From Jonathan Trumbull, Jr.
Lebanon [Conn.] 27th July 1792
I have the honor to inclose, for your information, the Copy of a Letter which I have this day received from Mr Barclay—covering a Petition from the American Prisoners, now in Captivity at Algiers, a Copy of which is also transmitted herewith.1
This communication I beg leave to make to you Sir! as the only mean in my power, during the recess of Congress, which can afford me the hope of contributing to the relief of our suffering fellow Citizens, whose unhappy situation is so well pictured in their Petition. With the most perfect Respect & Regard I have the honor to be sir! Your most Obet & most hu. Servt
ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; ADfS, NHi.
On 20 Aug., GW replied to Trumbull from Mount Vernon: “Your letter of the 26th Ulto enclosing one from Mr [Thomas] Barclay containing the petition of our prisoners in Algiers, came duly to hand. Every thing that my powers and means will enable me to do consistent with justice & policy shall not be wanting to the relief of these unfortunate captives. and I would fein hope they will not be ineffectually employed” (ALS, NNGL; ADfS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW). GW’s mistake in referring to Trumbull’s letter as being “of the 26th Ulto” can be traced to GW’s docket on the letter, which reads in part, “26th July 1792.”
1. Thomas Barclay’s letter to Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., which was written at Gibraltar on 28 May 1792, reads: “I do myself the honor to inclose you a Petition which I received Yesterday from the American Prisoners at Algiers, who request in the most earnest manner that you will lay it before the House of Representatives” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). The petition, which was written at Algiers on 29 Mar. 1792 and signed by Richard O’Bryen and twelve other American captives, reads: “That we were captured nearly Seven Years ago, by Cruizers belonging to the Regency of Algiers, while we were navigating Vessells belonging to Citizens of the U. States—That we were for a considerable time flattered with the expectations held up to us, that we would be redeemed from Captivity as soon as it could be done consistent with propriety, and the Interest of our Country—That to effect this redemption, Mr John Lamb was sent to Algiers on the part of the U. States, and that he entered into an agreement with the Regency of Algiers for our Ransom; in consequence of which the terms were recorded on the Books of the Regency—But Mr Lamb never returned to fulfill them by the payment of the ransom Money, ’tho he promised, in the name of the U. States, to do it in four Monthes[.] That we understand, several persons have since been employed to make enquiries, whether the ransom agreed upon by Mr Lamb might not be reduced—but all attempts of that sort have hitherto proved ineffectual—the Regency declaring that the Contracts made by the Agent on the part of the U. States ought to be discharged—That we were for some time supplied with such Sums of Money as served, together with the prospect of redemption held up to us, to alleviate, in some degree, the rigours of our Captivity—but those supplies have ceased for a considerable time; during which we have been reduced to the utmost distress—and we are compelled in a great measure to depend on the Charity of transcient people—That, owing to the melancholly situation to which we are reduced, one of us, James Harnett has been deprived of his senses, and is confined in a Dungeon—the rest remain destitute almost of all the necessaries of Life—And in this deplorable situation, we have resisted any temptations to enter into the service of the Regency—that might hereafter be attended with Repentance or Remorse—trusting in the Justice & Humanity of Congress, that we shall never be reduced to the necessity of abandoning our Country and our Religion.
“Your most humble Petitioners further pray, that you will consider what our sufferings must have been for nearly seven Years Captivity—twice surrounded by the pest [plague] & other contagious distempers—which has numbered Six of our Brother sufferers in the Bills of Mortality—And we, the unfortunate remnant remain employed on the most laborious Work—far distant from our friends, families & connections—without any real prospect or assurances of ever seeing them more.
“But we entreat that some attention will be paid to our situation—and that Congress will, before the whole of us perish, take such steps towards our being liberated, as in their Judgment shall appear right & proper—and Your most humble Petitioners will ever pray & be thankfull” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). As Congress was not in session from May to November 1792, the petition was not read until 9 Nov. when it was “referred to the Secretary of State, to report thereon to the Senate” (Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 2d Cong., 2d sess., 613).