Throwback Thursday – A Famous Marine and Father of their Mameluke Sword: Presley O’Bannon

The United States Marine Corps anthem opens with “From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli, we fight our country’s battles on the land and on the sea.” A historic Russellville house was once home to Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon, the man whom truly led battles on the shores of Tripoli from whence the song lyrics came. Throwback Thursday travels returns to nearby Logan County this week to share the Marine Corps story.

Presley Neville O’Bannon was born in Virginia the same year this country was—in 1776—amidst the chaos of the American Revolution. His father was Captain William O’Bannon, serving in General George Washington’s Continental Army. His mother was Anne Neville, sister of John Neville, commander of Fort Pitt. Presley himself was named after John Neville’s son, who was aide-de-camp to the Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat and Major General in the Continental Army. 

Presley O’Bannon followed the family line and joined the marines in 1801, commanding an attack during the Tripoli campaign during the First Barbary War. In his success, he was the first American to ever raise the United States flag on foreign soil during a time of war.  Leader of the Ottoman Empire Hamet Karamanli gave O’Bannon a Mameluke sword as a sign of respect. 

O’Bannon’s success during this campaign led the Marine Corps to adopt the Mameluke sword for all commissioned officers in 1825. Mameluke swords are now worn with all uniforms except the evening dress and utility uniform.

He resigned from the marines in 1807 and moved to Russellville. The O’Bannon house is in the process of being renovated and turned into a nonprofit house museum. O’Bannon went onward to politics, serving in the Kentucky state legislature and senate into the early Gilded Age. He passed away in 1850 and his remains are in Frankfort Cemetery.