Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Thomas Barclay, 31 December 1791

From Thomas Barclay

Gibraltar, 31 Dec. 1791. He encloses three letters from the American prisoners at Algiers received by [James] Simpson, the Russian consul here, who has established a correspondence with them. These letters reveal two facts of importance. “One is that Mr. Lamb in the Name of the United States made an absolute agreement for the Ransom of these people, the other that liberty has been offered to them if they will enter into the service of the Dey of Algiers.” He thinks that it might be in the interest of the U.S. to fulfill Lamb’s engagement and at the same time declare that “no future Redemptions would be made.”—He also thinks consideration should be given to permitting the prisoners to accept the terms offered by the Dey.—He encloses a description of Algerian and Tunisian naval forces as of July. The regency of Algiers declared war on Sweden on 26 Oct. but so far Algiers does not seem to have taken any prizes. “The Tripolitines have no Cruisers at Sea, nor is there any danger of the Algerines getting into the Atlantic, while the Portuguese fleet of which I send you the particulars remains in this bay.”

RC (DNA: RG 59, CD); 3 p.; endorsed by TJ as received 5 May 1792 and so recorded in SJL.

The American captives’ mistaken belief that John Lamb had concluded an absolute agreement for their ransom during his mission to Algiers in 1786 was based on what the Dey of Algiers had told them about their meeting rather than on what appear to be the facts in this matter. The Dey told the captives that Lamb had agreed to pay the sum of $50,000 rather than the low figure authorized by TJ and John Adams, but that he had then broken his word. It seems clear that in reality Lamb undertook to do nothing more than apprise TJ and Adams of the Algerian ransom demands. It is impossible to determine whether the Dey had misunderstood Lamb or whether he deliberately misled the captives (Supplementary Instructions to John Lamb, 1–11 Oct. 1785, Document iii in Editorial Note and group of documents pertaining to the mission of Barclay and Lamb to the Barbary States, at 11 Oct. 1785; Lamb to the American Commissioners, 20 May 1786; Richard O’Bryen to TJ, 12 July 1790). For a contrary interpretation of Lamb’s dealings with the Dey, based on the 8 June 1786 letter to TJ from Richard O’Bryen and Others that does not even mention Lamb’s alleged acceptance of the Algerian ruler’s terms, see H. G. Barnby, The Prisoners of Algiers (London, 1966), p. 81.

The enclosed table of naval force reads:

“Naval force of Algier, July 1791.

1—44 gun frigate launched in June, built at Algiers by a Spanish Carpenter and the Masts supplied from Carthage

1—24 Gun frigate given 2 years ago by France.

3—Xebecs from 14 to 20 guns each

1—Half Galley, 2 guns in her prow

6—Xebecs from 24 to 30 guns each which had been lent to the Grand Seignior but are returned

1—Xebec of 24 guns and several small vessels, on the stocks
The Bay of Mascara has one half Galley with 2 guns in her prow.

Force of Tunis, July 1791

Their Cruisers are reduced to about 6 small Xebecs and Row Boats from 2 to 8 guns each which are Employed in making depredations on several of the Italian States.

Portuguese Squadron in the Bay of Gibraltar the 31 Decr. 1791.

The Medusa of 74 guns
Two Frigates of 40 each
Four Brigantines of 20 each”

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