Thomas Jefferson Papers
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To Thomas Jefferson from Samuel Smith, 9 June [i.e. August] 1802

From Samuel Smith

Baltimore 9 June [i.e. August] 1802

Sir/

Capt. Norman (a respectable Man of this City) has arrived here from Trieste, he has just informed me, that on his passage he Came thro: the Phare of Messina, & landed at the City, that he was informed that a Courier had passed thro: (the Day preceding) from Syracuse with an Account that a Neapolitan frigate was Chased by a Tunisian Squadron, that Capt. McNeill ran between and Cut off the Chase, on which the Tunisian Commodore fired into the Boston. the Fire was immediately returned—a general Action ensued, in which two of the Tunisians were Sunk, two dismasted, and three ran away—The Neopolitan gave no Aid—The Account Stated that the Boston was greatly injured & many of her Officers & Men killed—The imprudence of that Mad Man will I fear have brought a Severe Enemy upon us—# the Tunisians will pay themselves from our Merchant Men—Capt Norman left Messina the 2d. June & arrived at Gibraltar the 19th. he there Saw Capt. Morris, who informed him of what was passing between him & the Emperor of Morocco, on which subject He brought Letters to the Secy—The Emperor had two Ships lately launched & built by Spanish Workmen, the one pierced for 36 Guns & the other for 22, but not mounted. they were loading with Wheat & for them he had resumed his former Demand for passports, as well as the Demand to take possession of the Tripolitan Ship at Gibraltar with his Men, both which were refused by our & the Swedish Consuls—in Consequence both were ordered from the Empire & the Swedish Consul had Actually arrived at Gibraltar—our Consul remained until he Could hear from the Commodore, with whom Capt. Norman had stretched over to Tangiers—I regret excessively that the Commodore had not had the power to permit the Trading ships to pass—The Emperor will be so dangerous that No ship will Venture to go to the Mediterranean—Morris desired Capt. N. to tell me that without Small Vessels there was no Safety for our Ships for that Frigates Could not Cruize in the Gut—he must either Cruize out to Sea or within the Mediterranean—He told Capt. Norman to tell me that War with the Emperor was Certain and that a reinforcement was absolutely necessary—that he meant to send for Lt. Sterett by first oppy.

I observe that the Essex has been ordered to Washington. I am sorry for it—She will be wanted. I pray that the orders for the Boston to come there may be Changed—It will Create more Uneasiness than Can easily be Conceived & will greatly prejudice the next Elections—besides from every Appearance she will Soon be wanted to return & can be manned much easier at Boston than at Washington—I pray you to believe that this Opinion is given from my great Anxiety for your Administration and that I am in truth

your friend & Serv

S. Smith

RC (DLC); addressed: “T. Jefferson, Esqr. President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 16 Aug. and so recorded in SJL with notation “[June for] Aug. 9.”

Captain James NORMAN of the brig Hope arrived at Baltimore on 3 Aug. (Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 33 vols. Sec. of State Ser., 1986–, 9 vols.; Pres. Ser., 1984–, 6 vols.; Ret. Ser., 2009–, 1 vol. description ends ., 1:380; Baltimore Federal Gazette, 3 Aug. 1802). Additional reports of the alleged engagement between a TUNISIAN SQUADRON and Captain Daniel MCNEILL of the frigate Boston also appeared in the Boston Columbian Centinel on 7 Aug., the New-York Evening Post on 9 Aug., and the Norfolk Commercial Register on 16 Aug. No official confirmation of the engagement ever came to Washington, however, and American consuls in the Mediterranean could neither verify the account nor discover its source. Writing James Madison on 25 Jan. 1803, James Leander Cathcart emphatically declared, “Nothing of the kind ever happen’d” (Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 33 vols. Sec. of State Ser., 1986–, 9 vols.; Pres. Ser., 1984–, 6 vols.; Ret. Ser., 2009–, 1 vol. description ends , 3:507n, 592; 4:282).

PHARE: a strait or channel lit by a lighthouse, frequently used in reference to the Strait of Messina (oed). two ships lately launched: in dispatches sent from Tangier during the spring and summer of 1802, American consul James Simpson reported the launch of two frigates at Rabat on 2 May, each pierced for 26 guns, as well as the preparation of two galleys at Tetuán. Simpson added, however, that it would be “some time” before any of these vessels would be ready for sea (Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 33 vols. Sec. of State Ser., 1986–, 9 vols.; Pres. Ser., 1984–, 6 vols.; Ret. Ser., 2009–, 1 vol. description ends ., 3:50, 222, 279, 343).

TRIPOLITAN SHIP AT GIBRALTAR: early in 1802, in conjunction with his demand for passports for the wheat shipments to Tripoli, Mawlay Sulayman had also requested a passport for a Tripolitan warship at Gibraltar, which had been blockaded there by American frigates since July 1801. James Simpson deflected this initial request in February 1802 by informing the sultan that he was not authorized to issue the requested passport, but would forward the matter to Commodore Richard Dale. The following month, Dale replied that he could not issue a passport for the vessels without the approval of the president. The sultan renewed his demand in June, with Simpson replying again that he had no authority to issue the passport but hoped to receive instructions on the matter soon (Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 33 vols. Sec. of State Ser., 1986–, 9 vols.; Pres. Ser., 1984–, 6 vols.; Ret. Ser., 2009–, 1 vol. description ends , 2:481; 3:50, 51n, 278; 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 , 2:77, 80; Vol. 35:219).

THE GUT: that is, the Gut, or Strait, of Gibraltar (OED description begins J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford, 1989, 20 vols. description ends ).

The frigate ESSEX returned to New York from the Mediterranean on 23 July and was immediately ordered to proceed to Washington. The order caused consternation among the ship’s crew, who had already exceeded their 12–month enlistment and had expected to be discharged at New York. Expressing their displeasure to Captain William Bainbridge, the crew were given the choice of “doing their duty, or to be carried in irons” to Washington. Eighteen members chose the latter option. After receiving provisions at New York, the Essex departed for Washington on 29 July. Arriving on 9 Aug., the ship was placed in ordinary (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 , 2:118, 210, 225–6).

ORDERS FOR THE BOSTON: see TJ to Henry Dearborn, 9 Aug.

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

º # the Vice Consul at Messina believed the Acct.

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