Final Wars of 1815

Following the Tripolitan War and Mellimelli Mission, the U.S. had a tenuous peace with the Barbary States.  Tensions with Britain (especially over impressment) took center stage in foreign affairs and ultimately led to the War of 1812.  During this conflict, Algiers captured an American merchant ship (the Edwin) and enslaved the crew.  Algiers correctly surmised that the U.S. navy could not retaliate while fighting Britain.  However, following the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent in 1815 (which ended the War of 1812), President James Madison dispatched twenty-seven warships to the Mediterranean.  Seventeen were commanded by William Bainbridge, ten by Stephen Decatur.

The American fleet was much more powerful than it had been during the Tripolitan War and had recently demonstrated its strength by winning several battles against the British navy.  Many of the officers were nicknamed “Preble’s Boys,” in tribute to the bold commander who led them during the August 1804 naval battles against Tripoli.

Captain Steven Decatur, Jr.; reproduced from an original portrait by Rembrandt Peale held by the New York Historical Society.

While heading to Algiers, Decatur’s squadron captured two Algerian ships and took nearly five hundred prisoners.  Upon arriving, he released the prisoners as a goodwill gesture and dictated the terms of a treaty in which the U.S. would no longer pay tribute.  Decatur then went to Tunis and demanded $60,000 as compensation for Tunis accepting two American merchant ships captured by the British.  The Bey readily complied and agreed to a tribute-free peace.

Finally, Decatur and Bainbridge sailed to Tripoli.  The strength of the American fleet impressed Joseph Karamanli, who not only agreed to cease demanding tribute, but also paid $30,000 in compensation for allowing the British to keep captured American ships in Tripoli’s harbor during the War of 1812.  Moreover, at Decatur’s request, the bashaw freed prisoners from various European countries.

The formidable U.S. Navy ended America’s troubles with the Barbary States.  European powers emulated America’s example by using naval force (Britain, for instance, bombarded Algiers in 1816) and France’s 1830 invasion of Algiers marked the end of Barbary piracy.

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