George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Richard O’Bryen, 5 November 1793

From Richard O’Bryen

Algiers November the 5th 1793.

Most Excellent Sir

In consequence of the Portugeese obtaining a cessation of hostilities with this regency, the Algerine corsairs has captured ten american vessels the masters and crews, amounting to one hundred and five subjects of the United States—are employed as captive slaves on the most laborious work. the[y] are in a distressed and naked situation.1

Mathias Skjoldebrand Esqr: the Swede Consul has befriended them by advancing them money to relieve theire present necessities. We hope you will order him to be reimbursed, and also paid for his generous advance in the ransoming of George Smith, one of the subjects of the United States.2

The british Nation, the natural and inviterate enemies of the United States, has brought about this truce or ½ peace for Portugal in order to alarm our commerce and prevent the United States from supplying the French in theire present glorious contest for liberty.

A Portugee frigate is at present at Algiers relative to theire peace. I have reason to believe the[y] will obtain their peace for one million of dollars not including presents or the redemption of sixty five Portugee captives—The Algerine corsairs consists of ten sail mounting from 40 guns to 16. Those of Tunis consists of twenty corsairs mounting from 24 guns to—8.

The corsairs of Algiers and Tunis in consequence of the Portugee truce has became masters of the western ocean, and will of course prove very detrimental to the commerce of the United States to Europe the fatal consequences of those american vessels being captured I presume is fully evident to Your Excellency’s known wisdom & penetration.

Your Excellency will perceive that the United States has at present no alternative then to fit out with the greatest expedition thirty frigates and corsairs in order to stop those sea-robbers in capturing american vessels. Fifteen of these vessels would be sufficient for a defensive war in order to guard the streights of Gibralter and prevent the algerine and tuniseien corsairs even if combined from visiting the westen ocean—but in order to convince the Barbary states of the force and vigilence of American corsairs it would be requisite the other fifteen american corsairs should be employed in the Meditteranian in order to destroy many of the corsairs of the Barbary states and oblige them to make a peace on somewhat honourable terms with the United States.

We should have accepted of the terms offered the United States by the Dey of Algiers which be assured Most Excellent Sir was raisonable considering what other Nations pays.3 But I am affraid that that favorable opportunity is irrevocably lost. But depend Sir that the Dey would wish to be at peace with the United States provided we paid equal to what the Dutch Swedes or Deans pays. We should be at peace with all the Barbary states. Our colours free and respected and no subjects of the United States slaves[.] You must needs think Sir that in case of the United States fiting out this proposed fleete that those subjects of the U.S. which has been nearly nine years in captivity that the[y] would when redeemed be a very valuable acquisition to the American corsairs, for by theire known experience of the wayes and manuvres of those crafty people, would in a great measure depend, the desired effect in captureing the corsairs of this Regency.

Humanity towards the unfortunate american captives I presume will induce Youre Excellency to coopperate with Congress to adopt some speedy and effectual plan in order to restore to liberty and finally extricate the American captives from their present distresses. I am with the most profound respect Your Excellencys Most obedient and faithfull servt.

Rd OBrien
Late Master of the ship Dauphin
of Philadelphia, captured in July 1785.

American captives in Algrs 10 captured in July 17854—105 captured in October 1793 115 total. Cruisers going out in quest of more.

Copy, DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793–95, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages; LB, DNA: RG 46, Transcribed Reports and Communications Transmitted by the Executive Branch to the U.S. Senate, 1789–1819. GW enclosed this letter to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, 3 March 1794. The copy was certified as a “True Copy” by George Taylor, Jr., chief clerk of the State Department, 31 March 1794.

1For discussion of the 12 Sept. truce between Portugal and Algiers, see David Humphreys to GW, 7 Oct., and n.1. For a list of the ten American ships and crews taken in October 1793, see American Apollo (Boston), 6 Nov. 1794.

2Mathias Skjöldebrand, the Swedish consul at Algiers, was the older brother of Pierre Eric Skjöldebrand, who acted as an American consul at Algiers from June 1796 to August 1797. George Smith, a member of the crew of the schooner Maria out of Boston, taken in July 1785, was redeemed in March 1793 (see David Humphreys to GW, 5 May 1793, n.1; American Apollo [Boston], 6 Nov. 1794).

3In a letter to Congress of 28 April 1791, O’Bryen had claimed that “the United States may obtain a peace with this regency for fifty or sixty thousand pounds sterling, all expenses included” (ASP, Foreign Relations description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:129–30).

4O’Bryen was here reporting the number of captives who had neither died nor been redeemed in the period since 1785. For the names of those six members of O’Bryen’s crew on the Dauphin and four members of the crew of the Maria, as well as the crew members redeemed or dead, see American Apollo (Boston), 6 Nov. 1794.

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