
The monument recalls the courage and valor displayed by several US naval officers killed in action in Tripoli, Libya, 1804 -- Captain Richard Somers, lieutenants James Caldwell, James Decatur (brother of Stephen, naval officer), Thomas Dorsey, Joseph Israel, and Henry Wadsworth. Their actions centered on the capture of the frigate Philadelphia near and in Tripoli’s harbor. These men fought in our young republic’s first armed conflict, the Barbary Wars.

• Giovanni Charles Micali, of Leghorn, Italy, designed and executed the Tripoli Naval Monument, with marble from Carrara, beginning February, 1806. Topped by an American eagle, the memorial is a rostral column, “…an unfluted shaft embellished with the extended bows and sterns of vessels.” (Headley) According to Benjamin Henry Latrobe (in Wright), the column stood atop a base under which rested a sarcophagus. Surrounding and a part of these elements, in position on several marble steps, are life-sized sculptures of Commerce, History, Victory and America with two children clustered about her. All of these features and figures are situated on a substantial sandstone base. Little is known about Micali generally; however, his complex design program for this commission is documented. And what the sculptor planned and executed was multipart and seems nearly the opposite of what the monument’s sponsors seem to have intended and accepted. Expected was a monument commemorating men of valor, victory and honor, likely to be set outdoors, perhaps in a public square for Americans proudly to view and admire. Delivered, on the other hand, was a work grounded in 18th century European funerary traditions, sharing its story in allegory and likely intended to be set inside a church. Even before its Washington unveiling, the style of the Tripoli Naval Monument was dated and its story likely incomprehensible to a general American observer. Given this divergence of intent vs. execution, how ironic that this work should live so long and also become one of the most cherished of U.S. military memorials. To comment on this, if not exactly to shed light on it, perhaps it’s best to borrow, and twist a little, Marshall McLuhan’s phrase, the medium has become the message. (The database identifies two military monuments older than the Tripoli Naval Monument: Montgomery (Major General Richard Montgomery, in New York, dedicated 1787, ID #975; Warren and Associates (Major General Joseph Warren), in Boston, dedicated 1794, ID# 1875.) From a design perspective, Latrobe, civil engineer and second architect of the Capitol, played several overlapping roles opposite the Tripoli Naval Monument. Administratively, in August, 1808, Latrobe received the monument in Washington, via Boston, brought aboard the USS Constitution, as ballast. Professionally, his job was to erect the monument, transported in 51 crates weighing some 15 tons. Artistically, the original marble base was damaged in transit, yet by auctioning the fragments, Latrobe was able to purchase a cube of sandstone to fit beneath the three steps of marble. Also, he apparently felt the need to add inscriptions in several places to help inform a viewer’s understanding of the work’s symbolic narrative.

• The monument has seen several settings, over the years. Upon its arrival in Washington, the Capitol was suggested as the work’s proper location; however, as the Capitol was still under construction and as the sculpture’s size was also raised as an objection, this location was declined. The Navy Department decided to take the monument for its yard, apparently the originally intended site. It was Commodore Thomas Tingey, Navy Yard commandant for the first 25 years of its existence, yet evidently and to his chagrin not a part of the decision-making process to place the monument in “his” yard, who decided nonetheless to put the work “immediately inside the main gate, and in the midst of the main avenue…” to the Navy Yard (Wright). Finally, in 1831 it reached the Capitol, front west lawn, as some had sought unsuccessfully in 1808. Its location in the middle of a fountain, while seemingly apropos, might have been something of a drawback given marble’s comparative softness and, to a visitor, the distance from its detailed sculptural and inscription program. In 1860, the monument was relocated to its current site, the U.S. Naval Academy, which had opened in 1845, at Annapolis, Maryland. On this campus, it is situated near Preble Hall, opened in 1937 and named after Edward Preble. He was the naval officer who in 1803 had been placed in charge of a third squadron in the Mediterranean Sea, and it was this group that included the officers memorialized in the Tripoli Naval Monument. After some 140 years of the monument’s residence on the USNA campus, the Navy community came together to restore the monument. The firm Conservation Solutions, Inc. (Santa Fe, New Mexico, Joseph Sembrat, president) performed the work, under the supervision of the USNA public works department (headed by Captain Philip Dalby).

• The Tripoli Naval Memorial’s first sponsors were naval officers, led by Captain (later Commodore) David Porter. Himself a Barbary prisoner of war for some 19 months, Porter led fundraising efforts, beginning 1805; selected the sculptor, Micali; and, for some time, interfaced with various federal officials on issues ranging from financial support, to transportation, site selection/location and monument maintenance. For the 2000 renovation, the lead sponsors were the U.S. Navy and USNA alumni, especially Vice Admiral Eliot H. Bryant & Miriam H. Bryant Endowments as well as Captain Warren Johnson ('47) at the helm of Friends of the Save the Tripoli Monument Committee.
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War Dead or those Serving and Dying
Other conflict(s): Barbary Wars
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Sculpture w/wo pedestal
Designer 1
Artist/Artistic Group: Micali, Giovanni Charles
Designer 2
Artist/Artistic Group: Latrobe, Benjamin Henry
Fabricator/Builder 1
Conservation Solutions, Inc. 
Fabricator City
Santa Fe 
Fabricator State
Fabricator Country
United States 
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Not available in ABBREVIATED view
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Anne Arundel
Intentionally Blank
Educational entity
Government, Federal -- Exec / Other
Membership Group/Public Contribution
Washington to Lincoln|1789-1865
Comments and Notes
TITLE ALTERNATES: Tripoli Naval Monument, U.S. Naval Monument, Naval Monument, Peace Monument
PORTFILIO: Military selected as the six honorees are all Navy military personnel
CONFLICT: Other -- Barbary Wars
Installed 1808, Washington Navy Yard
Removed 1831 to Capitol, West Front (within a fountain)
Removed 1860 to United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland
SITE MAINTENANCE: FedGov-Other Executive -- U.S. Naval Academy
LEAD SPONSORS (1): Family/friends/colleagues -- Officers of the United States Navy, organized by Lt. (later Commordore) David Porter.
LEAD SPONSORS (2): Membership Group/Public Contribution -- For restoration in 2000, led by Captain Warren Johnson ('47):Friends of the Save the Tripoli Monument Committee, Naval Academy alumni, Vice Admiral Eliot H. Bryant & Miriam H. Bryant Endowments
LEAD SPONSORS (3): Government, Federal / Exec / Other -- U.S. Congress; U.S. Navy
SOURCES: Architect of the Capitol, Compilation of Works of Art and Other Objects in the United States Capitol; Fairman, Art and Artists of the Capitol of the United States of America; Goode, The Outdoor Sculpture of Washington, D.C.; Headley, Janet A. "The Monument without a Public: The Case of the Tripoli Monument." SIRIS; Urdang, The Timetables of American History;; Wilson, A Guide Book to the United States Naval Academy (in 1923); Wright, Captain C.Q., The Tripoli Monument
COMMENT: The Intersecting Streets -- above, in Annapolis -- put the user at Gate #1, Main entrance.

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