James Madison Papers

To James Madison from George Davis, 26 March 1804 (Abstract)

§ From George Davis

26 March 1804, Tunis. Reports that on 17 Feb. a polacre mounting twelve guns anchored “in the road of the Gouletta.” First said to be Algerine, the ship was soon revealed to be a Tripolitan vessel come for supplies. Illness among the crew and contrary winds detained it until 2 Mar.; before it sailed a U.S. schooner entered the port, and the Tripolitan ship came to anchor. “I could not obtain permission to go on board, untill the evening of the 4th. She proved to be the Enterprize Lt. Commt. Decatur, who gave us the pleasing intelligence of the total destruction of the late U. S. Frigate Philadelphia, in the harbour of Tripoli.” Was ordered to the palace on the evening of 5 Mar. “Presuming that the chief object, was to demand the detention of the Schooner, (agreable to treaty) as the Tripolitan, was ready for Sea,” sent an express advising Decatur to leave “before morning—as the intelligence I should have to give to His Excellency the Bey, would be as painfull to him, as it was unexpected, (the Philadelphia being destined for this place).” “The burning of the Philadelphia, under the Bashaw’s forts, has not only made a Serious impression on our active enemy; but will have the greatest influence, with this Prince; each wandering Bedouin, details the daring action, and augurs something dreadful to our enemy from this event: in short, it is the only occurrence, which has forced them to view the American character with proper respect.” On 13 Mar. the Enterprize returned, creating panic in the Tripolitan ship’s crew, “who took baggage and abandoned their Corsair the same evening.” The Enterprize departed for Sicily. The corsair’s captain and crew left overland for Tripoli, intending “to send the Polacre to the nearest port in Tripoli, under some neutral flag, as a Merchant Vessel—of this circumstance the Commodore, has already been apprized, and I trust, has taken such measures, as will ensure her capture.” On 23 Mar. a Spanish felucca arrived from Tangier via Algiers, bound for Tripoli. “I have every reason to suspect she is destined as a Corsair for the Bashaw—the Commode. will receive the intelligence in time to give her an overhawling, as she shapes her course for Jerba.

“I am kept in constant agitation, by the Sapatapa, and Commercial Agent—the former on the part of his Master, for a reply to the letter, addressed to Commodore Morris;1 and the latter on the part of the Merchants of Jerba, for the property captured on board an Imperial, fifteen months past.”2 Has put all arrangements off until Lear’s promised visit to Tunis. Sent JM a copy of a letter he wrote to Beaussier3 “Solliciting his friendly interference for our unfortunate Countrymen in captivity.” “It is particularly painful, to say; that not even common civilities have been Shewn; but rather a pointed neglect evinced; and that Mr. Nissen, the Danish Consul, is the sole individual, who has interested himself in any way.” Encloses a letter he received from Bainbridge,4 one from Nissen, and two that he sent to Nissen.5 On 17 Feb. Bainbridge and the American officers were confined in the bashaw’s castle and forbidden any direct communications. “A Courier, is daily expected from Tripoli, which will inform us more fully of their real situation.”

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