Eaton, William, 1764–1811, U.S. army officer, celebrated for his exploit in the Tripolitan War, b. Woodstock, Conn. Captain Eaton was sent to Tunis as consul in 1798 and learned much about the Barbary States. When he returned to the United States in 1804, he had a scheme to win the war against Tripoli by supporting the claimant to the rule of Tripoli, Hamet Karamanli. Somewhat reluctantly, Congress appointed him "navy agent to the Barbary States" and allowed him to try his plan. In Egypt, Eaton persuaded the claimant to undertake the venture and gathered a mixed army of 400 men, including Greeks, Italians, Arabs, and others. With this small band he set off on the long march overland to take Tripoli from the rear, took the seaport of Derna, and might have taken Tripoli if the Tripolitan War had not ended with a truce (1805) before he arrived.
See biographies by F. R. Rodd (1932) and N. B. Gerson (1968); L. B. Wright and J. H. Macleod, The First Americans in North Africa (1945, repr. 1969); R. Zacks, The Pirate Coast (2005).