Barbary Wars

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Barbary Wars
Burning of the uss philadelphia.jpg
USS Philadelphia burning at the Battle of Tripoli Harbor during the First Barbary War in 1804
Date 1801–1815
Location Barbary Coast
Result American victory
 United States
Sweden Sweden (1800–1802)
Kingdom of the Two SiciliesKingdom of Sicily (1801-1805)

 Ottoman Empire (de jure)

Morocco Sultanate of Morocco

The Barbary Wars were two wars fought at different times over the same reasons between the United States and the Barbary states (the de jure Ottoman Empire possessions of, but de facto independent, Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli) of North Africa in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. At issue was the Barbary pirates' demand for tribute from American merchant vessels in the Mediterranean Sea. If ships of a given country failed to pay, pirates would attack the ship and take their goods, and often enslave crew members or hold them for ransom. When Thomas Jefferson became President he refused to pay tribute and sent a United States Naval fleet to the Mediterranean; they bombarded the various fortified pirate cities, ultimately extracting concessions of fair passage from their rulers. Both the administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison undertook actions against the Barbary States at different times. Jefferson led the first, from 1801 to 1805, against pirates' cities in what are today Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. Madison directed forces for the second war in 1815.

Barbary corsairs

The Barbary Corsairs, sometimes called Ottoman Corsairs or Berber Pirates, were pirates and privateers who operated from North Africa, based primarily in the ports of Tunis, Tripoli and Algiers. This area was known in Europe as the Barbary Coast, a term derived from the name of its Berber inhabitants. Their predation extended throughout the Mediterranean, south along West Africa's Atlantic seaboard and even South America,[1] and into the North Atlantic as far north as Iceland, but they primarily operated in the western Mediterranean. In addition to seizing ships, they engaged in Razzias, raids on European coastal towns and villages, mainly in Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, but also in England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Ireland, and as far away as Iceland. The main purpose of their attacks was to capture Christian-European slaves for the Muslim-Arab slave market in North Africa.[2]


The Barbary pirates had long attacked British and other European shipping along the North Coast of Africa. They had been attacking British merchant and passengers ships since the 1600s. The many captives required regular fundraising by families and local church groups, who generally raised the ransoms for individuals. The British became familiar with captivity narratives written by Barbary pirates' prisoners and some who were sold into Arab slavery before the North American colonies were well established.[3] This was decades before English colonists became subject to captivity by Native Americans and began to write their own narratives.

During the American Revolution, the Islamic pirates attacked American ships. On December 20, 1777, Morocco's Sultan Mohammed III declared that the American merchant ships would be under the protection of the sultanate and could thus enjoy safe passage into the Mediterranean and along the coast. The Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship stands as the U.S.'s oldest non-broken friendship treaty[4][5] with a foreign power. In 1787 Morocco had been one of the first nations to recognize the United States.[6]

First Barbary War (1801–1805)

The First Barbary War (1801–1805), also known as the Dodo War or the Barbary Coast War, was the first of two wars fought between the alliance of the United States and The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies against[7] the Northwest African Berber Muslim states known collectively as the Barbary States. These were Tripoli and Algiers, which were quasi-independent entities nominally belonging to the Ottoman Empire, and (briefly) the independent Sultanate of Morocco. This war began during Thomas Jefferson's term when he refused to pay tribute, an amount that was greatly increased when he became president. A U.S. naval fleet was sent on May 13, 1801, at the beginning of the war under the command of Commodore Richard Dale. Other notable officers in the fleet included Stephen Decatur, assigned to the frigate USS Essex and William Bainbridge in command of Essex which was attached to Commodore Richard Dale's squadron which also included Philadelphia, President and Enterprise.[8]

During this war Philadelphia was blockading Tripoli's harbor when she ran aground on an uncharted reef. Under fire from shore batteries and Tripolitan gunboats, the Captain, William Bainbridge, tried to refloat her by casting off all of her guns and other objects. The ship was eventually captured and the crew taken prisoners and put into slavery. To prevent this powerful war ship from being used by the Barbary pirates the ship was later destroyed by a raiding party led by Stephen Decatur.[9][10]

Second Barbary War (1815)

The Second Barbary War (1815), also known as the Algerine or Algerian War, was the second of two wars fought between the United States and the Ottoman Empire's North African regencies of Tripoli, Tunis, and Algeria known collectively as the Barbary states. The war between the Barbary States and the U.S. ended in 1815; the international dispute would effectively be ended the following year by the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The war brought an end to the American practice of paying tribute to the pirate states and helped mark the beginning of the end of piracy in that region, which had been rampant in the days of Ottoman domination (16th–18th centuries). Within decades, European powers built ever more sophisticated and expensive ships which the Barbary pirates could not match in numbers or technology.[11]

Effect in United States

When the United States military efforts of the early 19th century were successful against the pirates, partisans of the Democratic-Republicans contrasted their presidents' refusals to buy off the pirates by paying tribute with the failure of the preceding Federalist administration to suppress the piracy. The Federalist Party had adopted the slogan, "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute," but had failed to end the attacks on merchant ships. From 1796-1797 French raiders seized some 316 American merchant ships flying American colors. To counter this ongoing advent three frigates, USS United States, USS Constitution and USS Constellation, were soon built to answer the call for security.[12]


In the 21st century, the United States again conducted military operation in the North African area, specifically participating in the intervention against the government of Libya, and this operation has sometimes been termed in the media as the continuation of the previous Barbary Wars and given the name "Third Barbary War".[13]

See also


  1. A 44-gun Algerian corsair appeared at Río de la Plata in 1720. Cesáreo Fernández Duro, Armada española desde la unión de los reinos de Castilla y de León, Madrid, 1902, Vol. VI, p. 185
  2. "British Slaves on the Barbary Coast".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Linda Colley, Captives: Britain, Empire, and the World, 1600–1850, New York: Anchor Books Edition, 2000
  4. Roberts, Priscilla H. and Richard S. Roberts, Thomas Barclay 1728–1793: Consul in France, Diplomat in Barbary, Lehigh University Press, 2008, pp. 206–223.
  5. "Milestones of American Diplomacy, Interesting Historical Notes, and Department of State History". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2007-12-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Cohen Renews U.S.-Morocco Ties" (mil). U.S. Department of Defense. Retrieved 2009-03-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Harris, 1837 pp.63–64, 251
  9. Tucker, 1937 p.57
  10. MacKenzie, 1846 pp.331–335
  11. Liener, 2007, pp.39-50
  12. Simons, 2003, p. 20


  • Allen, Gardner Weld, (1905). Our Navy and the Barbary Corsairs.
    Houghton Mifflin & Co., Boston, New York & Chicago. p. 354.
    CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> E'book
  • Harris, Gardner W. (1837). The Life and Services of Commodore William Bainbridge, United States Navy.
    :Carey Lea & Blanchard, New York. p. 254.
    <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>. E'book
  • Leiner, Frederic C. (2007). The End of Barbary Terror, America's 1815 War Against the Pirates of North Africa.
    Oxford University Press. p. 240. ISBN 978-0-19-532540-9.
    <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Book (par view)
  • Mackenzie, Alexander Slidell (1846). Life of Stephen Decatur: a commodore in the Navy of the United States.
    C. C. Little and J. Brown, 1846.
    <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Simmons, Edwin H. (2003). The United States Marines: A History.
    Naval Institute Press. p. 405. ISBN 9781557508683.
    <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, Book (par view)
  • Tucker, Spencer (2004). Stephen Decatur: a life most bold and daring.
    Naval Institute Press, 2004, Annapolis, Maryland. p. 245. ISBN 1-55750-999-9.
    <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Book (par view)

Further reading

  • Bibliography of early American naval history
  • London, Joshua E. Victory in Tripoli: How America's War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005. ISBN 0-471-44415-4
  • Oren, Michael. "Early American Encounters in the Middle East", in Power, Faith, and Fantasy. New York: Norton, 2007.
  • Boot, Max. The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power. New York: Basic Books, 2002. ISBN 0-465-00720-1
  • Lambert, Frank. The Barbary Wars. New York: Hill and Wang, 2005.
  • Whipple, A. B. C. To the Shores of Tripoli: The Birth of the U.S. Navy and Marines. Bluejacket Books, 1991. ISBN 1-55750-966-2

External links