Historical novelist James Haley has entered the crowded field of nautical fiction occupied by the likes of Patrick O’Brian (Aubrey-Maturin series), C. S. Forester (Horatio Hornblower), Richard Woodman (Nathaniel Drinkwater), Dewey Lambdin (Alan Lewrie), and William Hammond (The Cutler Family Chronicles).
Like William Hammond, with his excellent and nearly completed series, James Haley tells the story from the perspective of the American Navy. The first book of the series, The Shores of Tripoli, places young midshipman Bliven Putnam aboard the Enterprise en route to the Mediterranean, serving the flagship, the 44-gun frigate President. Bliven’s Enterprise is a 165-ton schooner, 85 feet in length with twelve 6-pounder guns and a crew of 90.
The United States has grown tired of the piracy and tribute required by the Barbary States of North Africa: Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. Tripoli is the biggest offender. While President Adams had supported paying tribute and appeasing the pirates, President Jefferson advocates resistance. The Naval Act of 1794 has authorized the construction of six heavy frigates and the acquisition of support vessels such as the Enterprise.
This is essentially the beginning of the U.S. Navy. Putnam’s fleet left June 2, 1801, for Gibraltar. The young midshipman (one of only two aboard this small ship) learns the ropes along the way. He gains respect in one battle with the pirates and his career is launched. The Navy is essentially dismantled for a year or two and Bliven is sent home to wait further orders. During that time he meets the young lady who is likely to become his wife in future books and he develops the relationship with his previous fellow midshipman, Sam Bandy. This friendship will clearly continue and become stressed as the Civil War draws near in future books. Bliven is a northerner. Sam is from a southern plantation.
Soon the two midshipmen, now lieutenants, are back aboard the U.S.S. Constitution (later to be known as “Old Ironsides”) and heading back to the Mediterranean as part of a large squadron to stop Tripolitan piracy, kidnapping, and ransom.
The book ends after some modicum of success against Tripoli, including the famous desert crossing for the battle of Derna. There are some minor arguments and tiffs with the British during this period of time, a perfect setup for a second book in the series focused on the War of 1812. Clearly there will be more to come. This is one more naval historical fiction series worth reading.
The Shores of Tripoli: Lieutenant Putnam and the Barbary Pirates, by James Haley by James Haley (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016; 448 pages)