Arundel history

October 30, 2005

1804: John Ridgely's travails on the shores of Tripoli

It was 201 years ago that a military surgeon from Annapolis turned his capture off the Barbary Coast into a friendship with an African ruler.

On October 31, 1804, the frigate Philadelphia was captured in the harbor of Tripoli. When John Ridgely of Annapolis, the surgeon on the vessel, was taken to Tripoli with other prisoners, he was commanded under penalty of death to cure the sick daughter of the ruler - or Bey - of the Barbary Coast metropolis. Ridgely attended to the young woman, and she recovered.

In gratitude, the Bey offered Ridgely his daughter's hand in marriage, but he declined the honor. The Bey then tendered the freedom of the city to Ridgely, but the doctor declined the liberty, unless his fellow officers had the same privilege. The ruler agreed to the condition. When Ridgely returned home, the Bey showered him with presents.

After Ridgely resigned from the Navy, he was named U.S. minister to Tripoli. The Bey gave him a summer house to live in.

[Sources: Elihu S. Riley, historian, and Jean Packard, Sun library researcher]

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