Perdicaris affair

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Ion Perdicaris

The Perdicaris affair (a.k.a. Perdicaris incident) is the kidnapping of Greek-American playboy Ion "Jon"[1] Hanford Perdicaris (1840–1925) and his step-son, Cromwell, by Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli's bandits on 18 May 1904. Raisuli demanded a ransom of $70,000, safe conduct, and control of two of Morocco's wealthiest districts from Sultan Abdelaziz of Morocco. Though Perdicaris was not an American citizen, then President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt felt obliged to react, dispatching seven warships and several Marine companies. Roosevelt's Secretary of State, John Hay, issued a statement to the Republican National Convention that "This government wants Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead." His response to the issue is credited with helping Roosevelt win the election of 1904.


Ion Perdicaris' father, Gregory Perdicaris, was a Greek who was sent to study in the United States by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1826. Gregory became a naturalized citizen, and married into a wealthy family in South Carolina.[2] In 1837 he went back to Greece, serving as the American ambassador.[2]

In 1840,[2] Ion Perdicaris was born in Athens, Greece,[1] while his father was serving as ambassador. The family moved back to the United States in 1846,[2] and his father was at one point a professor of Greek at Harvard University.[3] The family settled in Trenton, New Jersey, where Gregory Perdicaris became wealthy as one of the organizers of the Trenton Gas Company.[4][5] His son Ion lived the life of a dilettante[6] for many years. He entered the Harvard University class of 1860. He left at the end of his sophomore year and studied in Europe for a time.[7] In 1862, due to the American Civil War, the family's property in South Carolina was in danger of confiscation by the government of the Confederate States of America. Perdicaris traveled to Greece, intending to renounce his United States citizenship and acquire Greek nationality to avoid confiscation or being drafted into the Confederate States Army.[8][9] The move did not protect his property, and he left Athens. He then lived in Trenton with his father after the end of the Civil War, contributing some articles to The Galaxy in 1868, before moving to England and studying electricity.[7][10] In 1871, Perdicaris met Ellen Varley, wife of the eminent telegraph engineer C.F. Varley in Malvern, England. Varley was away on a cable-laying expedition and Ellen abandoned him for Perdicaris. The Varleys divorced in 1873 and Ellen settled in Tangier with Perdicaris and her two sons and two daughters.

Perdicaris later moved to Tangier, where he built a house known as the Place of Nightingales in 1877,[11][12] and filled it with exotic animals.[13] In 1876, he presented a painting at the Centennial Exposition, and in 1879, Perdicardis produced an unsuccessful play at the Fifth Avenue Theatre. He lived permanently in Tangier after 1884.[7] Fascinated by Moroccan culture, Perdicaris wrote several books (few of them published to a wide audience) on Morocco,[citation needed] and became the unofficial head of Tangier's foreign community.[8] He was the president of the Hygienic Commission in Tangier,[3] and helped build a modern sanitation system for the city.[11] He maintained business interests in England and the United States and frequently visited New York.[14]

In 1886, Perdicaris filed a complaint of misconduct over the American Consul General in Morocco at the time, Felix Mathews. Mathews had refused to prosecute a Moroccan under American protogé status for rape. Perdicaris also wrote and distributed a pamphlet entitled “American Claims and the Protection of Native Subjects in Morocco” in London in response to the issue.[15] Perdicaris was, in turn, arrested and fined for shielding a Moor from arrest (which he later sought and received redress for).[16] Through Perdicaris' crusading, the scandal made national headlines in the United States, and Mathews was removed from his position in March 1887.[15]

Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli was a leader of several tribes near Tangier. In 1903, after five of his men were captured, he held Walter Harris, a Morocco correspondent of The Times hostage in exchange for the release of the prisoners. After the success of that kidnapping, he next targeted Ion Perdicaris.[17]


US newspaper cartoon on the incident

On 18 May 1904, Perdicaris and Ellen's son Cromwell were kidnapped from their summer home by Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli and anywhere from nine to one-hundred and fifty bandits.[11][18][14] Raisuli ruled three hill tribes in Morocco.[14] Several of Perdicaris's servants were knocked out by Raisuli's men,[8] and Ellen was left behind alone. The telephone lines to the home were cut, and at 11:00 pm, the American Consul General, Samuel Gummeré, arrived.[14] Shortly after leaving Tangier, while in the Rif Mountians, Perdicaris broke his leg in a horse fall.[19] Raisuli demanded of Sultan Abdelaziz of Morocco a $55,000 ransom (later raised to $70,000);[a] an end of the government harassing the Er-Rif people (removal of troops from the region); the removal, arrest, and imprisonment of the Pasha of Tangier and several other government officials; release of some political prisoners; and control of two of Morocco's wealthiest districts (later increased to six).[18][21][20] He later added the stipulation that the United States and England guarantee the demands would be met.[22]

The Consuls of Great Britain and America were immediately notified.[18] On 19 May, a cable from Gummeré reached the United States. It read:[14]

Mr. Perdicaris, most prominent American citizen here, and his stepson Mr. Varley, British subject, were carried off last night from their country house, three miles from Tangier, by a numerous band of natives headed by Raisuly [sic]. . . I earnestly request that a man-of-war be sent at once. . . situation most serious.

As the Secretary of State, John Hay, was out of town, the Assistant Secretary of State, Francis B. Loomis, dealt with the crisis. He diverted seven of the sixteen American ships in the Mediterranean Sea on a "goodwill cruise" to Tangier.[19] US president Theodore Roosevelt was angered by the kidnapping, and felt obliged to react. His Secretary of State, John Hay, described the demands as "preposterous". the following day the United States ordered Admiral French Ensor Chadwick to dispatch a ship from the South Atlantic Squadron to Tangier. On 20 May, a British torpedo boat was dispatched from Gibraltar. On 21 May, representatives from the sultan were sent to begin negotiations with the captors. By 25 May, negotiations had yet to achieve anything, and on the 29,[18] Raisuli threatened to kill the prisoners if his demands were not met in two days.[22] Negotiations often seemed ineffective, in part because the foreign minister of Morocco allied himself with Raisuli's enemies. Much of the progress that occurred was due to the efforts of the Shereefs of Wazan.[20] That same day, Theodore Frelinghuysen Jewell was ordered to dispatch a further three ships.[18] When a messenger from the Sultan arrived, he was sold to the highest bidder, and had his throat slit.[23]

The armored cruiser USS Brooklyn and cruiser USS Atlanta arrived on 30 May, and Chadwick had a conference with the Sultan's representative. The next day, the gunboats USS Marietta and Castine arrived, and France assured the United States they would do "all in their power to rescue the prisoners". On 1 June the ransom was increased to $70,000 and Jewell (with USS Olympia, Baltimore, and Cleveland) arrived, bringing the total American ships in Tangier to seven, and several Marine companies, commanded by Major John Twiggs Myers.[18] At the time, the gathering was the largest gathering of American ships in a foreign port.[24]

They were not to be used without express orders from Washington, as it was thought that any action by the marines would lead to the deaths of the prisoners.[25] The only plan for using them was to seize the custom-houses of Morocco, which supplied much of its revenue, if the Moroccan government did not fulfill the demands of the United States, which were to make the concessions necessary to persuade Raisuli to release Perdicaris, and to attack Raisuli if Perdicaris were killed anyway.[13] The only Marines actually to land on shore were a small detachment of a four men, carrying only sidearms, who arrived to protect the Consulate and Mrs. Perdicaris,[26] and two others dispatched on 8 June to protect the Belgian legation.[18]

On 30 May, A. H. Slocomb sent a letter to John Hay, claiming that Perdicaris was no longer an American citizen. Though Roosevelt's resolve weakened,[27] He decided to continue with the negotiations and not publicize the fact,[9] reasoning that it was enough Raisuli thought Perdicaris was an American citizen.[28] Roosevelt tried to get Britain and France to join the U.S. in a combined military action to rescue Perdicaris, but the two countries refused.[citation needed]. Instead, the two powers were covertly recruited to put pressure on the Sultan to accept Raisuli's demands.[24] On 2 June the Italian cruiser Dogali arrived in port, and tensions rose to the point that there were fears of an uprising in the city.[18]

On 6 June, the Spanish battleship Pelayo and Spanish ironclad Numancia arrived,[18] due to fears that the United States might force Morocco to give them a port.[29] In response to the request of the British minister in Morocco, HMS Prince of Wales left Gibraltar on 7 June.[18] That same day, Theodore Roosevelt received confirmation that Perdicaris had registered in Athens as a Greek citizen.[27] Negotiations continued and on 8 May, the Sultan granted Raisuli's demands, and Herid el Barrada was appointed as governor of Tangier. Angry tribesmen then made a raid on the home of an Englishman. Negotiations dragged on, and on 9 June troops were removed from Raisuli's region. On 14 June, an attempt was made to kidnap the Italian consul.[18] On 15 June, the demands were increased to six districts of Morocco.[30]

On 19 June the Sultan accepted Raisuli's demands, with the date of release set for 21 June.[22] On 20 June, a hitch in negotiations occurred as Zelai, governor of an inland tribe, refused to act as intermediary.[18] On 21 or 22 June the ransom money was deposited. On 22 June, Raisuli demanded another district.[8][31] Though a settlement had already been reached, a cable from Gummeré accusing the Sultan of holding up negotiations.[32] Hay saw the need to act so he issued a statement to the Republican National Convention, that was read by Joseph Gurney Cannon:[33] "We wants Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead."[34] While it was clear that the convention would nominate Roosevelt,[35] the statement electrified the Convention. One Kansas delegate exclaimed, "Roosevelt and Hay know what they're doing. Our people like courage. We'll stand for anything those men do."[34] After being nominated, Roosevelt easily won election in 1904.[36] Perdicaris was home by 24 June,[18] after most of Raisuli's demands were met.[9]

Perdicaris's narrative of the event, written while in captivity, was widely read, being published in Leslie's Weekly then National Geographic.[37] After his release, Perdicaris openly admitted he was not an American citizen.[27] While he received Greek citizenship, he never lived in Athens for the required two years, and ever renounced his American citizenship.[38] The State Department reached the conclusion that Perdicaris had not, in the word of Ruth Shipley, "ever effectively acquired Greek, nor divested himself of American, citizenship," and he was later issued a passport as an American citizen.[39][32]

Despite the circumstances, Perdicaris came to admire and befriend Raisuli, who pledged to protect his prisoner from any harm. Perdicaris later said: "I go so far as to say that I do not regret having been his prisoner for some time... He is not a bandit, not a murderer, but a patriot forced into acts of brigandage to save his native soil and his people from the yoke of tyranny."[40] It has been suggested that he had Stockholm syndrome.[9] The detailed facts of the incident (especially the fact that Perdicaris was not an American) remained secret until 1933, when historian Tyler Dennett mentioned it in his biography of John Hay.[41][42] In 1975, Thomas H. Etzold described the kidnapping as "the most famous protection case in American history."[43]

In Morocco, the Sultan was required to pay the $70,000 ransom, and a further $4,000 to the United States covering various expenses. The incident also led newspapers including The New York Times editorializing that France had to 'impose order' in the country. France then intervened several times.[44]


Perdicaris and his family moved to England shortly after the incident, eventually settling in Tunbridge Wells.[8] He occasionally returned to Trenton where he maintained business interests. Perdicaris Place, off West State Street, is named for him and his father. Ion Perdicaris died in London in 1925.

Popular culture[edit]

"Hostages to Momus", a short fiction story by the American author O. Henry was inspired by the kidnapping of Ion Perdicaris, who in the story is referred to as "Burdick Harris" ("Bur-dick-Harris" is a play on "Per-dic-aris", as the names rhyme, if pronounced as the author intended), a Greek citizen.[45] The humorous story was written shortly after the incident.

In 1924, British author and adventurer Rosita Forbes published The Sultan of the Mountains: The Life Story of the Raisuli, a full-length biography of Raisuli; the book is currently out of print in English,[46] but a Spanish translation has appeared recently.[47] Other books have discussed the incident, including David S. Woolman's Rebels in the Rif, Michael B. Oren's Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present and Bill Fawcett's Oval Office Oddities, and a lengthy, in-depth chapter on the kidnapping and President Roosevelt's reaction is included in Edmund Morris's second Roosevelt biography, Theodore Rex.

The story of Ion Perdicaris's kidnapping was loosely adapted to film in the 1975 motion picture The Wind and the Lion, with Sean Connery in the role of Raisuli and Brian Keith as Roosevelt. However, to add some glamour to the tale, the 64-year-old bearded hostage was replaced with attractive young "Eden Pedecaris", played by Candice Bergen. The film incorrectly showed US Marines invading Morocco and battling soldiers of the German Empire (who were not present in Morocco at the time), but it succeeded in presenting the personality of Raisuli and his interaction with his prisoners.[48][49]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The money was to be raised by selling the property of Raisuli's enemies.[20]
  1. ^ a b Morris 2001, p. 323.
  2. ^ a b c d Walther 2015, p. 130.
  3. ^ a b "Rich American is Kidnapped by Bandits". The St. Louis Republic. 20 May 1904.
  4. ^ Raum, John O. (1871). History of the City of Trenton, New Jersey: Embracing a Period of Nearly Two Hundred Years, Commencing in 1676, the First Settlement of the Town, and Extending Up to the Present Time, with Official Records of the Population, Extent of the Town at Different Periods, Its Manufactories, Church History, and Fire Department. W. T. Nicholson & Company, printers. p. 350.
  5. ^ "The Perdicaris Incident". Theodore Roosevelt Center. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  6. ^ Entz, Gary R. (2013). Llewellyn Castle: A Worker's Cooperative on the Great Plains. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. p. 81. ISBN 0803245394 – via Project MUSE.
  7. ^ a b c Harper's Weekly. Harper's Magazine Company. 1904. p. 853.
  8. ^ a b c d e Woolman, Davis (October 1997). "Did Theodore Roosevelt overreact when an American was kidnapped in Morocco? Were seven warships really necessary?". Military History. 4: 16, 79 – via ProQuest.
  9. ^ a b c d Simon 2001, p. 37.
  10. ^ Etzold 1975, pp. 303.
  11. ^ a b c Simon 2001, p. 33.
  12. ^ "Tangier". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2 June 2019.
  13. ^ a b Tuchman, Barbara W. (August 1959). "Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead". American Heritage. 10 (5). Archived from the original on 2 June 2019.
  14. ^ a b c d e Morris 2001, p. 324.
  15. ^ a b Walther 2015, pp. 130-131.
  16. ^ "Redress for Mr. Perdicaris". The New York Times. 11 December 1886.
  17. ^ Katz 2006, p. 115.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Perdicaris Free at Last". The New-York Tribune. 24 June 1904 – via Chronicling America.
  19. ^ a b Morris 2001, pp. 324–325.
  20. ^ a b c Etzold 1975, p. 299.
  21. ^ Morris 2001, pp. 326–327, 330.
  22. ^ a b c Simon 2001, p. 35.
  23. ^ Etzold 1975, p. 300.
  24. ^ a b "France takes a Hand". The New-York Tribune. 1 June 1904.
  25. ^ Simon 2001, pp. 34, 36.
  26. ^ Morris 2001, p. 329.
  27. ^ a b c Davis 1941, p. 518.
  28. ^ Walther 2015, p. 142.
  29. ^ "Tangier Incident Exites Europe". The Washington Times. 6 June 1904.
  30. ^ Morris 2001, p. 330.
  31. ^ "Bandit Raisuli Demands Another Province Before Releasing His Prisoners". The St. Louis Republic. 22 June 1904.
  32. ^ a b Etzold 1975, pp. 301–302.
  33. ^ Simon 2001, p. 36.
  34. ^ a b Morris 2001, p. 335.
  35. ^ Gould, Lewis L. (29 August 2014). The Republicans: A History of the Grand Old Party. Oxford University Press. p. 129. ISBN 9780199942930.
  36. ^ "Presidential Election of 1904". 270 to win. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  37. ^ Baepler 1999, p. 177.
  38. ^ Etzold 1975, pp. 302–303.
  39. ^ Davis 1941, p. 519.
  40. ^ "1904: 'Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!'", Jon Blackwell, The Trentonian.
  41. ^ Barbara W. Tuchman, "Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead!". American Heritage, August 1959; later republished in Tuchman's essay compilation Practicing History: Selected Essays (1984), pp. 104–117
  42. ^ "1904: Teddy's Big Stick". Retrieved 9 April 2019.
  43. ^ Etzold 1975, p. 297.
  44. ^ Etzold 1975, p. 304.
  45. ^ "Hostage to Momus" online
  46. ^ page on Forbes' book
  47. ^ 'El Raisuni, sultán de las montañas', Editorial Almuzara (2010), ISBN 978-84-92924-07-3 [Donate book to] [Donate book to] [Donate book to]
  48. ^ Baepler 1999, pp. 177-178.
  49. ^ Pfeiffer, Lee; Lisa, Philip (2001). The Films of Sean Connery. Citadel Press. p. 140. ISBN 9780806522234.


External links[edit]