Joel Barlow

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Joel Barlow
Robert Fulton - Portrait of Joel Barlow - 64.30 - Indianapolis Museum of Art.jpg
United States Minister to France
In office
February 27, 1811 – November 17, 1811
PresidentJames Madison
Preceded byJohn Armstrong Jr.
Succeeded byWilliam H. Crawford
Personal details
Born(1754-03-24)March 24, 1754
Redding, Connecticut Colony
DiedDecember 26, 1812(1812-12-26) (aged 58)
Żarnowiec, Duchy of Warsaw
EducationYale University
Occupationpoet, businessman, diplomat, politician

Joel Barlow (March 24, 1754 – December 26, 1812) was an American poet, and diplomat, and politician.[1] In politics, he supported the French Revolution and was an ardent Jeffersonian republican.

He worked as an agent for American speculator William Duer to set up the Scioto Company in Paris in 1788, and to sell worthless deeds to land in the Northwest Territory which it did not own. Scholars[who?] believe that he did not know the transactions were fraudulent. He stayed in Paris, becoming involved in the French Revolution. He was elected to the Assembly and given French citizenship in 1792.

In his own time, Barlow was known especially for the epic poem The Columbiad, a later version of the Vision of Columbus (1807),[2] though modern readers[who?] rank The Hasty-Pudding (1793) more highly.

As American consul at Algiers, he helped draft the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, to end the attacks of Barbary pirates of North Africa city states. He also served as U.S. minister to France from 1811 to his death on December 26, 1812, in Żarnowiec, Poland.

Early life and education[edit]

Barlow was born in Redding, Fairfield County, Connecticut. He briefly attended Dartmouth College before he graduated from Yale College in 1778, where he was a member of Brothers in Unity, along with Noah Webster, who was a good friend at the time.[citation needed] In 1778, he published an anti-slavery poem entitled "The Prospect of Peace".


Barlow was an ardent patriot in the American Revolution. He was engaged in the Battle of Long Island and served as a chaplain for the 4th Massachusetts Brigade from September 1780 until the close of the Revolutionary War.[3][4] He was an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Massachusetts (and Connecticut).[5][6] He was a Mason[7] and he became a good friend to Thomas Paine. In 1809, Barlow was elected as a member of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.[8]

In 1783, Barlow moved to Hartford, Connecticut. In July 1784, he established a weekly paper called American Mercury, with which he was connected for a year. After "reading the law" in an established office, in 1786 he was admitted to the bar. In Hartford, Barlow became a member of a group of young writers including Lemuel Hopkins, David Humphreys, and John Trumbull, known in American literary history as the "Hartford Wits". He contributed to The Anarchiad, a series of satirico-political papers. In 1787, he published a long and ambitious poem, The Vision of Columbus,[2] which gave him a considerable literary reputation and was once much read.

Land speculator[edit]

In 1788, he went to France as the agent of Colonel William Duer and the Scioto Land Company, which had been registered in Paris the year before. He was to sell lands in part of the newly organized Northwest Territory (this section is now in Ohio), and recruit immigrants for new settlements. He seems to have been ignorant of the fraudulent character of the company, which did not hold title to the lands it sold and failed disastrously in 1790. He had previously recruited a group of French to emigrate to America. Known as the French 500, most of them were among the founders of Gallipolis, Ohio, the second-oldest European-American city founded in the new Northwest Territory.[9]

French politics and citizenship[edit]

In Paris, Barlow became a liberal in religion and an advanced republican in politics. He believed that "American civilization was world civilization", and was enthusiastic about the cause of world republicanism. He became involved with the French Revolution, going so far as to be elected to the French Assembly, and being granted French citizenship in 1792.[10] Although he dedicated his "Vision of Columbus" to Louis XVI, he joined royal opponents in calling for the execution of the king.[10] Barlow helped Thomas Paine publish the first part of The Age of Reason while Paine was imprisoned during The Reign of Terror in France.

Barlow remained abroad for several years, spending much of his time in London. There he was a member of the London Society for Constitutional Information. He also published various radical essays, including a volume entitled Advice to the Privileged Orders (1792). This was proscribed by the British government.


Barlow served as American consul in Algiers from 1795 to 1797, during the period when Barbary pirates were preying on United States and European shipping. He used United States Department of State funds for bribes and ransoms to free more than 100 American merchant sailors held by pirates. He helped negotiate treaties with the Barbary states of Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis to avert future seizures of American ships.[11] He returned to the United States in 1805, where he lived in the national capital at his mansion, known as Kalorama, now the name of a neighborhood in Northwest Washington, D.C.

In 1811, Barlow was appointed as U.S. minister to France; he sailed across the Atlantic on the USS Constitution. His task was to negotiate an end to the Berlin Decree and the Milan Decree, as well as obtain the release of American ships and crews held by the French during the Napoleonic wars.[12] He befriended, and was served as consul and prize agent, by the United-Irish exile David Bailie Warden.[13][14] In October 1812, Barlow set off for Vilnius to negotiate a treaty with the French foreign minister, who was based in Lithuania to prepare for the French invasion of Russia. By the time he arrived, the French army was already in full retreat from Moscow.

Barlow chose to take the southerly route to return to Paris, by way of Krakow and Vienna. He became ill and died of pneumonia on December 26, 1812, in the Polish village of Żarnowiec.[12] A monument was later erected to him there.

Poetry and writing[edit]

In 1807, he published the epic Columbiad, an extended edition of his Vision of Columbus. It added to his reputation in some quarters, but on the whole it was not well received.

The poem for which he is now best known is his mock heroic The Hasty-Pudding (1793), first published in New York Magazine and now a standard item in literary anthologies.[15] In addition, Barlow published Conspiracy of Kings, a Poem addressed to the Inhabitants of Europe from another Quarter of the Globe (1792). He continued writing political essays, publishing Political Writings of Joel Barlow (2nd ed., 1796) and View of the Public Debt, Receipts and Expenditure of the United States (1800). But much of his political speculation never passed beyond his voluminous notebooks, many of which are conserved in Harvard's Houghton Library.

He also composed a satirical version of the British national anthem "God Save the King", called "God Save the Guillotine".[16]

Historian William H. Goetzmann describes Barlow as a cosmopolitan, along with Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, engineer Robert Fulton, and Thomas Paine, the last two of whom Barlow befriended in France. Barlow believed that the new country of America was a model civilization that prefigured the "uniting of all mankind in one religion, one language and one Newtonian harmonious whole"[17] and thought of "the American Revolution as the opening skirmish of a world revolution on behalf of the rights of all humanity."[3] An optimist, he believed that scientific and republican progress, along with religion and people's growing sense of humanity, would lead to the coming of the Millennium. For him, American civilization was world civilization. He projected that these concepts would coalesce around the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.[17]



  1. ^ Modern biographies are James Woodress, A Yankee's Odyssey: The Life of Joel Barlow, 1958, and Samuel Bernstein, Joel Barlow: A Connecticut Yankee in an Age of Revolution, 1985; an essay on Barlow's ruminations on the planetary hydrological cycle is part of Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory 1995:245ff.
  2. ^ a b Brian Pelanda, Declarations of Cultural Independence: The Nationalistic Imperative Behind the Passage of Early American Copyright Laws, 1783-1787, Journal of the Copyright Society of the U.S.A. Vol. 58 (2011), pp. 431, 442-448 .
  3. ^ a b Goetzmann, William H. (2009) Beyond the Revolution: A History of American Thought from Paine to Pragmatism, New York: Basic Books, Perseus Books Group, p. 142
  4. ^ Schama observes that "he had found schoolmastering too humdrum, Yale too sober, and a chaplaincy to a Massachusetts regiment of the line during the American Revolution had not survived his natural irreverence" (Schama 1995:248).
  5. ^ Metcalf, Bryce. Original Members and Other Officers Eligible to the Society of the Cincinnati, 1783-1938: With the Institution, Rules of Admission, and Lists of the Officers of the General and State Societies (Strasburg, Va.: Shenandoah Publishing House, Inc., 1938), p. 44.
  6. ^ "Officers Represented in the Society of the Cincinnati". The American Revolution Institute of the Society of the Cincinnati. Retrieved March 14, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ "Enlightenment and Freemasonry", Commonwealth Books. Archived 2017-12-01 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 2021-04-02.
  9. ^ John Gladden, "Best Hometowns 2012: Gallipolis", Ohio Magazine, November 2012; accessed 06 September 2018
  10. ^ a b Goetzmann (2009) Beyond the Revolution, p144.
  11. ^ Peter P. Hill, Joel Barlow: American Diplomat and Nation Builder (2012)
  12. ^ a b Sommers, William. "American Writers Who Were Diplomats: Joel Barlow". American Diplomacy. American Diplomacy Publishers. Archived from the original on 2018-04-11. Retrieved 2017-06-18.
  13. ^ Gilmore, Peter; Parkhill, Trevor; Roulston, William (2018). Exiles of '98: Ulster Presbyterians and the United States (PDF). Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation. pp. 25–37. ISBN 9781909556621. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  14. ^ Butler, William E. (2011). "David Bailie Warden and the Development of American Consular Law". Journal of the History of International Law. 13 (2): 377–424, 317. doi:10.1163/15718050-13020005. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  15. ^ Lemay, J. A. Leo (1982). "The Contexts and Themes of 'The Hasty-Pudding'". Early American Literature. 17 (1): 3–23. JSTOR 25056448.
  16. ^ A song. Tune-"God save the guillotine"[permanent dead link], catalogue
  17. ^ a b Goeztmann (2009), Beyond the Revolution, p. 143
  18. ^ Illustrated in Schama 1995:246.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by U.S. Minister to France
Succeeded by