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Chapter 6

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 8
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p92  Chapter VII

An Uncertain Peace 1798‑1801

For a time after Barlow left Algiers very amicable relations were maintained with that State. The promised frigate was constructed at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and was named the "Crescent." She was launched in June, 1797, and experts pronounced her "an excellent piece of work."1 In the meantime the Dey had requested the United States to build him two cruisers at his expense. The President favored compliance because of the part which the Dey had played in connection with Tripoli and Tunis, and made a recommendation to this effect to Congress.2 That body then appropriated $45,000 for the construction of two vessels, the work to be completed with the utmost dispatch.3 By December, 1798, they had sailed for Algiers accompanied by the "Sophia" and two other vessels.4

On December 25, 1797, O'Brien was commissioned to serve as Consul to Algiers and Consul-General to all the Barbary states.5 To his care was entrusted the sum of $180,000 to be used in meeting American obligations in  p93 Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis.6 He went to his post on board the "Crescent," and in January reached his destination. The Dey received the frigate as a present, and O'Brien gave him a schooner, the "Hamdullah," in lieu of a portion of the military and naval stores stipulated in the treaty. The Dey thereupon provided passports for the crews, the members of which returned to the United States on board two American vessels then at Algiers.7 At this time O'Brien reported that the stores which had been sent to the regency were very unsatisfactory; canvas had rotted, cordage and timbers were moulded, and many articles were missing, some having been thrown overboard during a gale. This situation, thought O'Brien, provided an excellent reason for substituting money for supplies in the payment of future tribute.8

Hasan Pasha died in 1798, and Bobba Mustapha became Dey of Algiers. The change of rulers was a signal for additional extortions. O'Brien was soon informed that his government must give a present of naval equipment to Mustapha.9 At the end of a period of bargaining the consul considered himself fortunate in securing the acceptance of eight thousand dollars in cash.10 Continued delay in the arrival of American tribute displeased the Dey and caused O'Brien great uneasiness.11 The arrival of the "Sophia," the "Skjöldebrand," and the "Hasan Pasha" at Algiers in 1799 was most opportune. Eaton reported that the vessels intended for the Dey "are much admired" in Algiers, and that "confidence is restored."12  p94 A store ship, the "Hero," which was laden with a large quantity of masts and lumber sprang a leak while en route to Algiers and sailed to Jamaica. O'Brien substituted for the stores which were on board, and for other payments which were due, the brig and two schooners recently arrived at Algiers.13 In this manner he disposed of all Algerine claims against the United States covering a period of two and one‑half years subsequent to the formation of the treaty.14

In September, 1800, the United States frigate, "George Washington," reached Algiers, having been sent thither to make another payment of tribute. The Dey, who was at the time in disfavor at Constantinople, demanded that Captain William Bainbridge employ the vessel in bearing an ambassador and certain presents to the Sultan. The Captain and O'Brien at first refused, and for a time it seemed likely that a British vessel would be used. In the end, however, the Dey announced that his mind was "soured" against the British and that the "George Washington" must make the voyage in question. When O'Brien refused to assume responsibility for such a measure, the Dey replied that he would assume it. The American flag was then hauled down, the Algerine pennant was hoisted, and the first ship of the United States to reach Constantinople  p95 started on its extraordinary voyage.15 At Constantinople Bainbridge made a very favorable impression and received from the Turkish government a firman which guaranteed him protection in all Turkish ports. By January 21 the "George Washington" was again at Algiers but was anchored out of range of the Algerine batteries. The Dey asked Bainbridge to convey another messenger to Constantinople, but the commander refused and would not place his vessel within reach of the Algerines until the Dey promised to say nothing more about the proposed voyage. When Bainbridge subsequently had an interview with the Dey, the latter made new demands. At a critical juncture the American produced his Turkish firman. From that moment he was shown the greatest courtesy.16

The administration sought to discourage similar impressments in the future, and in May, 1801, the Secretary of State informed O'Brien that the voyage of the "George Washington" was so humiliating to the United States that the subject might later be revived. With such a prospect ahead O'Brien was urged to make no statements which would interfere with any future attempts to vindicate the national honor.17

 p96 In the meantime peace with Tripoli was with difficulty maintained. The Pasha at first refused to receive Consul Cathcart, who arrived at his post on April 5, 1799. The reason which the potentate gave for this action was that he had not received as a present the brig "Sophia" and various articles which he said O'Brien had promised him.18 When Cathcart finally obtained an interview, the Pasha bitterly denounced O'Brien not only because of the presents but on account of a report which he said O'Brien had circulated to the effect that Tripoli was dependent upon Algiers. The Tripolitan corsairs had orders to capture the American, continued the Pasha, and if they could lay hands on him, he would be put to death.19 So menacing was the Pasha's tone that Cathcart made a number of concessions. He promised ten thousand dollars in lieu of stores which had not been delivered; eight thousand as a substitute for the "Sophia"; a consular present valued at four thousand dollars; and fifteen hundred for other items.20 Soon thereafter Yusuf wrote the President a friendly letter, accepting these terms on condition that Tripoli should in the future receive the same treatment from the United States as did Algiers and Tunis.21

The period of tranquillity which followed this transaction was of brief duration. The Pasha claimed that the United States showed greater attachment to Algiers and Tunis than to Tripoli. To Cathcart he questioned the genuineness of American friendship. He would not have done so, he said, if the evidences of that friendship had consisted of more than compliments. These, he observed, were of very little value, "and . . . the heads of the Barbary States knew their friends by the value of the presents  p97 they received from them." He would be more inclined to rely upon American sincerity if the government would give him a cruiser or a brig of war as it had done to the Dey of Algiers.22 The attempts of Cathcart to relieve the tension were unavailing. In fact, the displeasure of the Pasha increased as a result of news that the Bey of Tunis had received some splendid presents from the United States.23 Cathcart was told to write to the United States government regarding the "indifference" which it had shown the Pasha. The latter was "amazingly hurt" by that government's attitude towards him, and he would not be satisfied "until he received some further marks of the President's esteem more substantial than mere compliments."24 He himself wrote a letter to the President, stating that "if only flattering words are meant without performance, every one will act as he finds convenient."25 To Cathcart he declared that if satisfaction were not rendered him, he would "declare war, in form, against the United States." "Let them know," he said, "that the French, English, and Spaniards, have always sent me presents to preserve their peace; and if they [the United States] do not do the same, I will order my cruisers to bring their vessels in whenever they can find them."26

These gestures were continued in spite of a treaty provision to the effect that matters in dispute between the United States and Tripoli should be submitted to the Dey of Algiers for arbitration.27 On September 25, 1800, an American brig, "Catherine," was captured by the Tripolitans and held for almost a month.28 On the day after it  p98 was released Cathcart had an interview with Yusuf, who insisted that within six months he must have "a sum of money" from the United States.29 In February the situation became even more critical. The Pasha called Cathcart before him30 and vowed that he would declare war if the existing treaty was not modified to his liking. He would have no interference on the part of Algiers or any other nation. Furthermore, the United States must pay him $250,000 for the new treaty and an annual tribute of twenty thousand dollars.31 Eventually Cathcart purchased a promise that war would not be declared until he had heard from his superior officers. Two days later, however, the Pasha announced that he had changed his mind and that he would not be bound by the agreement.32 Cathcart soon thereafter abandoned hope of an accommodation and urged his fellow consuls in the Mediterranean regions to hold American ships in port unless a convoy could be provided for them.33

Hamuda Pasha and his officers also complained of treatment accorded them by the United States. The Bey was displeased that supplies stipulated in the treaty had not arrived.34 Nor would these alone bring complete satisfaction; he must have a present of jewels and a cruiser of eighteen or twenty guns.35 A number of prominent officials in the regency urged Eaton to give them presents, such as firearms, jewelry, and expensive cloths.36 In July,  p99 1799, the Bey delivered an ultimatum to the effect that unless his proposals were accepted he would make war on the United States, beginning in January of the following year.37 Eaton's suggestion that a sum of money be substituted for the promised supplies was refused.38

In October a Dr. Shaw39 was sent from Tunis to England and America to secure information about the proposed regalia. This temporarily mollified the Bey. Eaton next silenced the complaints of the Sapitapa, or Keeper of the Seals, by pointing out the advantage of employing American vessels as carriers. The result was that the Bey extended the period allotted by the recent ultimatum.40 Still better relations were established in March, 1800, after Hamuda received a letter from President Adams. It contained a promise that the presents of maritime supplies and jewels would be provided as quickly as possible41 The contents of the communication delighted the Bey, who, to quote the words of Eaton, "seemed flattered; thanked God; and hoped the safe arrival of the ship."42 The "Hero" arrived in April with a portion of the stores agreed upon when peace was made, and the treaty seemed definitely saved.

Eaton's respite was brief. During the summer of 1800 the Bey received great concessions from Spain, Denmark, Sicily, and Sweden. This development seems to have caused him to regard peace with the United States as of little value. In the latter part of the year an American vessel, the "Anna Maria," arrived at Tunis with additional supplies. The Bey was disappointed because some of the plank  p100 and oars were shorter than he had expected and because other articles which he had ordered were not on board.43 Eaton was of the opinion that the Bey was "dissatisfied that anything [had] come forward." "If this opinion requires evidence," he wrote, "I consider it sufficient to state that the United States are the only nation which have, at this moment, a rich and unguarded commerce in the Mediterranean, and that the Barbary regencies are pirates."44 While the "Anna Maria" was at Tunis the Sapitapa requisitioned it to carry a cargo to Marseilles. Eaton complied only after the minister agreed to pay a freight of four thousand dollars. When the Sapitapa later insisted that the vessel be sent to London, Eaton found it necessary to purchase the cargo and at his own risk send it to Marseilles. The owners then claimed that they had suffered losses on account of delays resulting from this bargaining and demanded indemnity from the United States government.45

To Rufus King, United States minister in London, was assigned the task of obtaining jewels and other valuable articles for the Bey.46 These were to consist, for the most part, of richly ornamented weapons and cloths of the finest quality.47 There was a considerable delay in finding  p101 firms to fill the order,48 but alarming reports from Tunis caused King to act with greater dispatch. In April, 1801, some of the presents were forwarded to Eaton, and others were in preparation. King estimated the cost of all the articles at seven thousand pounds.49

The unsettled conditions of American affairs in Barbary, together with the fact that the United States had a rapidly growing commerce in the Mediterranean,50 caused the American consuls to advocate a more vigorous policy. Cathcart urged that two frigates be sent to Tunis when the jewels were delivered. "This," he assured the Secretary  p102 of State, "would work upon the Bey like electricity."51 In April, 1799, Eaton wrote that no permanent peace could be established with Barbary without "gold or cannon balls,"52 and before the close of the following year he expressed the conviction that war alone could make the United States respected at Algiers.53 With regard to the Bey's demands for jewels he wrote that unless something were done to relieve the tension he would soon be compelled to make his "monthly report of American slaves."54 In December, 1800, O'Brien informed Cathcart and Eaton that within the preceding six months he had written at least one hundred letters on the unrest in Barbary and the necessity for decisive action.55

That the Americans would not find the barbarians invincible in the event that force were used against them seemed to be indicated by some Portuguese operations at Tripoli. In May, 1799, the crew of a lone Portuguese ship of sixty-four guns under the command of Commodore Campbell destroyed a Tripolitan cruiser and captured the admiral of the Tripolitan marine. Commodore Campbell then concluded a treaty which was as favorable as the one Great Britain possessed with Tripoli.56 The administration found this circumstance "encouraging" and "a happy demonstration of a mode of treatment of the Barbary Powers which all the maritime Christian nations might successfully adopt."57

 p103  The hostility existing between the United States and France near the close of the century had an important bearing upon American relations with Barbary. The administration considered it unwise to employ force against the Barbary States until peace with France was on a firm foundation. In January, 1800, the Secretary of State informed Eaton that the United States would probably send a naval squadron to the Mediterranean in that event.58 Since this force would consist of frigates, smaller ships, brigs, and schooners, it would be admirably suited to operate along the coast of Barbary. "It would," wrote Pickering, "be sufficient to destroy the corsairs of any one, or of all these regencies together."59 Within less than a year after this was written amicable relations were restored between the United States and France.60

As a result of the circumstances just described, the government at Washington made preparations to despatch a naval squadron of four vessels to the disaffected area. The command was given, May 20, 1801, to Commodore Richard Dale.61 The Secretary of State also sent messages to the American representatives in the Barbary regencies and in European countries regarding the expedition which was being put under way.62 The advantages of sending this squadron of observation63 to the Mediterranean were concisely stated by the Secretary of State: "The present moment is peculiarly favorable for the experiment, not only as it is a provision against an immediate  p104 danger, but as we are now at peace and amity with all the rest of the world, and as the force employed would, if at home, be at nearly the same expense, with less advantage to the marines."64

Commodore Dale was instructed by the Secretary of the Navy to go immediately to Gibraltar and discover what the existing situation was with reference to the reported hostilities of the Barbary regencies. If all were tranquil, he should proceed to Algiers to deliver presents and to inform the Dey that a vessel would soon bring stores for at least one year's annuity due the regency. Dale was also to have in keeping $30,000 to use in paying the annuity for another year, provided the Dey would accept cash in lieu of naval stores. After settling with the Dey, Dale should pay a brief visit to Tunis; then proceed to Tripoli, see Cathcart, and make a present of $10,000 to the Pasha if that ruler had "conducted himself peaceably towards the United States." If, on the other hand, the Barbary powers had declared war, Dale was to use the force at his disposal to punish them.65 At the same time that instructions were given to Dale, messages were sent to the American consuls in the Barbary states regarding the way in which they should coöperate with the naval squadron. The President, too, wrote letters to the Barbary rulers informing them of the nature of the expedition.66

The relations just described had clearly shown that without a display of force the United States would secure no rigid observance of its Barbary treaties. Morocco, to be sure, had continued to play its pacific role. The Dey of Algiers had been disposed to make relatively few exactions  p105 in excess of treaty provisions. His arbitrary impressment of the "George Washington," however, had constituted a serious offence and had produced a strenuous protest from American agents in Barbary. With Tripoli war had become imminent. The Pasha's demands for an annual tribute and for freedom from Algerine interposition had eventually caused Cathcart to issue a general warning through American officials in Mediterranean ports. The Bey of Tunis had also threatened to begin hostilities unless he received presents which had not been promised when the treaty was formed. To the Bey and to the Pasha the United States had granted concessions in order to preserve the peace. At the same time, however, preparations had been made to oppose force with force. The latter measure was the most hopeful thus far noted in the Barbary diplomacy of the United States. It was an act which accorded well with every sentiment of justice. It was the result of mature deliberation extending over many years, during which peaceful expedients had resulted in humiliation. Although it did not constitute a declaration of complete independence from an age‑old system of extortion, it definitely foreshadowed the revolt.


The Author's Notes:

1 Timothy Pickering Papers, VI, 443, 444, Pickering to Humphreys, July 18, 1797.

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2 Richardson, Messages and Papers of the Presidents, I, 237, 238. President Adams in his message of June 23, 1797, suggested that the cost of sailing these vessels to Algiers might "perhaps be compensated by the freight of the stores with which they [would] be loaded, on account of our stipulations by treaty with the Dey."

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3 Timothy Pickering Papers, VI, 443, Pickering to Humphreys, July 18, 1797.

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4 Allen, Our Navy and the Barbary Corsairs, p62. The first two of these vessels were the "Hasan Pasha" and the "Skjöldebrand"; the "Sophia" was an American brig; the "Hero" was one of the supply ships; and the fifth was an armed vessel, the "Lelah Eisha."

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5 Despatches, AlgiersIII, O'Brien's Commission, dated Dec. 25, 1797.

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6 Timothy Pickering Papers, VII, 322, Pickering to O. Wolcott, Oct. 17, 1797; VIII, 181, Pickering to ?, March 3, 1798.

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7 Despatches, AlgiersIII, O'Brien to Sec. of State, March 6, 1798. O'Brien wrote that in Algiers at this time there were two American vessels laden "with valuable cargoes." Wine and brandy were the chief articles on board.

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8 Ibid.

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9 Ibid.III, O'Brien to Sec. of State, July 4, 1798. Hasan Pasha died May 15, 1798.

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10 Ibid.

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11 Despatches, TunisI, Eaton to Sec. of State, Feb., 1799.

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12 Ibid.

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13 Timothy Pickering Papers, X, 110, Pickering to Pres. of U. S., May 18, 1799.

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14 Despatches, TunisI, Eaton to Sec. of State, Feb. 22, 1799. O'Brien had Eaton write, in cipher, to the Sec. of State: "The whole of our stipulations for naval and military stores I have entirely done away with and paid our annual tribute with this regency up to two years and a half from the date of the treaty." See also the Timothy Pickering Papers, X, 172, Pickering to Rufus King, May 29, 1799. In commenting on this arrangement, Pickering wrote: "It is true that a large portion of these stores had been forwarded; but the most burdensome remained behind."

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15 Life and Corr. of Rufus King, III, 381, Bainbridge to R. King, Nov. 20, 1800. Bainbridge wrote to King from Constantinople as follows: "I was obliged by an arbitrary demand from the Dey of Algiers to carry his ambassador and presents to the Grand Signior at Constantinople. There was no alternative but war with that Regency." See also, Am. State Pap., For. Rel. II, 353, 354, O'Brien to Bainbridge, Oct. 9, 1800.

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16 Allen, Our Navy and the Barbary Corsairs, pp75‑87, contains an interesting documented account of the voyage of the "George Washington."

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17 State Papers and Publick Documents of the U. S., IV, 336. For a picturesque statement made by Eaton concerning this voyage, see Prentiss, Life of Wm. Eaton, p190. "History shall tell," wrote Eaton, "that the United States first volunteered a ship of war, equipt, a carrier for a pirate . . . Nothing but blood can blot the impression out . . . will nothing rouse my country?"

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18 Cathcart, Tripoli, pp2, 3.

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19 Ibid., p9, 10.

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20 Ibid., pp18‑21.

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21 Despatches, TunisI, Yusuf Karamanli to President of the U. S., April 15, 1799.

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22 Am. State Pap., For. Rel., II, 350, Cathcart to the Sec. of State, April 18, 1800.

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23 Ibid., p351, Cathcart to Sec. of State, May 12, 1800.

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24 Ibid.

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25 Goldsborough, U. S. Naval Chronicle, p188.

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26 Conversation between Cathcart and Pasha, quoted in Goldsborough, p189.

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27 Am. State Pap., For. Rel., II, 356.

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28 Cathcart, Tripoli, pp182, 183, Cathcart to Charles Lee, Oct. 15, 1800.

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29 Am. State Pap., For. Rel., II, 356, Cathcart to Sec. of State, Jan. 4, 1801.

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30 Feb. 9, 1801.

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31 Cathcart, Tripoli, pp264‑68, Cathcart to Eaton and O'Brien, Feb. 20, 1801.

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32 Despatches, GibraltarII, Cathcart to other U. S. consuls throughout Mediterranean countries, Feb. 2, 1801.

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33 Ibid. In this letter Cathcart predicted that within sixty days the Pasha would declare war against the United States.

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34 Despatches, TunisI, Eaton to Sec. of State, April 30, 1799.

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35 Timothy Pickering Papers, XIII, 54, Pickering to Eaton, Jan. 11, 1800. "Neither was stipulated or expected by the United States," wrote Pickering.

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36 Prentiss, op. cit., pp83‑88.

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37 Ibid., pp103‑7.

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38 Ibid., pp114‑15. The Bey said that he was "not a merchant; he knew nothing of the value of the regalia . . . and he should neither abate nor commute."

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39 Of the "Sophia."

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40 Prentiss, op. cit., pp117‑19, Eaton to Sec. of State, Dec. 6, 1799. The Sapitapa traded extensively with Spain.

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41 Ibid., pp131, 132, text of the letter, dated Jan. 15, 1799.

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42 Ibid., pp135, 136, Eaton to Sec. of State, March 31, 1800.

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43 Am. State Pap., For. Rel., II, 355, Eaton to Sec. of State, Dec. 8, 1800.

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44 Ibid., also II, 358.

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45 Allen, op. cit., pp71, 72, citing Am. State Pap., Claims, pp300, 322, 337‑41; Felton, Life of Wm. Eaton, p237.

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46 Life and Corr. of Rufus King, III, 337, 338, King to Eaton, Nov. 24, 1800. III, 355, King to Eaton, Dec. 28, 1800.

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47 Ibid., 247, King to Sec. of State, May 25, 1800. The list comprised the following articles:

"Note of articles expected as a present from the United States of America to the Bey of Tunis, on the ratification of Peace between the two Powers.

For the Bey:

1 Fusee, six feet long, mounted with gold, set with diamonds.

4 set with gold mounting, ordinary length.

1 pr. of Pistols mounted with gold, set with diamonds.

4 pr. of Pistols mounted with gold.

1 poniard, enamelled, set with diamonds.

1 diamond Ring.

1 gold repeating watch, with diamonds, chain the same.

1 gold snuff‑box, set with diamonds.

6 pieces of brocade of gold.

30 pieces superfine cloth of different colours.

6 pieces Satin, different colours.

The Bey's son:

1 gold mounted fusee.

1 do pr. pistols.

1 do watch with diamonds."

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48 Ibid., 438, 439, King to Sec. of State, April 26, 1800. Rundel and Bridges prepared the jewelry; the cloths were supplied by Mawhood and Co.

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49 Ibid., III371,º King to Sec. of State, Jan. 17, 1801; III, 438, King to Sec. of State, April 26, 1801.

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50 Despatches, AlgiersI, I. Gabriels to Sec. of State, Jan. 29, 1794. In this communication Gabriels wrote that the trade of the U. S. in the Mediterranean was then (1794) "of little consequence but added that it might become "very important." In September of the same year Humphreys reported (Despatches, PortugalIV, Humphreys to Sec. of State Sept. 3, 1794) that not less than ten American vessels bound for Malaga had recently arrived at Gibraltar, and that more were expected. James Simpson (Despatches, GibraltarI, Simpson to Sec. of State, June 7, 1796) wrote that the number of American vessels in the Mediterranean was rapidly increasing. The following May (Ibid.II, Simpson to Sec. of State, May 14, 1797) he reported that twelve or fourteen American vessels were then at Malaga. In the Spring of 1799 eighty American ships are supposed (Allen, Our Navy and the Barbary Corsairs, p69) to have entered the Mediterranean.

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51 Cathcart, Tripoli, p67, Cathcart to Pickering, Aug. 16, 1799.

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52 Prentiss, life of Eaton, p87, Eaton to Sec. of State, April 15, 1799.

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53 Corr. of James L. Cathcart, Eaton to Cathcart, Oct. 21, 1800.

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54 Prentiss, op. cit., pp185, 186, Eaton to Sec. of State, Nov. 1, 1800.

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55 Corr. of J. L. Cathcart, O'Brien to Cathcart and Eaton, Dec. 4, 1800. "Tripolia," wrote O'Brien, "should have money or balls. Such . . . has been the purport of my letters."

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56 Cathcart, Tripoli, pp54, 55.

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57 Timothy Pickering Papers, XIII, 174, 175, Pickering to Eaton, Feb. 11, 1800.

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58 Ibid., p53, Pickering to Eaton, Jan. 11, 1800.

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59 Ibid.

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60 J. B. McMaster, Hist. of the People of the U. S., II, 528. On September 30, 1800, American and French representatives gave their approval to a convention whereby points in dispute between the two countries were to be settled by subsequent negotiation.

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61 Goldsborough, op. cit., p190. Instructions given to Dale by Sec. of the Navy, May 20, 1801.

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62 Am. State Pap., For. Rel., II, 347, 348.

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63 The Pasha's declaration of war was not known in the U. S. at that time.

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64 Am. State Pap., For. Rel., II, Sec. of State to Eaton, May 20, 1801, 347.

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65 See text of instructions in Goldsborough, pp190‑93. Sec. of Navy, S. Smith to Dale, May 20, 1801.

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66 Am. State Pap., For. Rel., II, 348, 349.


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