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Collection Reference Number GLC00345
From Archive Folder Documents Relating to 1785 
Title Instructions to John Lamb to treat with Algiers
Date 1 October 1785
Author Adams, John (1735-1826)  
Document Type Government document
Content Description Co-signed by Jefferson 11 October 1785 in Paris. Lamb was instructed to confer with Minister Carmichael in Spain, then proceed to Algiers. The Continental Congress sent John Lamb to negotiate with Dey Mohomet of Algiers for the release of 21 Americans held as prisoners and to secure safe passage of American vessels in the Mediterranean. The Dey demanded $3,000 ransom per man, twice as much as he asked of other nations. Lamb returned home in 1789 without securing a treaty.
Subjects President  Government and Civics  Military History  Treaty  Global History and Civics  Africa  Prisoner of War  Pirates  Slavery  Maritime  
People Adams, John (1735-1826)  Jefferson, Thomas (1743-1826)  Lamb, John (1735-1800)  
Place written London, England ; Paris
Theme Government & Politics; Foreign Affairs; Merchants & Commerce; Naval & Maritime; Slavery & Abolition
Sub-collection The Gilder Lehrman Collection, 1493-1859
Additional Information The problem of slavery received a new meaning when white American sailors were enslaved by the so-called Barbary pirates of North Africa. In 1785, the American schooner Maria, sailing off the coast of Portugal, was boarded by Algerian pirates. Its captain and five crew members were taken prisoner. Then a second American ship, the brig Dauphin, was captured, and its 15-member crew was taken to Algiers and enslaved. Several Americans were put to work as domestic servants; another was forced to care for the Dey of Algiers's lion. Much of the time the hostages were kept in leg irons, chained to pillars, or locked in a rat-infested prison. Six American captives died of bubonic plague. One went insane. During the late eighteenth century, three small North African states--Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis--preyed on merchant ships sailing in the Mediterranean, seizing their crews and cargoes and holding both for ransom. Many European countries paid tribute to the Barbary States to ensure that their ships would be unmolested. But America did not. Major powers like Britain and France tolerated the "Barbary pirates" because they raised the shipping costs of potential competitors, such as Denmark, Holland, Portugal, and the United States. In a bid to free these white American "slaves," the Continental Congress decided to send John Lamb to negotiate with Dey Mohomet of Algiers for release of Americans prisoners and for safe passage of American ships in the Mediterranean. The Dey demanded $3,000 ransom per hostage, twice as much as he asked of other nations. Lamb returned home in 1789 without securing a treaty. Over the next eight years, Algerian pirates seized more than 100 hostages from a dozen captured American ships. Finally, in 1795, the United States successfully negotiated for the hostages' release. To gain their freedom, the United States agreed to pay $800,000 plus annual tribute that amounted to about 20 percent of the yearly federal budget. It was not until 1815 that the United States successfully ended North African piracy. In that year, a fleet of ten American ships under the command of Stephen Decatur threatened to bombard Algiers. The threat worked. The North African states agreed to release American prisoners without ransom and to cease all interference with American shipping.
Copyright The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
Module Settlement, Commerce, Revolution and Reform: 1493-1859
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