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First Name: Presley

Last Name: O'Bannon

Birthplace: Fauquier County, VA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Marines (present)

Middle Name: Neville

Date of Birth: 1776

Date of Death: 12 September 1850

Rank: Captain

Years Served:
Presley Neville O’Bannon

•  1st Barbary War (1801 - 1805)


Presley Neville O'Bannon
Captain, U.S. Marine Corps

Presley Neville O'Bannon was born in 1776 in Fauquier County, VA. He was named for his cousin, who had been an American officer in the Revolutionary War, served as the Aide-de-Camp to General Marquis de Lafayette and married to the daughter of General Daniel Morgan.

O'Bannon is most remembered for being the first man to plant the American Flag on foreign soil, which was done on 27 April 1805 during the Barbary Wars. In 1805, Tripoli (now Libya) and the Barbary Coast "pirates" had raided shipping in the Mediterranean Seas for years, exacting tribute in return for not attacking ships of a given nation, or seizing ships and sailors and selling them into slavery. Before American Independence, American ships had enjoyed the protection of the British Navy, but after independence, America was forced to pay tribute to avoid pirates (it was determined that it was less costly to pay the tribute then to respond with military action). In 1801, the Pasha of Tripoli, Yusat Karamanli, demanded additional tribute, and when refused, he declared war against the U.S. The U.S. proposed to depose Yusat, replacing him with his brother, Hamet.

Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon, Marine officer assigned to the USS Argus, took seven marines and marched with Hamet and 500 of his men from Alexandria, Egypt, to Derna, Tripoli, a distance of over 600 miles, arriving on 25 April 1805. When O'Bannon demanded Yusat to surrender, Yusat replied "My head or yours." O'Bannon led a daring frontal assault on the harbor fort, raising the American Flag over the fort after two hours of hard fighting. This was the first time the Stars and Stripes had been raised on foreign soil. The fall of the fort disenchanted Yusat's soldiers and they fled Derna, only to return in a fierce counter-attack, which O'Bannon and his men successfully fought off.

O'Bannon continued to serve in the Marine Corps, being promoted to Captain, until 6 March 1807, when he resigned and moved to Kentucky, where he later served in the Kentucky State Legislature.

Today, he is remembered by the words "to the shores of Tripoli" being a part of the Marine Corps Official Song, and his Mameluke sword, presented to him by Hamet, has become a standard for Marine Officers since 1825.


The U.S. Navy has named 3 destroyers USS O'Bannon after him (DD-177, DD-450, & DD-987). 

Death and Burial

Presley Neville O'Bannon died on 12 September 1850 in Logan County, KY. He is buried at Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, KY.

Honoree ID: 2913   Created by: MHOH




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