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Chapter 4

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Diplomatic Relations
of the United States
with the Barbary Powers

by
Ray W. Irwin

published by
The University of North Carolina Press
Chapel Hill, 1931

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Chapter 6
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p69  Chapter V

Peace with Algiers, 1795‑1797

While preliminaries to the creation of a navy were in progress, the hope of an amicable settlement with Algiers was not abandoned. In July, 1794, the Secretary of State wrote to Humphreys that whenever the latter saw fit he might expend $800,0001 for peace and ransom, and might use his discretion about treating in person or through an agent at Algiers.2 Humphreys had for some time been inclined to think that since American overtures had been rejected, the initiative in the future must be taken by the Dey.3 But the death of fourteen Americans in Algiers, between January 1 and August 1, caused him to reverse his opinion.4 He thereupon communicated to Pierre Eric Skjöldebrand a desire to ascertain the Dey's will relative to receiving an American envoy.5

Skjöldebrand interviewed the Dey, who said that an envoy might come to Algiers whenever he wished but that the United States would be required to pay a large sum for peace, a considerable amount for ransom, and an annual tribute "as is the custom with other nations."6 Soon after this J. L. Cathcart, an American captive at Algiers, approached the Dey and told him that the United States would probably not spend more than five hundred thousand dollars in the negotiation. To this Hasan Pasha replied: "The ambassador might save himself the trouble of  p70 coming . . . I should have sent him a copy of my demands in writing, and if he could not have complied with them, he might have stayed away."7 These demands, which were soon transmitted to Humphreys by O'Brien, fixed the price of peace and ransom at the appalling sum of $2,435,000.8 It was an amount far greater than the United States had set aside for the negotiations.9

Late in 1794 Humphreys returned to America, where he remained until the following April.10 Although eager to avoid further diplomatic service relative to Algiers, he was prevailed upon to continue in his official capacity, and in March and April received some supplementary instructions.11 They were: (1) to obtain a treaty of peace and the liberation of captives; (2) to employ Joseph Donaldson12 as sole agent, or as a co‑worker with P. E. Skjöldebrand, at Algiers; and (3) to proceed to France for the purpose of securing the aid of that government in negotiating with the Dey.13 Accordingly Humphreys, accompanied by Donaldson, left America in April. The two separated when they reached Gibraltar, Humphreys proceeding to  p71 Paris, and Donaldson to Algiers. While the latter was in Barbary, the former, in concert with James Monroe, secured the services of Joel Barlow.14

Donaldson reached his destination September 3, and the following morning began negotiations with the Dey.15 According to Cathcart,16 the Dey's initial proposal was that the United States pay him for peace $2,247,000, two thirty-five gun frigates, a large annuity of stores, and biennial presents, such as were given "by Sweden, Denmark, and Holland."17 When Donaldson countered with an offer of $543,000 for peace and ransom, the Dey treated it with contempt.18 He did not, however, adhere to his original proposal, and within a short time offered to accept $982,000.19 Donaldson replied through an intermediary that he "didn't come to Algiers to be trifled with," and that he could not give more than he had at first offered.20 The Dey's answer to this was that if Donaldson had nothing further to offer, he should leave Algiers.21

Although the tenseness of the situation for a time remained great, it was finally broken by an agreement involving mutual concessions. Donaldson's aides prevailed upon him to increase his offer to $585,000.22 Cathcart presented  p72 this proposal to the Dey, observing as he did so that a large proportion of the amount, $240,000, would go to the Dey and his family, and that the total sum was $279,500 more than he had been paid by the Dutch.23 The Dey agreed to accept the offer with a proviso that the United States must pay an annuity in stores and provide biennial presents "the same as paid by Holland, Sweden, and Denmark."24 A few hours later adjustments were made which obligated the United States to pay in cash a total sum of $642,500 and an annual tribute of twelve thousand Algerine sequins ($21,600) in naval stores.25

Late in November Humphreys gave his approval to the treaty, and on March 2, 1796, the Senate advised ratification.26 The document contained twenty‑two articles, the majority relating to seizures and other molestations. Provision was made for furnishing American vessels with passports within eighteen months after the formation of the treaty. Foreign countries could not sell captured American vessels in Algiers, but Americans were permitted to sell their prizes in Algerine ports.27 Considerate treatment was guaranteed Americans who voluntarily or as a result of accident landed in Algiers. Naval and military stores might enter Algerine ports free of duty, but all other articles should be subject to the duties paid by countries possessing treaties with Algiers. Articles brought to Algiers for the American consul and his family should be duty free. Slaves escaping to American vessels were to be "immediately returned" to their Algerine masters. The Dey was to decide disputes between his subjects and citizens of the United States in Algiers; but in those between United States' citizens, the consul should have jurisdiction.  p73 In case of any violation of the treaty, peaceful means were to be employed to effect a settlement.28

There still remained what proved to be the difficult task of obtaining funds to put the treaty into operation. Humphreys received advice that the sum of $800,000 was at his disposal in London; consequently he despatched O'Brien29 from Lisbon to obtain it.30 Arriving at London, January 10, 1796, O'Brien discovered that the Messrs. Baring were, because of the scarcity of gold and silver, unable to provide the necessary funds.31 He therefore returned to Lisbon to confer with Humphreys about obtaining them in Portugal and Spain.32

Hasan Pasha had in the meantime become so impatient over the extended delay that he threatened to renew hostilities.33 Hoping to placate him, Joel Barlow hastened to Algiers with presents which he had collected in France.34 Arriving early in March, he found the Dey "extremely irritated" and vowing that he would break the treaty if the money were not "soon paid."35

 p74  On April 2, the Dey publicly announced that within eight days he would declare war against the United States; then at the expiration of another thirty days he would begin to capture American vessels.36 In order to postpone such an event for at least three months Barlow promised that the United States would give to the Dey's daughter a ship of thirty-six guns, and to a Jewish broker named Bacri a present of $18,000.37 Barlow estimated the total expenditures for frigate and commission at $53,000.38 In order to soothe the Dey still more, Barlow proffered him a consular present of far greater value than that ordinarily given at Algiers.39 The Dey hesitated to accept it because the United States had not paid him for the treaty, but finally consented on the ground that a distribution of the present would tend to stop criticism on the part of many Algerine officers.40 He also ordered Cathcart to go to Philadelphia to aid in the collection and transportation of the promised presents. His reason for this, he said, was a desire to protect the treaty from the attacks of its enemies; an object which might be attained if it could be demonstrated that the Americans were "more punctual and honest than other nations."41

In June the American captives were released. Humphreys had secured a credit for $400,000 at Leghorn and  p75 one for $200,000 at Lisbon.42 Upon learning this interesting news, Barlow borrowed from the Jewish house of Bacri a sum sufficient to ransom the captives, making a remittance in the form of bills on Donaldson at Leghorn. A curious feature of this transaction was that the borrowed money had been donated to the public treasury at Algiers by the French government and had subsequently been loaned to Bacri and Company.43

The captives were sent to Marseilles in an Algerine ship, the "Fortune." After they had been landed the vessel sailed away, flying the American colors. It was captured by the British who claimed it on the basis of the Algerines' having secured it as a prize. Bacri and Company, the owners, estimated their loss at $40,000 and presented to Barlow a bill for that amount. The claimants contended that the flag of any nation at peace with Algiers protected the Algerine vessel and cargo over which it flew. Barlow, according to O'Brien, "had no alternative but to entail this sum as a debt on the United States."44

After sending the released Americans to Marseilles, Barlow remained at Algiers to await the arrival of the money owed the Dey.45 O'Brien had in the meantime obtained it but while en route to Algiers had fallen into the hands of the Tripolitans. After detaining him for some time, however, the Pasha permitted O'Brien and his vessel to proceed without further molestation.46

The Dey was overjoyed when Barlow informed him that the money had arrived, and was most effusive in his praise  p76 of the United States.47 He requested Barlow to ask some favor of him; whereupon the American besought aid in making peace with Tripoli and Tunis.48 The Pasha of Tripoli, said Barlow, had not only captured two American vessels but in so doing had flouted the Dey's passports. The Bey of Tunis had promised to form a treaty for a certain sum but had later broken his word. It was for the Dey, therefore, "the father of justice . . . to hold these people to the right and to their word, and save the honor of Barbary."49 The Dey replied that the request was too small. He would not only send letters that would bring Tripoli and Tunis to terms, but would loan Barlow the money necessary to conclude the treaties.50

In the relations between the United States and Algiers during the years 1793 to 1797 Europeans played an important part. The activities of Logie, and his government's approval of the Portuguese-Algerine truce, have already been noted.51 Portugal, after permitting an Algerine raid into the Atlantic, refused to ratify the truce and provided convoys for American merchantman. In April, 1794, she definitely renewed the struggle against the corsairs.52 This enraged the Dey who "damned" Logie for forming the truce without Portugal's consent and threatened to declare war on England.53 This anger at the  p77 English probably had some bearing on his agreeing to accept Donaldson's terms.54

The American agents in Algiers repeatedly charged Frenchmen with having obstructed the progress of negotiations. In March, 1797, Barlow wrote that the French consuls in Algiers had manifested "opposition and decided enmity" to the United States.55 By August he was convinced that they were acting "in pursuance of their instructions."56 Cathcart reported strong opposition from members of the Chamber of Commerce of Marseilles on account of the Mediterranean carrying and grain trade.57 A charge brought against the French consul at Tripoli was that after the Tripolitans captured the "Sophia," he congratulated the Pasha and urged him to condemn the brig and the money which O'Brien was taking to ransom Americans in Algiers.58

The two Skjöldebrands were highly praised by American agents for services rendered in Algiers.59 So great was  p78 the confidence in the friendship of these two Europeans that in 1795 the United States Government offered to P. E. Skjöldebrand a consular commission.60 Cathcart wrote that the Danish and Venetian agents at Algiers were fearful lest the formation of a treaty with the United States would be followed by an Algerine war against Denmark and Venice. They therefore sought to convince the Dey "that the United States had neither the means nor the inclination to comply with his demands."61

When peace was made with Algiers in 1795, a check was applied to the construction of a United States navy. A congressional inquiry revealed that splendid progress had been made in building six frigates authorized by the act of March 27, 1794.62 This law, however, had forbidden further work on these vessels in the event of a settlement with Algiers.63 Members of Congress in 1796 held widely differing views as to what should be done. Those who advocated a naval establishment argued that the Algerine treaty might be lost; that American commerce was not safe from the depredations of European countries; that agriculture and manufacturing were largely dependent upon commerce; and that national honor demanded the protection of rights and liberties.64 Other members contended that since peace had now been concluded with Algiers and Morocco, American commerce was fairly safe; if not, it should find some means of protecting itself. With respect to spoliations committed by European powers a belief was expressed that indemnities could be obtained by negotiations. Finally, the opponents of a navy  p79 emphasized expense, patronage, and a possible infringement upon rights and liberties.65

The opposing factions effected a compromise in April, 1796, with the passage of an act empowering the President to have work on three of the frigates continued.66 The first of these to be completed was the "United States," which was launched at Philadelphia in July, 1797.67 During the same year two sister ships, the "Constitution" and the "Constellation," became available for service.68

In reduced insurance rates alone the fitting out of these three frigates was worth the cost. The entire expense of building, arming, and keeping them in commission between 1794 and 1798 has been estimated at $2,510,730.69; the saving in insurance for the latter year alone, at $8,655,566.06.69 The following chart,70 showing insurance rates in Philadelphia before and after the launching of these vessels, suggests the great benefits which American shippers derived:

Insurance
to and from
Before U. S. Warships Sailed After U. S. Warships Sailed
out home out home

Russia

22½ 22½ 12½ 12½

Sweden

20 12½ 12½ 12½

Denmark and
Hanse towns

17½ 17½ 10 10

Holland

20 17½ 15 12½
 p80 

Great Britain

17½ 17½ 10 10

Spain

17½ 17½ 12½ 12½

Portugal

15 15 10 10

Morocco

20 20 12½ 12½

Italy

27½ 27½ 17½ 17½

China and East Indies

20 15 10 10

West Indies

17½ 17½ 12½ 12½

Africa

20 20 12½ 12½

By January, 1797, the purchase and maintenance of a treaty with Algiers obligated the United States to the amount of almost a million dollars.71 So lavish, indeed, had been the outlay in ransoms, presents, and other forms of tribute that certain European powers became greatly alarmed. "Denmark and Sweden," wrote Rufus King in 1800, "complain heavily that we have . . . materially disturbed the economy with which they have immemorially  p81 managed their affairs with those Regencies."72 His reference to Barbary was not here confined to Algiers. He might properly, have added that the million dollar Algerine peace had increased exactions from the United States both in Tripoli and in Tunis.

In taking a general view of the relations between the United States and Algiers over the period covered by this chapter, one observes a number of significant results. On the one hand, American captives had been liberated; peace had been established with the most formidable of the Barbary powers; the Algerine ruler had promised to aid the United States in forming treaties with Tripoli and Tunis; and there had been constructed a small naval armament which provided greater security to American commerce. But, on the other hand, the United States government had paid a huge sum for ransom and for the initial peace; it had made valuable concessions in the form of presents not stipulated by the treaty; it had bound itself to pay an annual tribute in naval stores which would be used for piratical purposes. The magnitude of these concessions had stimulated Tunisian and Tripolitan greed, and had alarmed European maritime states. Finally, having purchased peace so dearly at Algiers, the new republic had begun to treat with Tripoli and Tunis. Its hope for success in these negotiations was based upon the good faith of a pirate and the efficacy of bribes. Such had been the policy of the government which, it was claimed, possessed "millions for defence, but not one cent for tribute."


The Author's Notes:

1 Then available in Holland.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Am. State Pap., For. Rel., I, 528, Sec. of State to Humphreys, July 19, 1794. The President at this time had "under consideration" the exact manner in which the money should be expended.

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3 Despatches, PortugalIV, Humphreys to O'Brien, May 12, 1794.

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4 Ibid.IV, List of deaths, eleven from the plague and three from smallpox. See also letter to Sec. of State, Sept. 17, 1794.

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5 Ibid., P. E. Skjöldebrand to Humphreys, Oct. 10, 1794.

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6 Ibid.

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7 Despatches, AlgiersIII, Cathcart to O'Brien, Nov. 1, 1794.

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8 Ibid., O'Brien to Humphreys, Nov. 21, 1794. This sum was to be apportioned as follows:

Two 36 gun frigates  248,000
For the treasury 1,080,000
For the Dey himself 540,000
For 2nd class officers 98,000
For principal officers 115,000
For redemption of 100 Americans 354,000
Total $2,435,000
[decorative delimiter]

9 Am. State Pap., For. Rel., I, 529, Sec. of State to Humphreys, Aug. 25, 1794.

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10 Todd, Life and Letters of Joel Barlow, p116.

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11 Despatches, PortugalIV, Humphreys to Sec. of State, May 18, 1794; Am. State Pap., For. Rel., I, 529, Sec. of State to Humphreys, Aug. 25, 1794, also March 28, and April 4, 1795.

[decorative delimiter]

12 Who was to serve as consul to Tunis and Tripoli.

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13 Am. State Pap., For. Rel., I, 529, Instructions to Humphreys, March 28 and April 4, 1795; Todd, Life and Letters of Joel Barlow, pp117 and 118.

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14 Am. State Pap., For. Rel., I, 553, Statement from Sec. of State, Jan. 6, 1797.

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15 Despatches, AlgiersI, Donaldson to Sec. of State, Sept. 7, 1795.

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16 Am. State Pap., For. Rel., I, 530, P. E. Skjöldebrand to Humphreys, Sept. 10, 1795. Cathcart aided in the negotiations, as did P. E. Skjöldebrand and a Jew named Mechajo Bacri.

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17 Cathcart, The Captives, p173.

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18 Cathcart reported the Dey as saying to him: "Your Ambassador's powers are not limited; for the French consul has sent to inform me that he has carte blanche and can give what he pleases for peace." — The Captives, p175.

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19 Despatches, AlgiersI, Donaldson to Sec. of State, Sept. 7, 1795; Cathcart, The Captives p177.

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20 Ibid., p178.

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21 Ibid.

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22 Cathcart, The Captives, p181. A discrepancy of $500 appears in Cathcart's reports concerning this offer. In the above work the sum is recorded as $585,000; in Cathcart's Correspondence it is reported as $585,500.

[decorative delimiter]

23 Ibid., pp182‑184.

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24 Ibid., p185.

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25 Treaties and Conventions (comp. Malloy), I, 5. It was later discovered that the stipulated stores could not be provided for this amount. See Allen, Our Navy and the Barbary Corsairs, p56.

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26 Treaties and ConventionsI, 6; Am. State Pap., For. Rel., I, 530.

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27 Without payment of duties.

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28 See text of treaty in Treaties and Conventions, I, 1‑6.

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29 O'Brien left Algiers, September 11, with the treaty, which he presented to Humphreys in Lisbon.

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30 Am. State Pap., For. Rel., I, 553, 554. Statement from Sec. of State, January 6, 1797.

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31 Despatches, Algiers, O'Brien to Sec. of State, Feb. 1, 1796. On March 7, 1795, the President of the Bank of the United States had remitted to the Messrs. Baring and Company the sum of $800,000 in six per cent stock certificates. These certificates were to be sold and the proceeds placed at the disposal of Humphreys. The stock did not sell readily, and by July 15, 1796, only $560,000 had been disposed of. The general European war had in the meantime created a scarcity of specie. See statements by Messrs. Baring and Company in the Am. State Pap., For. Rel., I, 556, 557.

[decorative delimiter]

32 Baring's provided O'Brien with letters of credit for the requisite amount on Lisbon and Cadiz. Despatches, AlgiersIII, O'Brien to Sec. of State, Feb. 16, 1796.

[decorative delimiter]

33 Am. State Pap., For. Rel., I, p554.

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34 Ibid., I, 553.

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35 Todd, op. cit., p125, quoting a letter from Barlow, dated March 8, 1796.

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36 Ibid., p128, quoting a letter from Barlow dated April 2, 1796.

[decorative delimiter]

37 Ibid., pp129, 130, quoting a letter from Barlow, dated April 5, 1796. The sum of $18,000 was to be paid as a commission for making this arrangement with the Dey.

[decorative delimiter]

38 Barlow assumed complete responsibility for the transaction. See Despatches, AlgiersI, Barlow to Humphreys, April 5, 1796.

[decorative delimiter]

39 Ibid.I, Barlow to Sec. of State, April 17, 1796. Barlow wrote that ordinarily consular presents would cost $16,000 or $17,000; the expense of this one, however, he estimated at $27,561.96. The cost was great, he wrote, because the "situation was unusual at Algiers."

[decorative delimiter]

40 Ibid.I. At this time, wrote Barlow, the Dey said he believed the Americans "A good people though they had many enemies, but he would be their friend, and was now ready to receive the consular present."

[decorative delimiter]

41 Ibid.I, Barlow to Sec. of State, May 4, 1796.

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42 Ibid.II, Barlow to Donaldson, July 12, 1796.

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43 Ibid.II, Barlow to Sec. of State, July 12, 1796.

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44 Allen, op. cit., pp54, 55; Despatches, AlgiersIII, O'Brien's Journal, 1796, contains brief account of this affair.

[decorative delimiter]

45 Todd, op. cit., p135.

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46 Ibid., p139, quoting letter from Barlow, dated Oct. 9, 1796. The Tripolitans captured a second American vessel which they confiscated. Both ships sailed under the protection of the Dey's passports.

[decorative delimiter]

47 Ibid.

[decorative delimiter]

48 Ibid.

[decorative delimiter]

49 Ibid., p140, quoting letter from Barlow, dated Oct. 9, 1796.

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50 Ibid., p141. Barlow reported the Dey as concluding with the statement: "For paying the 90,000 piastres that I give you, your nation can send them to me when she pleases. I find that she is just — you are wise and humble — I am her friend, and yours."

[decorative delimiter]

51 See above pp58 ff.

[decorative delimiter]

52 Despatches, PortugalIV, Humphreys to Sec. of State, Feb. 24, 1794; Humphreys to Sec. of State, April 13, 1794; Despatches, LisbonI, Edw. Church to Sec. of State, March 16, 1794.

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53 Despatches, PortugalIV, Humphreys to Sec. of State, April 13, 1794.

[decorative delimiter]

54 Cathcart, The Captives, p185. Cathcart said the Dey told him that he would accept Donaldson's terms "more to pique the British who are your inveterate enemies, and are on very bad terms with me, than in consideration of the sum which I esteem no more than a pinch of snuff."

[decorative delimiter]

55 Despatches, AlgiersII, Barlow to minister plenipotentiary at Paris, March 14, 1797. At the time Barlow wrote this letter he was of the opinion that the French consul at Algiers when the treaty was formed opposed it because of disappointment in failing to acquire a fortune by concluding the treaty himself; his successor, because of the Jay Treaty. Apropos of the second consul Barlow wrote that "when he first arrived [in Algiers] he gave me to understand that our treaty with England was likely to produce war with France; an opinion which seemed to afford him a good deal of pleasure."

[decorative delimiter]

56 Ibid.II, Barlow to Sec. of State, Aug. 17, 1797.

[decorative delimiter]

57 Cathcart, The Captives, p163.

[decorative delimiter]

58 Ibid., pp209, 210.

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59 Despatches, AlgiersI, Barlow to Humphreys, April 3, 1796. Barlow wrote as follows: "The two Skjöldebrands (the Swedish Consul and his brother) are our frank and disinterested friends. Their past and present conduct merits our highest confidence and gratitude." See also Cathcart, The Captives, p164.

[decorative delimiter]

60 Am. State Pap., For. Rel., I, 529, 530, P. E. Skjöldebrand to Humphreys, Aug. 13, 1795. Skjöldebrand gracefully declined the offer on the ground that such an office "ought not to be confided to any other than an American citizen."

[decorative delimiter]

61 Cathcart, The Captives, pp163, 164.

[decorative delimiter]

62 Report of Sec. of War to the House of Reps., Jan. 20, 1796.

[decorative delimiter]

63 U. S. Statutes at Large, I, 350.

[decorative delimiter]

64 Goldsborough, U. S. Naval Chronicle, p60.

[decorative delimiter]

65 Ibid., p61.

[decorative delimiter]

66 Ibid., p60. Two forty-four gun frigates and one of thirty‑six.

[decorative delimiter]

67 Maclay, History of the U. S. Navy, I, 159.

In his annual message to Congress, Dec. 7, 1796, the President expressed a conviction that American commerce in the Mediterranean would never be safe without a protecting force and added the hope that a future European war would "not find our commerce in the same unprotected state in which it was found by the present." Richardson, Messages and Papers of the Presidents, I, 192, 193.

[decorative delimiter]

68 Paullin, Diplomatic Negotiations of American Naval Officers, p54.

[decorative delimiter]

69 Maclay, op. cit., I, 163.

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70 Goldsborough, op. cit., p109.

[decorative delimiter]

71 Ibid., pp64, 65. The following is a report submitted to the President by Oliver Wolcott, Sec. of the Treasury, Jan. 4, 1797:

Payments stipulated at the time of closing the treaty, to the Dey, and the treasury, for the redemption of the captives $  525,500   
For percentage on the captives 27,000   
Peace presents, consular presents, etc. 60,000   
Commission to Jew broker, and presents to principals, etc. 30,000   
Amount of money to be paid in Algiers $  642,500   
Which, with the expense of remitting it from London to Algiers will amount to $702,758.81
To which add:
Payments made to Colonel Humphreys,
Pounds sterling 3,471
Payment to Capt. O'Brien 31
Sterling pounds 3,502 or 15,569.44
Naval Stores stipulated 124,413
Freight of said stores 50,000
Expense of frigate promised 99,727
$992,463.25
[decorative delimiter]

72 Life and Corr. of Rufus King, III, 355, King to Eaton, Dec. 28, 1800.


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