This sword is an example of the type of weapon used by the forces of Tripoli during the Barbary War. Hand-to-hand combat involving swords, short pikes, and quick thinking occurred when sailors were given the order to board the enemy vessel. This type of sword comes in a variety of forms and was most likely used by a slain or imprisoned Tripoline sailor.
Early in the war, the frigate Philadelphia ran aground and led to the capture and imprisonment of its captain, William Bainbridge, and its 300 crew members. To avoid a similar situation in shallow waters, Constitution (the only frigate) and other American ships (Syren, Argus, Scourge, Vixen, Nautilus, and Enterprise) acted as cover for small but mighty gunboats and bomb ketches that could engage the Tripoline gunboats closer to shore.
During the first battle on July 13, 1804, Commodore Edward Preble gave the order to board with the goal of taking the Tripoline gunboats as prizes, both weakening the Pascha’s forces and adding to the American arsenal. Separately, Lieutenants Stephen Decatur and John Trippe engaged in direct combat with the Tripoline leader of the gunboat and upon the death of the enemy leader, the rest of the Tripoline crew surrendered. At the end of the battle, three gunboats were captured and three others were sunk, a significant victory that boasted the success of American physical and naval power.