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Between the Wars: America’s Presence in the Mediterranean, 1805-1812

After signing the treaty with Tripoli, the United States negotiated peace agreements with Algiers and Tunis. Although piracy in the region declined, by 1807 Algiers had aggressively resumed privateering against America.  Spain also maintained tight control over their waters and suspiciously searched American ships.  The Clements Library has several collections, including sailor’s logs and merchant records, that document the dangers of Mediterranean commerce in-between the wars.

In his journal, first mate of the AdamantMoses Bond, discussed his ship’s encounters with privateers in the Mediterranean. Summing up America’s difficulties with the Barbary states, Bond observed, “Men who obtain their sovereign commission to annoy the Enemy for want of other Employ are sure trouble to Friends” [July 7,] 1808. 

Soon after this experience, a Maltese privateer captured Bond’s ship along with the ship Ann of Alexandria, and, after suffering through a “most daring outrage practiced by th[ese] Barbarian[s]” (a Maltese crewmember tied Bond’s fellow sailor to a gun and lashed him 70 times with a 3-inch rope), the pirates forcibly escorted Bond’s ship to Malta (page 35).

The Pratt and Kintzing papers, which document prominent Philadelphia traders, contain several accounts of British and Algerians capturing American merchant ships (see items October 3, 1807, April 16, 1808, May 5, 1808, October 4, 1808, and undated).


Tobias Lear, engraved by S. Hollyer. undated.


Tobias Lear remained in the region after the Treaty of Tripoli as consul general to Algiers.  He served as the primary go-between for President James Madison and the state department, the American consuls in Northern Africa, and the Barbary rulers.

His papers contain copies of several communications with Barbary leaders, including the items listed below:

Tunis Ambassador Sidi Soliman Mellimelli to President James Madison, March 8, 1806:

A formal communication discussing the tenuous peace between Tunis and the United States.

James Madison to Tobias Lear, June 7, 1806:

Madison’s views and instructions regarding America’s interactions with Tunis with details regarding Tunisian Minister Mellimelli’s visit to the United States.

Beginning of the Second Barbary War

With the outbreak of the War of 1812, the British encouraged Algiers to declare war against America.  On July 25, 1812, Dey Omar ben Muhammad abruptly expelled Lear and his staff from Algiers and declared war on the United States, allegedly for failing to pay their tribute.  Lear wrote to Tunisian Consul Charles D. Coxe on August 8th, 1812, informing him of the situation.  Focused on matters closer to home, the Americans would wait until after the War of 1812 to deal with Algiers. 

The featured letter is from Lear to American Chargé d’Affaires of Tunis Charles D. Coxe from onboard the ship Allegany, stationed at Gibraltar, sent just weeks after being expelled from Algiers.