Barbary Wars

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Barbary Wars

USS Philadelphia burning at the Battle of Tripoli Harbor during the First Barbary War in 1804
DateMay 10, 1801 – June 10, 1805 & June 17–19, 1815
 United States
Sweden (1800–1802)
Sicily[1][unreliable source?] (1801–1805)
Morocco[2] (1802–1804)
Commanders and leaders

The Barbary Wars were a series of two wars fought by the United States, Sweden, and the Kingdom of Sicily against the Barbary states (including Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli) and Morocco of North Africa in the early 19th century. Sweden had been at war with the Tripolitans since 1800 and was joined by the newly independent US.[3][unreliable source?] The First Barbary War extended from 10 May 1801 to 10 June 1805, with the Second Barbary War lasting only three days, ending on 19 June 1815. The Barbary Wars were the first major American war fought entirely outside the New World, and in the Arab World.[4][5]

The wars were largely a reaction to piracy by the Barbary states. Since the 16th century, North African pirates had captured ships and even raided cities across the Mediterranean Sea. By the 19th century, pirate activity had declined, but Barbary pirates continued to demand tribute from American merchant vessels in the Mediterranean. Refusal to pay would result in the capture of American ships and goods, and often the enslavement or ransoming of crew members.

After Thomas Jefferson became president of the US in March 1801, he sent a U.S. Navy fleet to the Mediterranean to combat the Barbary pirates. The fleet bombarded numerous fortified cities in present-day Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria, ultimately extracting concessions of safe conduct from the Barbary states and ending the first war.

During the War of 1812, with the encouragement of the United Kingdom,[6] the Barbary corsairs resumed their attacks on American vessels. Following the conclusion of the War of 1812 and America's peace with Britain, James Madison, Jefferson's successor, directed military forces against the Barbary states in the Second Barbary War. Lasting only three days, the second conflict ended the need for further tribute from the United States, granted the U.S. full shipping rights in the Mediterranean Sea, and significantly reduced incidents of piracy in the region.[7]


The Barbary corsairs were pirates and privateers who operated out of North Africa, based primarily in the ports of Tunis, Tripoli, and Algiers. This area was known in Europe as the Barbary Coast, in reference to the Berbers. Their predation extended throughout the Mediterranean, south along West Africa's Atlantic seaboard and even to the eastern coast of Brazil,[8] and into the North Atlantic Ocean as far north as Iceland, but they primarily operated in the western Mediterranean. In addition to seizing ships, they engaged in razzias, raids on European coastal towns and villages, mainly in Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, but also in England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Ireland, and as far away as Iceland. The main purpose of their attacks was to capture Europeans for the slave market in North Africa.[9]

The Barbary states were nominally part of the Ottoman Empire, but in practice they were independent and the Ottoman government in Constantinople was not involved.[10]


Since the 1600s, the Barbary pirates had attacked British shipping along the northern coast of Africa, holding captives for ransom or enslaving them. Ransoms were generally raised by families and local church groups. The British became familiar with captivity narratives written by Barbary pirates' prisoners and slaves.[11]

During the American Revolutionary War, the pirates attacked American ships. On December 20, 1777, Morocco's sultan Mohammed III declared that merchant ships of the new American nation would be under the protection of the sultanate and could thus enjoy safe passage into the Mediterranean and along the coast. The Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship stands as America's oldest unbroken friendship treaty[12][13] with a foreign power. In 1787, Morocco became one of the first nations to recognize the United States.[14]

Starting in the 1780s, realizing that American vessels were no longer under the protection of the British navy, the Barbary pirates seized American ships in the Mediterranean. As the U.S. had disbanded its Continental Navy and had no seagoing military force, its government agreed in 1786 to pay tribute to stop the attacks.[15] On March 20, 1794, at the urging of President George Washington, Congress voted to authorize the building of six heavy frigates and establish the United States Navy, in order to stop these attacks and demands for more and more money.[16] The United States had signed treaties with all of the Barbary states after its independence was recognized between 1786 and 1794 to pay tribute in exchange for leaving American merchantmen alone, and by 1797, the United States had paid out $1.25 million or a fifth of the government's annual budget in tribute.[17] These demands for tribute imposed a heavy financial drain and by 1799 the U.S. was in arrears of $140,000 to Algiers and some $150,000 to Tripoli.[18] Many Americans resented these payments, arguing that the money would be better spent on a navy that would protect American ships from the attacks of the Barbary pirates, and in the 1800 United States presidential election, Thomas Jefferson won against incumbent second President John Adams in part by noting that the United States was "subjected to the spoliations of foreign cruisers" and was humiliated by paying "an enormous tribute to the petty tyrant of Algiers".[19]


United States Mediterranean policy[edit]

Brigantine Polly of Newburyport Captured by Algerine Pirates, 1793

After Spain concluded a peace treaty with Algiers in 1785, the Algerian corsair captains entered the waters of the Atlantic and attacked American ships, refusing to release them except for large sums of money. Two American ships, the schooner Maria, and the Dauphin were captured by Algerian pirates in July 1785 and the survivors forced into slavery, their ransom set at $60,000. A rumor that Benjamin Franklin, who was en route from France to Philadelphia about that time, had been captured by Barbary pirates, caused considerable upset in the U.S.[20]

Thomas Jefferson, who was elected to the presidency twice, was inclined to the idea of confronting Algiers with force.[21] He wrote in his autobiography:[22]

I was very unwilling that we should acquiesce in the European humiliation of paying a tribute to those lawless pirates and endeavored to form an association of the powers subject to habitual depredations from them.

Map of Algiers during the Barbary wars, by Samuel Dunn (1794)

A proposal was made to put up a coalition of naval warships from nations at war with the Barbary states, provided that naval operations would be directed against Algerian vessels in particular, and then impose a maritime blockade on North Africa.[23] When this proposal was presented to the concerned countries, France refused, and Spain apologized for not accepting it, because of its recent treaty with Algiers. The proposal was favored by Portugal, Malta, Naples, Venice, Denmark and Sweden. But the project failed when the US Congress objected to it for fear of its high financial costs, and more Algerian ships attacked American ships because of their lack of association with Algiers by any treaty in this period.[24] Thus, in February 1, 1791, the US Congress was forced to allocate $40,000 to free American captives in Algiers.[25] But two years later, it passed the "Naval Act of 1794" on the need to establish a defensive naval fleet, but stipulated in one of its articles that the project be stopped if an agreement was reached with Algiers.[26]

During the presidency of George Washington (April 30, 1789 – 1797), and after America failed to form an American-European alliance against the Maghreb countries, the U.S. announced its desire to establish friendly relations with Algiers in February 1792, and reported this to the Dey Hassan III Pasha, just like the Great Britain bought peace and security for its ships.[27]

United States pays tribute to Algiers[edit]

Hassan Pasha]] Dey of Algiers, his dîwân, and his subjects: a scan of the original document handwritten in Osmanli, signed September 5, 1795 in Algiers

When the American government began negotiating with Algiers,[28] the Dey asked for $2,435,000 as the price for the peace contract and the ransom of the prisoners,[29] then reduced the amount to $642,500 and $21,000 in military equipment that is presented to Algiers every year. Reconciliation took place between the two parties, and the dey pledged to work with Tunisia and Tripoli, to also sign this treaty, and peace would be achieved for America in the entire Mediterranean basin. On September 5, 1795, American negotiator Joseph Donaldson signed a peace treaty with the dey of Algiers, with 22 articles that included an upfront payment of $642,500 in specie (silver coinage) for peace, the release of American captives, expenses, and various gifts for the dey's royal court and family.[30] America suffered another humiliation when it sent tribute carried by the large armed frigate "USS George Washington (1798)" to Algiers; Dey Mustapha Pasha forced US commodore William Bainbridge to hoist an Ottoman Algerian flag over his warship before sailing to Constantinople carrying tribute to the Ottoman sultan in 1800.[31] As Lieutenant and consul William Eaton informed newly appointed Secretary of State John Marshall in 1800, "It is a maxim of the Barbary States, that 'The Christians who would be on good terms with them must fight well or pay well.'"[32]

America paid to Algiers during the presidency of George Washington and his successor, John Adams (1797-1801), $1,000,000, or a fifth of the government's annual budget, in tribute.[26]

First Barbary War (1801–1805)[edit]

Stephen Decatur's Conflict with the Algerine at Tripoli, during the boarding of a Tripolitan gunboat on 3 August 1804

The First Barbary War (1801–1805), also known as the Tripolitian War or the Barbary Coast War, was the first of two wars fought between the alliance of the United States and several European countries[33][34] against the Northwest African Muslim states known collectively as the Barbary states. These were Tripoli and Algiers, quasi-independent entities nominally belonging to the Ottoman Empire, and (briefly) the independent Sultanate of Morocco. This war began during Thomas Jefferson's term when he refused to pay an amount that greatly increased when he became president. A U.S. naval fleet was sent on May 13, 1801, under the command of Commodore Richard Dale. Other notable officers in the fleet included Stephen Decatur, assigned to the frigate USS Essex and William Bainbridge in command of Essex which was attached to Commodore Richard Dale's squadron which also included Philadelphia, President and Enterprise.[35]

Painting depicting the bombardment of Tripoli on 3 August 1804

The ship Philadelphia was blockading Tripoli's harbor when she ran aground on an uncharted reef. Under fire from shore batteries and Tripolitan gunboats, Captain William Bainbridge tried to refloat her by casting off all of her guns and other objects that weighed it down. The ship was eventually captured and the crew taken prisoners and enslaved. To prevent this powerful warship from being used by the Barbary pirates, the ship was later destroyed by a raiding party of American Marines and soldiers and allied sailors from the armed forces of King Ferdinand of Sicily, led by Stephen Decatur.[36][37]

In accordance with the treaty that was concluded Between them, on June 30, 1805, America paid Algiers $60,000 ransom for the prisoners,[21] and agreed to continue sending gifts to the dey and replace its consul with another one, then withdrew its fleet from the Mediterranean in 1807.[38]

Second Barbary war[edit]

Commodore Decatur and the dey of Algiers Haji Ali Pasha

When the war broke out between America and Britain in 1812, the regent on the British throne, George IV, sent a letter to Dey Haji Ali Pasha (1809-1815) confirming to him the bonds of friendship that united the two countries and declaring his country's readiness to defend Algiers against every aggressor as long as these ties remained. By that he intended to win over Algiers to Britain against America, or at least convince Algiers to adopt a position of neutrality.[39] Thus, the countries of Europe and the United States of America failed to ally against the countries of the Islamic Maghreb and Algiers in particular, and the matter so remained until the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815. James Madison recommended that Congress declare the "existence of a state of war between the United States and the Dey and Regency of Algiers."[39][40] While Congress did not formally declare a state of war, they did pass legislation, enacted on March 3, 1815, that authorized the president to use the U.S. Navy, "as judged requisite by the President" to protect the "commerce and seamen" of the United States on the "Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and adjoining seas."[40] Congress also authorized the president to grant the U.S. Navy the ability to seize all vessels and goods belonging to Algiers. The legislation also authorized the president to commission privateers for the same purpose.[40]

Commodore Decatur's Squadron capturing the Algerian pirate ship Mashuda, on 17 June 1815. Mashuda, flagship of the Algerian Navy

During the reign of the Dey Omar Pasha (1815-1817), American-Algerian relations worsened when the Dey began to demand an increase in the annual tribute. The Americans went to Algiers to fight under Commodore Stephen Decatur,[39] which culminated in the Battle off Cape Gata and the death of the famous corsair captain Raïs Hamidou. A letter to the dey followed on April 12, 1815 informing him of America's decision to enter into war against him and giving him the choice between peace and war after reminding him of the horrors of war and the advantages of peace and understanding.[41] In the year 1816, Dey Omar answered this letter and offered America the renewal of the previous treaty concluded during the reign of Hassan Pasha (1791-1798). Madison answered him on August 21 and asked him to resume negotiations. These were renewed and ended with a peace agreement in favor of America. The dey was forced to pay $10,000 in compensation and to renounce all that America had been paying him.[42]

Effect in United States[edit]

When the United States military efforts of the early 19th century were successful against the pirates, partisans of the Democratic-Republicans contrasted their presidents' refusals to buy off the pirates by paying tribute with the failure of the preceding Federalist administration to suppress the piracy. The Federalist Party had adopted the slogan, "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute," but had failed to end the attacks on merchant ships. From 1796 to 1797 French raiders seized some 316 American merchant ships flying American colors. To counter this ongoing advent three frigates, USS United States, USS Constitution and USS Constellation, were built to answer the call for security.[43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Start Here! About the Barbary Wars".
  2. ^ Joseph Wheelan (21 September 2004). Jefferson's War: America's First War on Terror 1801–1805. PublicAffairs. pp. 128–. ISBN 978-0-7867-4020-8.
  3. ^ Woods, Tom. "Presidential War Powers: The Constitutional Answer". Retrieved 9 July 2014.
  4. ^ "Research Guides: Battle Studies, Country Studies, & Staff Rides: Barbary Wars & the Battle of Tripoli".
  5. ^
  6. ^ Spencer C. Tucker (2014). The Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Early American Republic, 1783–1812: A Political, Social, and Military History [3 volumes] A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO. p. 33. ISBN 978-1-59884-157-2.
  7. ^ "Avalon Project - The Barbary Treaties 1786-1816 - Treaty of Peace, Signed Algiers June 30 and July 3, 1815".
  8. ^ A 44-gun Algerian corsair appeared at Río de la Plata in 1720. Cesáreo Fernández Duro, Armada española desde la unión de los reinos de Castilla y de León, Madrid, 1902, Vol. VI, p. 185
  9. ^ "BBC - History - British History in depth: British Slaves on the Barbary Coast".
  10. ^ Fremont-Barnes 2006, p. 20.
  11. ^ Linda Colley, Captives: Britain, Empire, and the World, 1600–1850, New York: Anchor Books Edition, 2000
  12. ^ Roberts, Priscilla H. and Richard S. Roberts, Thomas Barclay 1728–1793: Consul in France, Diplomat in Barbary, Lehigh University Press, 2008, pp. 206–223.
  13. ^ "Milestones of American Diplomacy, Interesting Historical Notes, and Department of State History". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2007-12-17.
  14. ^ "Cohen Renews U.S.-Morocco Ties" (mil). U.S. Department of Defense. Retrieved 2009-03-12.
  15. ^ Fremont-Barnes 2006, pp. 32–33.
  16. ^ Fremont-Barnes 2006, p. 33.
  17. ^ Fremont-Barnes 2006, pp. 36–37.
  18. ^ Fremont-Barnes 2006, p. 37.
  19. ^ Fremont-Barnes 2006, p. 7.
  20. ^ David McCullough, John Adams (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks), 2001, p. 352.
  21. ^ a b Nowlan, Robert A. (2014-01-10). The American Presidents, Washington to Tyler: What They Did, What They Said, What Was Said About Them, with Full Source Notes. McFarland. p. 141. ISBN 978-1-4766-0118-2.
  22. ^ Cogliano, Francis D. (2014). Emperor of Liberty: Thomas Jefferson's Foreign Policy. Yale University Press. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-300-17993-4.
  23. ^ Cogliano 2014, p. 68
  24. ^ بوعزيز 2007, p. 59
  25. ^ Cogliano 2014, p. 74
  26. ^ a b Fremont-Barnes 2006, p. 35.
  27. ^ Washington, George (2000). The Papers of George Washington: September 1791-February 1792. University Press of Virginia. p. 403. ISBN 978-0-8139-1922-5.
  28. ^ Parton, James (October 1872). "Jefferson, American Minister in France". Atlantic Monthly. Vol. 30. p. 413.
  29. ^ بوعزيز 2007, p. 60
  30. ^ Farber, Hannah (2014). ""Millions for Credit: Peace with Algiers and the Establishment of America's Commercial Reputation Overseas, 1795–96."". Journal of the Early Republic. 34 (2): 187–217. doi:10.1353/jer.2014.0028. S2CID 154186346.
  31. ^ Ray, William (2008). Horrors of Slavery, Or, the American Tars in Tripoli. Rutgers University Press. pp. xvi. ISBN 978-0-8135-4413-7.
  32. ^ The life of the late Gen. William Eaton. E. Merriam & Co. 1813. pp. 185. (principally collected from his correspondence and other manuscripts)
  33. ^ "Tripolitan War". (from The Oxford Companion to American Military History). 2000. Retrieved February 11, 2017.
  34. ^ "War with the Barbary Pirates (Tripolitan War)". Retrieved February 11, 2017.
  35. ^ Harris, 1837 pp.63–64, 251
  36. ^ Tucker, 1937 p.57
  37. ^ MacKenzie, 1846 pp.331–335
  38. ^ بوعزيز 2007, p. 61
  39. ^ a b c Fremont-Barnes 2006, p. 76
  40. ^ a b c Elsea, Jennifer K.; Weed, Matthew C. (April 18, 2014). "Declarations of War and Authorizations for the Use of Military Force: Historical Background and Legal Implications" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  41. ^ Fremont-Barnes 2006, p. 77
  42. ^ "Treaty of Peace, Signed Algiers June 30 and July 3, 1815". Retrieved February 4, 2022. ARTICLE 2d It is distinctly understood between the Contracting parties, that no tribute either as biennial presents, or under any other form or name whatever, shall ever be required by the Dey and Regency of Algiers from the United States of America on any pretext whatever.
  43. ^ Simons, 2003, p. 20


Further reading[edit]

  • Allison, Robert. The Crescent Obscured: The United States and the Muslim World, 1776-1815 (2000)
  • Bak, Greg. Barbary Pirate: The Life and Crimes of John Ward (The History Press, 2010) about Jack Ward in earlier times.
  • Banham, Cynthia, and Brett Goodin. "Negotiating Liberty: The Use of Political Opportunities and Civil Society by Barbary State Captives and Guantánamo Bay Detainees." Australian Journal of Politics & History 62.2 (2016): 171-185 online.
  • Boot, Max. The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power. New York: Basic Books, 2002. ISBN 0-465-00720-1
  • Bow, C. B. "Waging War for the Righteous: William Eaton on Enlightenment, Empire, and Coup d'état in the First Barbary War, 1801–1805." History 101.348 (2016): 692–709. Argues that the First Barbary War was not a 'Holy War' nor the first American war on Islamic terrorism. online
  • Castor, Henry. The Tripolitan war, 1801-1805; America meets the menace of the Barbary pirates (1971) online
  • Chidsey, Donald Barr. The wars in Barbary; Arab piracy and the birth of the United States Navy (1971) online, popular history
  • Colás, Alejandro. "Barbary Coast in the expansion of international society: Piracy, privateering, and corsairing as primary institutions." Review of International Studies 42.5 (2016): 840-857 online.
  • Crane, Jacob. "Barbary (an) Invasions: The North African Figure in Republican Print Culture." Early American Literature 50.2 (2015): 331-358 online.
  • Crane, Jacob. "Peter Parley in Tripoli: Barbary Slavery and Imaginary Citizenship." ESQ: A Journal of Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture 65.3 (2019): 512-550 online.
  • Davis, Robert C. Christian slaves, Muslim masters: white slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800 (2004) online
  • Edwards, Samuel. Barbary General: the life of William H. Eaton (1968) online, popular history
  • Fullmer, Jason. "Jeffersonian Nationalism vs. Enlightenment: Securing American Core Values amidst the Barbary Wars, 1801–1809." Crescast Scientia (2016): 37–54. online.
  • Gawalt, Gerard W. "America and the Barbary pirates: An international battle against an unconventional foe." Thomas Jefferson Papers (Library of Congress, 2011) online.
  • Jamieson, Alan G. Lords of the sea: a history of the Barbary corsairs (Reaktion Books, 2013).
  • Kilmeade, Brian and Yeager, Don. "Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates" (Sentinel, 2015)
  • Kitzen, Michael L. S. Tripoli and the United States at War: A History of American Relations with the Barbary States, 1785-1805 (McFarland, 1993).
  • Lambert, Frank. The Barbary Wars. (Hill and Wang, 2005).
  • Lardas, Mark. American Light and Medium Frigates 1794–1836 (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012).
  • London, Joshua E. Victory in Tripoli: How America's War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation. (John Wiley & Sons, 2005). ISBN 0-471-44415-4
  • Murphy, Martin N. "The Barbary Pirates." Mediterranean Quarterly 24.4 (2013): 19–42. online
  • Oren, Michael B. Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present (2007)
  • Page, Kate. "Those Pirates and Muslim Barbarians: The American Public View of the Barbary Nations and the United States Participation in the Barbary War." Fairmount Folio: Journal of History 13 (2011) pp 21–
  • Panzac, Thomas. The Barbary Corsairs: The End of a Legend, 1800-1820 (E.J.Brill, 2002)
  • Peskin, Lawrence A. Captives and Countrymen: Barbary Slavery and the American Public, 1785–1816 (Johns Hopkins University Press. 2009). 256pp
  • Rejeb, Lotfi Ben. "‘The general belief of the world’: Barbary as genre and discourse in Mediterranean history." European Review of History 19.1 (2012): 15-31.
  • Ribeiro, Jorge Martins. "Conflict and peace in the Mediterranean: barbary privateering in the late 18th and early 19th centuries." in Borders and conflicts in the Mediterranean Basin (2016). online
  • Sayre, Gordon M. "Renegades from Barbary: The Transnational Turn in Captivity Studies." American Literary History 22.2 (2010): 347–359 on converts to Islam.
  • Schifalacqua, John F. "James Madison and America's First Encounter with Islam: Tracing James Madison's Engagement with Barbary Affairs Through the 1st Barbary War." Penn History Review 21.1 (2014) online.
  • Tinniswood, Adrian. Pirates of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the Seventeenth-Century Mediterranean ( Riverhead, 2010), about the earlier period.
  • Turner, Robert F. "President Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates." In Bruce A Elleman, et al. eds., Piracy and Maritime Crime: Historical and Modern Case Studies (2010): 157–172. online
  • Vick, Brian. "Power, Humanitarianism and the Global Liberal Order: Abolition and the Barbary Corsairs in the Vienna Congress System." International History Review 40.4 (2018): 939–960.
  • Walther, Karine V. Sacred Interests: The United States and the Islamic World, 1821–1921 (University of North Carolina Press, 2015) 457pp online review
  • Whipple, A. B. C. To the Shores of Tripoli: The Birth of the U.S. Navy and Marines. Bluejacket Books, 1991. ISBN 1-55750-966-2
  • Wolfe, Stephen. "Borders, Bodies, and Writing: American Barbary Coast Captivity Narratives, 1816-1819." American Studies in Scandinavia 43.2 (2011): 5-30 online
  • Wright, Louis B. and Julia H Macleod. The First Americans in North Africa: William Eaton's Struggle for a Vigorous Policy Against the Barbary Pirates, 1799–1805 (Princeton UP, 1945), 227pp

Primary sources[edit]

  • Baepler, Paul ed. White Slaves, African Masters: An Anthology of American Barbary Captivity Narratives (The University of Chicago Press, 1999).

External links[edit]