Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from David Humphreys, 6 October 1793

From David Humphreys

Gibralter Octr. 6th. 1793


A dispatch boat has just arrived from Algiers, which brings authentic1 intelligence, that a Truce for 12 months is concluded between Portugal and that Regency. In consequence of which eight Algerine cruizers, viz. four frigates, one brig and three Xebeques, have just passed through the Streights, into the Atlantic. Our vessels will now be exposed to the most eminent hazard of capture, as it was the Portuguese squadron alone which hitherto prevented the Algerines from cruising in the Atlantic against them. I have thought it of so much importance to put our Countrymen immediately upon their guard, as to justify me in dispatching Expresses with the News to our Consuls at Cadiz, Malaga and Lisbon. And I lose not a single instant in communicating it to you, in order that such use shall be made of it, as may be deemed expedient in the United States. With sentiments of perfect respect & esteem I have the honour to be Sir Your Most obedt & Most humble Servt

D. Humphreys

P.S. The Portuguese had no public Character at Algiers—in a future letter I shall explain by whose instrumentality the Truce was made.

RC (DNA: RG 59, DD); at head of text: “(No. 87.) <(fourth Copy)>”; at foot of text: “The Secretary of State &c. &c. &c.”; endorsed by TJ as received 11 Dec. 1793 and so recorded in SJL. Dupl (same, MDC); at head of text: “(No. 87.) (duplicate).” Tripl (same, Duplicate Despatches); at head of text: “(No. 87.) (first Copy).” Tr (Lb in same, DD). Enclosed in Bartholomew Dandridge, Jr., to TJ, 11 Dec. 1793.

The truce Great Britain arranged between Algiers and Portugal in September 1793 accentuated a growing crisis in Anglo-American relations and spurred the renaissance of the defunct United States Navy. Since late in 1785 American merchant ships trading with southern Europe had been the beneficiaries of a Portuguese naval blockade of the Straits of Gibraltar, which confined Algerine corsairs to the Mediterranean in order to prevent them from attacking the economically vital Brazilian convoys. In April 1793, however, the Portuguese government informed the British and Spanish courts of its willingness to make peace with Algiers so that the Portuguese navy could take part in the war against France. Acting under instructions from the English government—which did not inform Portugal in its eagerness to obtain that nation’s naval support against France—Charles Logie, the British consul at Algiers, prevailed upon the Dey of Algiers to agree on 12 Sep. 1793 to a twelve-month truce with Portugal, assuring him that Portugal was willing to pay a huge sum (over 2,400,000 dollars according to one report) for a peace treaty. As a result of this truce Portugal ended its blockade, thereby allowing Algerine corsairs to sail into the Atlantic, where in October and November 1793 they captured eleven American merchant ships, sharply driving up insurance rates on American shipping and increasing the number of Americans in Algerine captivity from 13 to 117. But late in November 1793, after learning how much a peace treaty with Algiers would cost, Portugal repudiated the truce, reinstituted its naval blockade, and provided naval protection against Algerine corsairs for American ships bound to or from Portuguese ports (TJ to John Paul Jones, 1 June 1792; James Simpson to TJ, 8 Oct. 1793; Edward Church to TJ, 12 Oct. 1793; Mayo, British Ministers description begins Bernard Mayo, ed., “Instructions to the British Ministers to the United States 1791–1812,” American Historical Association, Annual Report, 1936 description ends , 50; Barnby, Prisoners description begins H. G. Barnby, The Prisoners of Algiers: An Account of the Forgotten American-Algerian War, 1785–1797, London, 1966 description ends , 97, 103, 110–11; Ray W. Irwin, The Diplomatic Relations of the United States with the Barbary Powers, 1776–1816 [Chapel Hill, 1931], 57–60; Marshall Smelser, The Congress Founds the Navy, 1787–1798 [Notre Dame, Ind., 1959], 35–8, 40, 44, 51).

The arrival in Philadelphia in December 1793 of news of the Algerine-Portuguese truce unleashed a storm of public criticism of the British role in effecting this agreement that cut across party lines. Coming in the wake of British efforts to halt the American grain trade with France, the truce was widely viewed by Americans as a deliberate British attempt to strike back at a commercial rival by subjecting American merchant shipping to the depredations of Algerine corsairs—a conviction that was merely strengthened early in March 1794 when news began to reach the United States of the British capture of hundreds of American trading vessels in the West Indies. TJ, who privately shared this view of British motives, gave official notice of the truce in a report on Morocco and Algiers that the President submitted to Congress on 16 Dec. 1793. After several months of debate, during which various members regularly excoriated British motives for bringing about this agreement, Congress late in March 1794 authorized the construction of six warships for the express purpose of protecting American shipping from Barbary piracy. TJ had long favored the use of American naval power for this purpose, but though he did not mention it in his Report on Morocco and Algiers, or in his 16 Dec. 1793 Report on Commerce, he privately expressed the hope that Congress would adopt a program of commercial retaliation as the proper response to this perceived British assault on American trade. In any event, this act of Congress marked the rebirth of the United States Navy, which TJ as President was to use to such good effect against the Barbary state of Tripoli (Report on Morocco and Algiers, 14 Dec. 1793; TJ to Martha Jefferson Randolph, 22 Dec. 1793; James Madison to TJ, 9 Mch. 1794; Bemis, Jay’s Treaty description begins Samuel Flagg Bemis, Jay’s Treaty: A Study in Commerce and Diplomacy, rev. ed., New Haven, 1962 description ends , 214–17; Peterson, Jefferson description begins Merrill D. Peterson, Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation, New York, 1970 description ends , 312–14, 422; Smelser, Congress Founds the Navy, 48–59, 60–1).

TJ submitted this letter to the President on 11 December 1793 (Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 266).

1Word interlined in Dupl in place of “official,” but omitted in Tripl and Tr.

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