George Washington Papers

To George Washington from David Humphreys, 5 May 1793

From David Humphreys

(Secret & confidential)

My dear Sir.Lisbon May 5th 1793

I wrote to the Secretary of State on the 29th Ulto by way of Boston. In that Dispatch, I mentioned having seen a letter of the 20th of March from Captn Obryen, on Algerine affairs. I now take the liberty of enclosing the copy of a letter from him to a Gentleman in this city, for your information.1 I pretend to make no comments upon it, as you must know more of the subject than I do: and particularly whether any or what terms for a Peace had been transmitted on the part of the Dey to the United States in April 1792 . . .2 of which circumstance I do not recollect ever to have heard a syllable before. But from the ransom actually given for the redemption of George Smith, from the general tenor of intelligence, as well as from the facts relative to Holland mentioned in the enclosed, I should apprehend there is not the least shadow of probability that a Treaty can be formed, under the limitations specified in certain Papers, which you know came accidentally into my possession.3 And if it shall be judged there will be little or no chance of effecting that purpose upon those conditions, the wisdom of Government will have to decide on the nature & expediency of the measures still to be taken.

In the present circumstances of the naval war in Europe, the difficulty is very great (& perhaps will be almost insuperable) of chartering a neutral vessel & transporting a considerable amount of property in safety to a destined point. A Danish vessel bound from Lisbon to Genoa is taken & carried into Marseilles; and we have just now received certain advice that Captn Rodman, commanding a Ship belonging to a Citizen of the U.S., who sailed a few days ago from Lisbon for St Petersburg, has been captured by a French Privateer; recaptured by an English Frigate & sent into Bilboa.4 Other neutral vessels have been brought by British Cruizers into Gibralter. None of them had military stores. I understand the pretext, on one & the other side, is, to examine whether the property on board does not belong to Subjects of a Power with which their nations are at war.

By all accounts from France, it appears that the situation of that new Republic is very alarming indeed. Although we have no authentic details to be absolutely relied upon, yet there is little doubt that discord & treachery greatly prevail. The reports of the treasons of Dumorier & other Generals are too monstrous almost for credibility.5 God only knows how the confusions will end. Still I cannot believe that the antient order of things will be restored.

I hope soon to hear good news from America, & that the troublesome war of the Savages is terminated.6 In the mean time I pray you will offer my best Compliments to Mrs Washington, & our friends near you; and that you will be persuaded there is no one more sincerely attached to you, than your affte friend & Humble Servant

D. Humphreys.

ALS, DLC:GW. The docket indicates receipt of this letter on 16 July 1793.

1For Humphreys’s letter to Thomas Jefferson of 29 April, see Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 25:623. Richard O’Bryen’s (O’Brien) letter, as copied by Humphreys, bears a dateline of “Algiers March the 26th 1793 & 8th of Captivity” and reads: “I had wrote you the 6th & 12th Ulto. informing you on many particulars—To this date the Algerine Corsairs has captured thirteen Dutch vessels, eight of those they have given up as being captured before the expiration of the 30 days which the Dey had given his word should expire before he would condemn any Dutch vessel. The other five is condemned. their Crews consisting of sixty three People are made Slaves. I had wrote you that the Pest had declared itself in this City of human misery. it encreases. on the 3d inst. it gave its fatal alarm in the Room of the American Captives in the Slave Prison. It struck Jacobus Tessanier [Tessanaer] one of our Brother sufferers. Another had its alarming symptoms four days—they were both sent to the Hospital, but thank the Almighty they are recovered & pronounced out of danger for the present. I am much concerned & afraid that this tremendous Disorder will carry off the major part of this victim remnant. They are at this alarming Crisis drove to the greatest despair. They are on the verge of Eternity, and to all appearance are destined to be the victims of American Independence. This is the third Plague they have been exposed to. Five of their Brother sufferers have entered the Bills of Mortality. The rest have suffered an ignominious captivity of nearly eight years. The major part of this trying period left in the most distressed & humiliating situation.

“I have my fears that many of them will renaunce their Country & become the Subjects of this Regency. Then they will thirst for revenge against the U.S. who have occasioned all their miseries.

“In this time of threatening danger Mathias Skoldebrand [Anders Fredrik Skjöldebrand] Esq. the Swede-Consul redeemed from Slavery George Smith an American Captive for the sum of 2696 Dollars, The Swede Consul entirely depending on the honour of the United States to reimburse him. George Smith had incurred the displeasure of the Dey, & if the Swede Consul had not redeemed him he would dye an American victim. I believe that the affair of the Peace with this Regency is entirely given up. I suppose that Congress will not accept of the Terms of Peace prescribed by the Dey in April last, therefore we are doomed to eternal Slavery. But the Dey may soon be revenged on the U.S. for their deceptions to him on many occasions. Our affairs have never been conducted in a proper manner. We seem to have no regard to national honour. The U.S. in April 1792 empowered certain Persons to know of the Dey of Algiers on what terms he would make Peace. The Dey stated the Terms. But astonishing to think or conceive that to this date they have not given the Dey to understand whether they will or not accept or reject the terms.

“Twelve American Captives kept in a tormenting state of suspense, unparallelled in the Annals of Tyrants, with an ignominious captivity of nearly eight years is a strong emblem of American Liberty. This is the truth—and is what all Algiers sees & says.

“The Dutch & French being at present at war, I believe will retard the Dutch negociation with this Regency; and let it sooner or later take place I am sure it will cost the Dutch nearly 350,000 Mexico Dollars. I believe the Dey is inclinable to a Peace with Holland. The five Dutch vessels, cargoes & Crews captured by the Algerines are worth nearly 1 & ½ Million of Dollars. Two of these vessels are from Smyrna.

“The Spanish Consul in Algiers is using his influence in trying for the peace with this Regency for Portugal & Naples: the latter will shortly succeed. You may soon, but with regret, be informed of the fruits of his endeavours. the same time the U.S. lying dormant, insensible of the storms that are rising to destroy their commerce, and the fetters forging for their Subjects. If the U.S. want to obtain an honorable Peace with this Regency, it should be obtained by the influence of an American Camp on the banks of the River Mississipi.

“The Dey is much Dissatisfied with the French. He has threatened to make war: & signified to the French Consul to prepare to leave Algiers in 55 days.

“My dear Sir, I am struck with the most poignant grief. Congress have rejected the terms of Peace as dishonorable & have resolved not to redeem the twelve victims. For God’s sake write to America for all the People to know we are on the verge of Eternity—given up—& for them to open a subscription in our behalf. . . . Pest encreases—it is my lot—I am happy in meeting my fate” (DLC:GW). This letter was almost certainly addressed to Bulkeley & Son of Lisbon, to whom O’Bryen had written on 12 Feb. (see Humphreys to GW, 4 April 1793). For the role of O’Bryen as spokesman for the American captives at Algiers, see Humphreys to GW, 4 April, n.1.

3George Smith was a seaman aboard the schooner Mary, which Algerian pirates captured in 1785. For the price of his ransom, see note 1. The papers to which Humphreys is referring were probably those of the late Thomas Barclay (Humphreys to GW, 23 Jan. 1793, and note 1).

4William Rodman was captain of the ship Hamilton out of Rhode Island. The ship returned to Providence in October (Federal Gazette and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, 22 July; Providence Gazette and Country Journal, 26 Oct.).

5After his defeat at the Battle of Neerwinden on 18 Mar., Gen. Charles-François du Périer Dumouriez negotiated an armistice with the Austrians that included a plan for him to lead his army against Paris. The plan never materialized, and Dumouriez fled before accusations of treason, eventually settling in England.

6Even as the United States was preparing for a treaty at Lower Sandusky with the hostile Indians of the Northwest Territory, Gen. Anthony Wayne was readying his troops in case the negotiations failed (GW to Charles Carroll [of Carrollton] and Charles Thomson, 23–31 Jan., n.1, Henry Knox to GW, 29 Jan., GW to Edmund Randolph, 12 Feb. 1793, John Stagg, Jr., to Tobias Lear, 5 Mar., n.1).

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