The Barbary Wars (1801–1815) resulted from interference by the Barbary States of Tripoli, Algiers, and Tunis with U.S. merchant shipping. Piracy had long been a source of income for the Barbary States, whose leaders ordered their ships to seize merchant ships and their crews and then hold them for ransom. Like many European nations, the infant United States adopted a system of paying tribute to the Barbary powers to ensure the safety of their shipping.
Beginning in 1796 the United States negotiated treaties with the Barbary States that freed American captives, protected U.S. mercantile trade against attack and seizure, and provided an annual tribute in naval stores. Despite these treaties, the situation in the Mediterranean deteriorated. Demanding a new arrangement with the United States that would increase payments, in May 1801 Yusuf Karamanli, the pasha of Tripoli, repudiated his treaty and declared war on the United States.
Meanwhile, President Thomas Jefferson found himself under domestic pressure to redress an insult to American honor when the dey of Algiers, Bobba Mustapha, in 1800 commandeered Captain William Bainbridge's frigate George Washington and turned it into a floating hotel and zoo under the Algerine flag for a voyage to the Ottoman sultan at Constantinople. Unaware of Tripoli's declaration of war but concerned about the deteriorating situation for the United States on that sea, in May 1801 Jefferson ordered a naval squadron to the Mediterranean. Commanded by Commodore Richard Dale, it consisted of only four ships. Dale's restrictive orders virtually assured that he would accomplish nothing. Ordered to protect American commerce in that sea, he had no authority to engage in combat unless he caught a warship in the actual process of trying to take a U.S. ship.
In late July Dale sailed to Tripoli and opened negotiations with the bashaw through an intermediary. Dale ruled out naval bombardment as a means of dealing with Tripoli. In truth he had too few ships for such an operation and lacked the specialized bombardment vessels, known as bomb ketches, that were highly desirable in such actions. Even had such vessels been available, bombardment would have required a sustained effort. Dale also lacked small shallow-draft vessels for work in shoal waters close to shore.
The Tripolitan War dragged on. In February 1802 Congress authorized Jefferson to use the thirteen frigates in the navy to defend the nation's commerce. Because naval enlistments were then limited to one year, Jefferson was obliged to send out another squadron to replace Dale's. He named Captain Richard Valentine Morris to command it. In the spring of 1802, with the enlistments of his seamen expiring and his ships in need of repair, Dale left for home.
Morris had at his disposal a more powerful squadron of six ships and financial resources not available to Dale. Unfortunately he proved a less than aggressive commander. Morris spent most of his time and kept most of his vessels at Gibraltar, one thousand miles removed from Tripoli, which he was supposedly blockading.
Morris was called home in the summer of 1803 and forced from the service. A third squadron, this one of seven ships led by Commodore Edward Preble, arrived at Gibraltar in mid-September. A far more aggressive and capable commander, Preble made a show of force at Tangier and met with the sultan, forcing Morocco, which was then threatening hostilities, to maintain the peace. Preble also actively blockaded Tripoli.
Preble's hopes of bringing the war to a successful conclusion were jolted by the loss of the frigate Philadelphia, his second-most powerful ship. It had run aground near Tripoli at the end of October and its crew was taken prisoner. The Tripolitans succeeded in refloating the frigate and towed it to Tripoli, where they began refitting it, threatening in the process to upset the naval balance of power in the Mediterranean. In February 1804, however, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a crew of volunteers on a daring raid into Tripoli harbor and burned the Philadelphia without losing a man. As a result of this action, Decatur
became the youngest man in U.S. Navy history to be promoted to captain.
That summer Preble mounted a number of attacks against Tripoli, bombarding its ships and shore installations and capturing some smaller Tripolitan vessels. Meanwhile Jefferson sent out more ships and, although Preble had performed well, gave command to Preble's senior, Captain Samuel Barron. William Eaton, the former consul to Tunis, accompanied Barron and came up with a plan to end the war. The United States agreed to support Hamet Karamanali, brother of the bashaw, in an expedition from Egypt against Tripoli. In March 1805 Eaton set out with several hundred men, including eight U.S. Marines, across the desert. Finally reaching Derne, they capture this second-largest Tripolitan city, and in June Bashaw Yusuf agreed to peace. He accepted a $60 thousand ransom for the release of the more than three hundred American prisoners but agreed to renounce all future tribute from the United States.
The Tripolitan War was inexpensive for the United States in terms of lives lost, claiming only thirty dead. The war created a strong esprit de corps in the young U.S. Navy and cemented in it traditions of discipline and pride. It also trained the leaders who would lead the navy in the far more difficult test with Britain that lay ahead.
In 1815 the United States again went to war with one of the Barbary States, this time with Algiers. In the summer of 1812 the British had encouraged the dey to seize American ships. With the end of hostilities with Britain, in March 1815 Congress authorized President James Madison to equip, man, and deploy such warships as he deemed necessary for operations against Algiers. The administration decided to send two squadrons to the Mediterranean, one under Captain William Bainbridge and the other under Captain Stephen Decatur. With ten ships, Decatur sailed first; his actions were decisive. Decatur arrived in the Mediterranean before Algiers could learn of the U.S. action and almost at once captured two Algerine warships. He then dictated peace to Algiers at the end of June. The terms provided for the release of prisoners, reparations to the United States, and an end to all tribute. On his own initiative, Decatur sailed to both Tunis and Tripoli and forced these two states to pay reparations for U.S. vessels that had been improperly seized and also to restore normal relations. Decatur's 1815 Mediterranean foray marked the end of troubles between the United States and the Barbary States and indeed the termination of the latter's piratical activities.
See alsoNaval Technology .
Chidsey, Donald Barr. The Wars in Barbary: Arab Piracy and the Birth of the United States Navy. New York: Crown Publishers, 1971.
Kitzen, Michael L. S. Tripoli and the United States at War: A History of American Relations with the Barbary States, 1785–1805. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1993.
Tucker, Glenn. Dawn like Thunder: The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963.
Tucker, Spencer C. Stephen Decatur: A Life Most Bold and Daring. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2004.
Whipple, A. B. C. To the Shores of Tripoli: The Birth of the U.S. Navy and Marines. New York: Morrow, 1991; Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2001.
Spencer C. Tucker
BARBARY WARS, a series of mostly naval conflicts between the United States and the Barbary states (Morocco, Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis), along the coast of North Africa. The Barbary nations had long plagued American and European shipping in the Mediterranean Sea through acts of piracy, taking advantage of the United States's lack of naval vessels. The war broke out with Tripoli and, later, Algiers only after the United States realized the need for a navy and began to acquire the ships and ports to support this enterprise.
The Tripolitan War occurred between 1801 and 1805. After the American Revolution, the United States, following the example of European nations, made annual payments to the Barbary states for unmolested passage along North Africa's Barbary Coast. Constant difficulties ensued in spite of this arrangement. In 1801 Tripoli declared war and seized several Americans and their vessels. The largely naval war that followed was feebly executed until Commodore Edward Preble arrived in 1803 with the USS Constitution, the USS Philadelphia, and several brigs and schooners. His arrival galvanized the entire force into vigorous action. In a naval demonstration before Tangiers, Preble set up a blockade of Tripoli. On 31 October 1803 the Philadelphia ran aground on a reef just outside the harbor and was captured by the Tripolitans, who later floated it and anchored it under the guns of the citadel. On 16 February 1804 Lieutenant Stephen Decatur and eighty officers and men recaptured and burned the Philadelphia in a daring night attack. During August and September 1804, Preble, in addition to blockading, harassed the Tripolitan shipping and fortifications with frequent attacks. Small gunboats fearlessly entered the harbor, enabling the crews to board and capture piratical craft while the larger ships kept up a protective fire on batteries. Such activity backfired on 4 September, when the USS Intrepid, with a cargo of gunpowder and explosive shells, maneuvered into the harbor at night. An explosion occurred prematurely, killing all the participants but doing little damage to Tripolitan shipping.
Preble was relieved by Commodore Samuel Barron, and Barron was relieved the following spring by Commodore John Rodgers. At this point, the bey (ruler) of Tripoli was ready to conclude peace, compelled partly by the success of the Derna land expedition, in which U.S. marines had captured the coastal city and were threatening to march on Tripoli. The treaty, hastily concluded on 4 June 1805, abolished all annual payments but provided for $60,000 ransom to be paid to Tripoli for the release of the officers and crew of the Philadelphia.
Although annual payments were maintained to the other Barbary states, Algiers continued to seize American merchantmen such as the Mary Ann, for which $18,000 was paid, and to threaten others such as the Allegheny, for which increased payments were demanded and secured. As a result, the United States declared war on Algiers in 1815. Immediately afterward, Decatur (promoted to commodore) and William Bainbridge were ordered to the Mediterranean with an overwhelming force. Within forty days after his June 1815 departure from New York, Decatur achieved his immediate mission. He captured the Algerian flagship Mashuda in a running fight. Appearing off the coast of Algiers, he demanded and secured a treaty humiliating to the once proud piratical state. His demands required no future payments, restoration of all American property, the emancipation of all Christian slaves escaping to U.S. men-of-war ships, civilized treatment of prisoners of war, and $10,000 for a merchantman recently seized. Tunis and Tripoli were forced to equally hard terms, and a U.S. squadron remained in the Mediterranean, ensuring the safety of American commerce.
Chidsey, Donald Barr. The Wars in Barbary: Arab Piracy and the Birth of the United States Navy. New York: Crown, 1971.
Kitzen, Michael L. S. Tripoli and the United States at War: A History of American Relations with the Barbary States: 1785–1805. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1993.
Nash, Howard Pervear. The Forgotten Wars: The Role of the U.S. Navy in the Quasi War with France and the Barbary Wars 1798–1805. South Brunswick, N.J.: A. S. Barnes, 1968.
Tucker, Glenn. Dawn Like Thunder: The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963.
Walter B.Norris/h. s.
Naval battles from the sixteenth century until 1821 between European powers and corsairs of North Africa who were attacking merchant shipping in the Mediterranean.
With the Christian reconquest of Spain from the Moors in the west and the rise of the Ottoman Empire in the east, the Mediterranean basin became the stage for a major, long-running confrontation between Christianity and Islam. Naval warriors (called the Barbary pirates, but more correctly corsairs) based in the North African port cities of Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, and Rabat-Salé in Morocco were among the most important frontline participants in the conflict. They began in the sixteenth century and lasted until the Treaty of Aix-laChapelle (1821) outlawed their activity.
The corsairs seized the ships of the Christian states whose rulers did not have treaties with their political overlords, took their goods, and sold their passengers and crews into slavery. As a result, a series of wars was fought throughout the period between the Europeans (after 1800 the newly independent United States of America also became involved) and their North African corsair adversaries. Because the corsairs served the interests of some of the Europeans, and their depredations against commercial shipping served the interests of the mercantilist policies of the time, the Christian nations never formed a common front against them.
It was only with the rise of free trade as the dominant theory in international trade that the powers banded together to quash the corsairs following Napoléon Bonaparte's defeat in 1815. The final stand of the corsairs came in 1818, with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1821 putting an end to the era by banning piracy, privateering, and corsairing.
see also corsairs.
William Eaton, 1764–1811, U.S. army officer, celebrated for his exploit in the Tripolitan War, b. Woodstock, Conn. Captain Eaton was sent to Tunis as consul in 1798 and learned much about the Barbary States. When he returned to the United States in 1804, he had a scheme to win the war against Tripoli by supporting the claimant to the rule of Tripoli, Hamet Karamanli. Somewhat reluctantly, Congress appointed him
"navy agent to the Barbary States"
and allowed him to try his plan. In Egypt, Eaton persuaded the claimant to undertake the venture and gathered a mixed army of 400 men, including Greeks, Italians, Arabs, and others. With this small band he set off on the long march overland to take Tripoli from the rear, took the seaport of Derna, and might have taken Tripoli if the Tripolitan War had not ended with a truce (1805) before he arrived.
See biographies by F. R. Rodd (1932) and N. B. Gerson (1968); L. B. Wright and J. H. Macleod, The First Americans in North Africa (1945, repr. 1969); R. Zacks, The Pirate Coast (2005).
H. Roberts (1939)