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[Collection of fourteen autograph letters, signed, and manuscript letters or circulars in a secretarial hand, from Commodore Edward Preble to Tobias Lear, the American consul to the Barbary States, discussing all the most important issues and actions of the Barbary wars]
1804. [25]pp. of manuscript, written on folded folio sheets. Several pages have tears from wax seals or otherwise, with some paper loss, affecting a few words of text on two letters, but generally with no loss of text or readability. Overall very good. In a half morocco clamshell case. An outstanding archive relating to the United States' first major overseas conflict A truly outstanding group of letters from Commodore Edward Preble to Tobias Lear, addressing all the most important issues in the era of the Barbary Wars. Preble, commander of the United States Mediterranean Squadron, and Lear, the consul in Algiers, were the two most important Americans in the most sensitive region for the United States. Theirs is a correspondence of the highest level, and offers unparalleled insights into the diplomatic and military policies of the United States during the Barbary Wars.Edward Preble and Tobias Lear likely knew each other since the 1770s, as both were students at Dummer Academy in Massachusetts in the early years of the American Revolution. In 1803 Preble was made commander of the Mediterranean Squadron and Tobias Lear was the newly-appointed American consul general to the Barbary States. The Mediterranean was an important trading region for the United States, but the region was a mine field as well, as pirates sponsored by the leaders of the Barbary states routinely harassed and attacked American shipping in the area. Preble and Lear sailed to the Mediterranean together in the summer of 1803, aboard the USS Constitution; Lear charged with improving American relations with Algiers, Tripoli, Tunis, and Morocco, and Preble with projecting American military might into the region, to protect American trading interests. The letters in this collection address the capture of the USS Philadelphia and the subsequent destruction of that ship by American forces in the bay of Tripoli; Preble's capture of the ship that was used in the American attack on the Philadelphia; strategies for ransoming the crew of the Philadelphia; Preble's blockade of the port of Tripoli and his attacks on Morocco and Tripoli; and much more. The letters in this collection are dated September, 1803 to December, 1804. Four of the letters appear to be completely in Preble's hand, while the other ten are in secretarial hands.Commodore Edward Preble (1761-1807) was born at Falmouth (now Portland, Maine). He joined the Massachusetts state navy in 1780, and participated in battles against the Royal Navy and Loyalist privateers. For a brief time he was held prisoner by the British aboard the prison ship, Jersey. After the war he engaged as a master and supercargo of merchants vessels sailing to Europe, Africa, and the West Indies. By the time of the "Quasi War" in the 1790s he was eager to join the American navy, and was commissioned a lieutenant in 1798, and was promoted to captain the following year. In 1803-1804 Preble was commander of the U.S. Mediterranean Squadron, arguably the most important command in the navy at the time. The United States was at war with the Barbary states and Preble's activities in this period - the period covered by the present group of letters - are what made his reputation. He fought successfully against Morocco and Tripoli and engineered, with Stephen Decatur, the destruction of the captured American frigate, Philadelphia. After his return to the United States he supervised the construction of gunboats and served as an adviser to the Navy.Tobias Lear (1762-1816) is best known for his service as George Washington's personal secretary, and for his diplomatic work. He served as Washington's aid from 1786 to 1793, and again from 1798 until Washington's death the next year. He was very close to the Washington family - he married two of Washington's nieces, was at George Washington's bedside when he died, and was executor of his estate. Lear's activities in that capacity were clouded by controversy, as he was suspected of destroying several of Washington's personal papers after the General's death. Thomas Jefferson appointed Lear as consul to Saint Domingue during the reign of Touissant Louverture, a position he held for a year, until May, 1802. Shortly afterward, Jefferson appointed Lear as consul general to the Barbary states. Stationed at Algiers, he held the sensitive post until 1812, when the dey of Algiers expelled him. Lear's tenure as consul in Algiers was controversial as well, as he negotiated a treaty with the pasha of Tripoli in 1805, which included provisions to pay a ransom of $60,000 for the captive crew of the American ship, USS Philadelphia. During the War of 1812 Lear negotiated with the British over prisoner-of-war exchanges in northern New York. He committed suicide in 1816.The earliest letter in this group was written by Preble from Gibraltar Bay on September 30, 1803, just over two weeks after he and Lear arrived at Gibraltar with the USS Constitution. The pressing matter at hand for the United States was the hostility of Morocco, and Preble writes Lear: "I had had correspondence with Mr. Simpson. Shall make you fully acquainted with the present state of affairs with our Morocco 'friends' [underlined in the original] as soon as I see you." In another letter, dated the next day, Preble invites Lear to join him for lunch, no doubt to inform him of the steps he is taking to bring the Moroccan sultan to heel. Preble gathered his naval forces quickly, and on October 3rd he wrote Lear again, inviting him to join him aboard the Constitution for another update on the rapidly evolving situation: "I have rec'd. dispatches from Mr. Simpson & wish to consult you immediately. Be so good as to come in the boat which brings you this, as I cannot leave the ship at present. I shall sail this afternoon."By mid-November Preble had managed to wring concessions from the Moroccans, but was now occupied with Tripoli. On November 14th Preble wrote Lear to coordinate their movements toward Algiers: "Your proposition to wait at Algiers until the spring, I think prudent and proper, as the season is now too far advanced for active operations against Tripoli, with any prospect of success." The next document in the present collection is a manuscript copy of Preble's announcement of the blockade of the harbor of Tripoli. It is written in the form of a circular, in a secretarial hand, addressed to Lear, datelined at the Bay of Algiers, and signed by Preble as "commander in chief of the United States Ships of War in the Mediterranean." The text reads: "Sir, Whereas the United States of America, and the Regency of Tripoli, are in a state of war and actual hostility with each other; I have thought proper in order to distress the enemy, by preventing any supplies from reaching him, to blockade the port of Tripoli by a detachment of ships of war acting under my orders; and you are hereby requested to communicate this information to the government of Algiers, and to all the consuls of neutral powers residing there, that they may warn the vessels of their respective flags, that all neutral vessels that attempt to enter the port of Tripoli, or are met with on the coast of that port, after this notice as received by such neutral powers, will be stopped by the squadron under my command, and sent into port for adjudication."The next letter in the group is present in two copies, both in a secretarial hand. It was written by Preble from Malta harbor, and is dated January 17, 1804. Preble discusses the situation of the captured ship, USS Philadelphia, his plans for a prisoner exchange in order to free its crew - which was being held in Tripoli - and also relates news of his capture of a Turkish vessel. He alludes to plans being formed with regard to Tripoli (likely the attack on the Philadelphia, which would take place a month later), but tells Lear that he is loath to brief him by letter, but will send someone to Algiers to fill him in on his plans: "I was honored with your esteem'd favor by the Siren, and most sincerely deplore the loss of the Philadelphia and its attendant consequences - it was to me an unexpected & mortifying circumstance, but we must make the best of it. I have not yet had it in my power to send a boat on shore of Tripoli on account of the severe weather I met with near that Coast. On the 23rd of December in sight of Tripoli I captured a vessel under Turkish colours from that Port only a few hours out, bound to Bengara. She had on board two Tripoline officers of distinction, a number of Tripoline soldiers, 30 young black women and 12 black boys, some belonging to the Bashaw, and some to Tripoline merchants, and some of the officers side arms &c. captured in the Philadelphia. The prize is now in Syracuse where I have established my head quarters. I came here yesterday in the Vixen to have the papers of the prize translated, and to forward some necessary supplies to Captain Bainbridge, his officers and crew. I hope this capture will enable me to effect the release of some of our countrymen and I have proposed an exchange. I shall write you as soon as I know the results of my proposition to the Bashaw & shall by the next opportunity send you copies of my letters. It will not do to be too anxious for the ransom of our friends, as the Bashaws demands will undoubtedly be too exorbitant to meet the concurrence of our government. I am taking measures to lessen his pretensions as soon as the weather becomes favorable to our operations and hope to convince him that it will be for his interest to make peace on reasonable terms. It would be imprudent in me at present to make known to you by letter my plans. I shall 'ere long send a vessel to Algiers you will then have all the information I can give you."Preble's next letter was written two weeks later, on January 31, from Syracuse harbor. It is a remarkable letter, divulging plans for Stephen Decatur's daring attack on the Philadelphia using the ship that Preble has just captured, and discussing with Lear possible strategies for negotiating with Tripoli for the American sailors captured from the Philadelphia, including the payment of a ransom. Preble writes: "Since my last letter to you I have discovered that the prize I took off Tripoly [sic] the 23rd ulto. under Turkish colours was in that port when the Philadelphia ran on the rocks; and that the captain who pretended to be a Turk took on board upwards of an hundred Tripolines armed with swords and muskets - slipped his cables - hauled down the Turk's and hoisted Tripoline colours, and went out to the attack; and as soon as the frigate surrendered boarded her, plundered the officers and men, and conducted them as prisoners to the Bashaw. In consequence of this conduct I have detained him and his crew, and shall make prize of the vessel. The captain and crew having acted hostile towards our flag under enemies colours, I cannot release either the vessel or them, as I have no doubt but should they meet an American merchant vessel they would without hesitation capture her. If a Tripoline, he is a prize, if a Turk, a pirate. I find on translation of the papers that 23 of the negroes belonging to the Bashaw of Tripoly, which he intended as presents to the captain Pacha and other officers; and 20 of them belonged to the officers and merchants of Tripoly, which were for sale....The prize is equipped as a cruiser. She sails tomorrow with 70 volunteers from the squadron on board, under the command of Captain Decatur whose orders are to burn the Philadelphia in the harbour of Tripoly. The Siren brig goes with him to assist with her boats and cover the retreat. I hope they will succeed; it is of national importance that they should."Preble then discusses the situation of the captured crew of the Philadelphia, and possibly paying a ransom for their freedom: "I have rec'd. letters from Capt. B[ainbridge] as late as the 18th inst. He complains of not having received one from me, notwithstanding I have written several from Malta last week. I forwarded clothing, stores & money to a considerable amount to the care of the English and Danish consuls. The Bashaw has received my proposals for an exchange of prisoners ere this, but I have no answer. While I was at Malta I received proposals from the Bashaw of Tripoly's agent for a peace, which he says he is authorised by the Bashaw to negotiate. The Bashaw finds we are making considerable preparations for the next summer, and has become alarmed. His agent proposes a truce for 10 years. I told him that would not do. I had several consultations with him and assured him we never would consent to pay a cent for Peace or Tribute. He then proposed that we should give the Bashaw 500 dollars for each of the Philadelphia's officers and crew - a schooner in exchange for the frigate, and make peace without money or tribute and that they would exchange 60 Americans for the sixty Tripolines in my possession. This would be gaining peace on more reasonable terms than is expected by our government. Say 300 American captives; 60 Tripolines deduct'd; leaves 240 at 500 doll. each, $120,000 and we should gain something by exchanging one of the worst schooners for the frigate. If you could prevail on Mr. O'Brien [Lear's predecessor as consul at Algiers] to come here with Capt. Smith as he speaks the language of Barbary, he could be of infinite service in any negotiation. I should be glad to see you both here, and wish I had a larger vessel to send for your accomodation [sic]; but if you cannot leave Algiers at present what sum will you authorise me to pay for the ransom of the officers and crew of the Philadelphia, if the Bashaw will make peace without money - without any annual tribute or any consular present - except a small present at the reception of the first consul that is appointed? I am anxious to know your opinion, as I expect further proposals from the Bashaw in three weeks." Ultimately, Tobias Lear negotiated an agreement with Tripoli in 1805, in which the United States paid $60,000 in ransom for the crew of the Philadelphia. The agreement drew much scorn in the United States, most of it directed at Lear.On June 19, 1804, from the USS Constitution at Tunis Bay, Preble wrote Lear a long and interesting letter regarding his hopes for negotiation with Tripoli, but detailing the preparations he has made to attack the harbor of Tripoli should need be. Preble appealed to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies for boats and weapons, which he ultimately used to attack Tripoli's maritime defenses numerous times in August and early September, 1804. He writes that since his last letter "the squadron has closely blockaded Tripoly. The 4th of May I left this Bay for Naples and applied to the King for the loan of six gun and two mortar boats completely prepared for service, with a sufficient stock of naval and military stores for a siege. I also applied for six long battering cannon 26 pounders for the upper deck of this ship, the whole was immediately granted. I took on board the battering cannon, nine hundred shot, and one hundred barrels of powder at Naples, and sailed for Messina where I remained three days, and sailed for Syracuse with six gun boats under American colours, each carrying a long 26 pounder, and manned with 30 Americans. The bombards will be ready in a few days; I intend then to make a dash at the Tripolotans, and I hope with success."While he prepared for war with Tripoli, Preble pursued a two-track negotiation: using the French consul, Bonaventure Beaussier, as an intermediary, and also sending his own officers to open channels of communication with the leader of Tripoli. He writes: "I enclose you copies of two letters from Mr. Beaussier and my answers [not included with this collection] - you will readily discover he is no friend of ours. I also send you a copy of my instructions to Captain O'Brien [also not included here] the 13th instant where I sent him on shore at Tripoly to endeavour to negotiate for the ransom of our country men, and for peace if the Bashaw should desire it. I conceived your letter of the 23rd march by the Vixen sufficient authority for me to say that I was empowered to ransom the prisoners, and make peace whenever it could be done consistent with the honor and dignity of the United States. The terms offered, I presume, would have been satisfactory to our government, if they had been accepted, and hope I shall be able ere long to oblige the Bashaw to accept, although he has been so imprudent as to refuse them....It is truly singular that the French consul did not see Mr. O'Brien when he landed at Tripoly, notwithstanding he has instructions from his government to endeavour to procure the liberation of the officers and crew of the Philadelphia."In this same letter Preble also discusses what he considers the petty complaints of the leaders of the Barbary states with regard to ships seized by the U.S. Navy, relates his understanding of American reinforcements on their way to the Mediterranean ("with such a force at hand, we shall have nothing to fear from the powers of Barbary combined"), and describes the efforts he has taken to alleviate the condition of the prisoners taken from the USS Philadelphia: "Captain Bainbridge complains of the want of clothing for his people. I have now on board this ship a sufficient quantity ready made for them to last more than twelve months but have not been permitted to send them shore. I hope to in a few days as well as a quantity of stores, and a full supply of cash."The final letter, dated at Naples on December 22, 1804, is a copy of a letter (noted "triplicate") written from Preble to Commodore Samuel Barron. Barron, who was senior to Preble in rank and led a larger and more powerful squadron than Preble's, replaced him as commander of the United States fleet in the Mediterranean in September, 1804. Preble notes that his ship will sail "direct for the United States" that evening, and writes Barron with information on negotiations he had undertaken with Palermo for more guns and ships to use in the fight with the Barbary states. Preble says that he came to Palermo armed with letters of introduction to the Prime Minister and King, and though he had audiences with both he was unable to secure any additional weapons or ships. He suspects "that French influence here has deprived us of the gun boats....Beware of the French consul in Tripoli, for I believe him to be our enemy." Preble advises Barron to approach the Maltese for gun boats, mortars, and shells, and gives his "ardent wishes for your prosperity and that of the squadron under your command."A collection of letters of the highest importance, addressing all the most important issues and actions of the Barbary Wars in 1803-1804, written from the commander of American naval forces to the leading American diplomat in the region.
      [Bookseller: Donald Heald Rare Books ]
Last Found On: 2015-09-27           Check availability:      ABAA    

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