George Washington Papers

To George Washington from David Humphreys, 3 February 1795

From David Humphreys

New Port (Rhode Island)
Feby 3d 1795.

My dear and respected Sir.

I seize the earliest moment to inform you of my safe arrival here (after a most disagreeable passage of sixty one days) on the very urgent & important business, stated in my three last letters from Lisbon (Nrs 149, 150 & 151) to the Secretary of State. I hope the Originals will have reached him; or, if they should have miscarried, that the Copies (which I forwarded at Sea, on the 28th of Janry, by a vessel bound to New York) will have come to hand.1 As I am, at this instant, hastening my departure for Philadelphia, I have it not in my power to make other Copies. I can therefore only repeat in brief (what I have explained in detail in the before-mentioned letters) that the annunciation on the part of the Dey of Algiers of his readiness to treat with us, and the embarrassment for the immediate want of funds, together with the critical state of Affairs in Morocco and the want of funds for that business (the Bills for that purpose having been protested) are the occasion of my hastening thus to state verbally the real situation of things with regard to the Barbary States; and to receive your ultimate orders thereon.

I feel such a consciousness of having acted from motives of duty alone, and in the manner which I believed in the sincerity of my Soul most likely to promote the public interests, that I cannot but hope my conduct will meet with your approbation. That approbation, in conjunction with that consciousness of the purity of my intentions, will be an ample compensation for all the fatigues & hazards which I have encountered.

With hopes of soon being able to explain myself more fully, and with the purest sentiments of affection, esteem & gratitude, I have the honour to remain My dear & respected Sir, Your most affe friend & Most humble Servt

D. Humphreys.


1The letters from Humphreys to Secretary of State Edmund Randolph numbered 149, 150, and 151 and dated 10, 18, and 29 Nov. 1794 are in DNA: RG 59, Despatches from U.S. Ministers to Portugal. The letter of 29 Nov. is docketed “recd Feb. 6. 95.”

In the letter of 10 Nov., Humphreys reported “that the Dey is now disposed to treat with us and ready to receive a Negociator for that purpose but that he expects a considerable Sum of money for the ransom of our Citizens in captivity as well a[s] for a Peace.” However, the “money intended to have been raised by Loan in Holland for this negociation cannot be obtained” in timely fashion. For this reason, and because it appeared that Portugal might become involved with the war against France, distracting her naval force and thus setting the Barbary States free to prey on U.S. shipping, Humphreys planned to return to the United States for consultation.

In the letter of 18 Nov., Humphreys expanded on the potential threat to U.S. shipping from Morocco, expressing concerns that Algiers might open her ports to Moroccan ships, and he reported that he was “this moment” boarding a ship bound to New York.

Nonetheless, Humphreys had not sailed by his letter of 29 November. In the interim, he had received Randolph’s letter of 29 Aug. giving instructions about negotiations with Algiers. In response, Humphreys gave an extended justification of his decision to return home. He expressed concerns about the security of transmissions through the British post office, noted that the Holland bills had been protested, and argued that “there is no other Point from which the operations of treating may be commenced with so great a prospect of their being conducted with secrecy, & of eluding the vigilance of our Enemies, as from the United States.” He thought the growing influence of France with Algiers, relative to the influence of Great Britain and Spain, improved prospects for a treaty with the dey and suggested that “a State Lottery” might be the best way to raise funds. Then Humphreys returned again to the problem of Morocco. Concluding that “Muley Soliman” (Mawley Sulayman Ibn Muhammed) was likely to emerge victorious in the civil war there, Humphreys suggested “suffering some of our young Sappers, Miners, Engineers, Artillerists, &c. (if they could be spared from our own Service) to act as Volunteers, in putting him in possession of his Capital” as a way of “endeavouring to attach him” to U.S. interests. The U.S. government needed to consider, however, “how far we may count on the observance of Treaties with the Barbary Powers (some of which are believed, to have no dread of infamy, [n]o sense of honour, no regard to justice, & no respect for the Laws of Nations) without keeping up, to a certain degree, a naval force, to hold them under some kind of awe or restraint.” All these changing circumstances required that Humphreys undertake the hazards of a winter voyage so that he might “have the honour of submitting orally to the correction & decision of the President.”

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