Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Joseph Barnes, 19 March 1801

From Joseph Barnes

Messina March 19th. 1801 Sicily

In the postcript of my Last Feb. 22nd. I inform’d you, my best friend Mr Jefferson, that all the English Vessels at Naples had, from the order of the English Consul, withdrawn out into the Road—& most of the English were Shiping their property, which, tho’ not then known here, was in consequence of the advancing of the French, who, having been met by commissioners from his Silician Majesty were Stop’d at the Limits of the Neapolitan States, and an armstice entred into; by Virtue of which all the English Vessels were Soon after order’d away from Naples—And, on the 2nd Instant all the English Vessels were order’d out of this Port in 24 hours!! pursuant to which, they have all Left this & every Port of Sicily—and a general prohibition of all provisions from being Ship’d by or for the English, Especially to Malta! Of consequence, circumstanc’d as the King of Naples is, he will be compell’d to continue the Ports of the two Sicilies Shut against the English ‘till a general Peace; Should they not enter pr force, which is probable.—

Tis Said that a Treaty has Since been conclud’d between the King of Naples & the French, & is now before the King for his approof at Palermo—the purport of which however is not yet known—

Having now a Treaty with France, & being at Amity with the King of the two Sicilies, & the Princes of the Italian States; and having from the rights of Neutrality & Laws of Nations, full right, Should the English presume to prohibit our having free commerce into the Ports of France, Italy & Sicily, (except those Actually in a State of Siege,) hope the President of the Unit’d States will immediately Send a commissioner with full powers & Specific directions to remonstrate against demand & obtain free permission to entre all the Ports in question, not actually in a State of Siege, or the Ports of the Unit’d States Should be Shut against them—which at this moment would be ruin to England.—

Notice has been given here from the consul at Naples, that Should the Bay of Tripoli not receive Satisfactory answers to certain demands made by him of the Unit’d States before the 20th April ensuing, he will declare war against us—which hope may be Avoid’d by prompt proceedings of the U.S. in Sending Several Frigates & a commissioner to induce him immediately to pacific measures—To Pay well, will ever be found a Less evil than war with these Barbarians—or the consequences may be extremely Serious to our countrymen—for, not Long Since there were at once in this Port eight American Vessels! of course there must be many more in the Mediteranian—

With constant Solicitude for your health & happiness & preferment to the Presidency of the U.S I remain yours most respectfully

Jos: Barnes

P.S. Some doubts being entertain’d that Pennsylvan. will be depriv’d of Voting ‘tis fear’d Mr Jefferson will Lose the Election—but, [Heavens forbid]—

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); endorsed by TJ as received 24 June and so recorded in SJL.


Barnes’s last letter, dated 14 Feb. 1801, included the postscript of 22 Feb. and discussed the situation at Naples. Ferdinand, the king of Naples, was also monarch of the two sicilies. Among other provisions, the treaty that he acceded to with France, signed at Florence on 29 Mch., closed the ports of his kingdoms to the British and called for garrisons of French troops in some ports (Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon description begins Jean Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon, Paris, 1987 description ends , 729–30, 1225).

Tripoli and the United States signed a treaty in 1796 that the Senate ratified in June of the following year. Recognizing certain payments and gifts to Tripoli, the accord specified that the United States would not pay any ongoing annuity. On the arrival of James Leander Cathcart as the first American consul in 1799, however, the Tripolitans made additional demands, and by the spring of the following year Yusuf Qaramanli (Karamanli), who ruled as pasha and also commanded the country’s military forces as bey, began to press for a new arrangement with the United States. Yusuf had seized power in Tripoli not long before the negotiation of the treaty, following prolonged intrigue and warfare against his brothers, his father, and a rival from outside the country. As pasha he set out to enlarge Tripoli’s power and demonstrate its autonomy, forcing several European nations to negotiate new tribute payments to protect their commerce from his fleet. He told Cathcart that he had agreed to unfavorable terms with the United States because of the influence of Ali Hassan, the dey of Algiers, to whom Yusuf had felt some obligation but who had died in 1798. Displeased by what he perceived as greater favor shown to Algiers and Tunis, Yusuf insisted that he get something “more substantial than compliments,” as Cathcart expressed it, to prove the good will of the United States. In May 1800 the pasha sent John Adams an obliquely worded letter, making no outright demand for money but insisting that his country be treated as the equal of the other Barbary states. Showing a readiness to send corsairs against American shipping, Yusuf announced in October 1800 that if he did not have a response from the U.S. in six months he would declare war. Cathcart proclaimed Tripoli to be in violation of the treaty and requested the intervention of Mustafa, Ali Hassan’s successor, since the treaty designated the dey of Algiers as the arbitrator of any dispute over the terms. Yusuf, hinting that he might lessen his demands if Algiers stayed out of the negotiation, stated that the price of a new treaty would be $225,000 plus continuing annual payments of $20,000. In January and February 1801, Cathcart notified other U.S. consuls that war appeared imminent and that the Tripolitans would likely begin seizing American ships before the announced April deadline. Noting that Tripoli had used captured ships and crews to exact high ransom and annuity payments from Sweden, Cathcart urged his fellow consuls to keep American merchant vessels out of the Mediterranean. John S. M. Matthieu was the U.S. consul at Naples (Miller, Treaties description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and other International Acts of the United States of America, Washington, D.C., 1931–48, 8 vols. description ends , 2:xx-xxii, 349–85; ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. Bear, Family Letters Edwin M. Betts and James A. Bear, Jr., eds., Family Letters of Thomas Jefferson, Columbia, Mo., 1966 description ends , Foreign Relations, 2:347–57; Cathcart to Yusuf, 19 Feb. 1801, in DNA: RG 59, CD; NDBW description begins Dudley W. Knox, ed., Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers, Washington, D.C., 1939–44, 6 vols. and Register of Officer Personnel and Ships’ Data, 1801–1807, Washington, D.C., 1945 description ends , 1:314, 322–4, 330–2, 421–2; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 1:4–5; Kola Folayan, Tripoli During the Reign of Yusuf Pasha Qaramanli [Ile-Ife, Nigeria, 1979], 7–21, 25–35, 58; Robert J. Allison, The Crescent Obscured: The United States and the Muslim World, 1776–1815 [Chicago, 1995], 56, 168–9; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States… to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends , 1:209).

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