Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.


Uncle Sam in Barbary

Back to Diplomats and Diplomacy

Uncle Sam in Barbary: A Diplomatic History

“Finally! Every American student of history, every American diplomat and member of Congress should read this important book. It uncovers a little-known but vitally important chapter in the long relationship between the United States and the Muslim world.”
ROBERT J. ALLISON, Suffolk University

In Uncle Sam in Barbary, Richard Parker tells the story of the young American republic’s first hostage crisis, and earliest encounter with Islam, which began in 1785 when Algerine corsairs–the Barbary pirates–captured two U.S. vessels off the coast of Portugal. The situation dragged on until 1796, when the United States paid close to $1 million for peace and to ransom 103 surviving captives from thirteen ships, some having been prisoners in Algiers for eleven years. It also had to pay Algiers an annual tribute of $22,000 until 1812. The 1801–1805 war with the pirate principality of Tripoli, celebrated in the Marine Corps hymn, similarly ended with the United States paying $60,000 for a treaty.

Written from the viewpoint of a diplomatic practitioner who served in and studied the Arab world for fifty years, the book provides the intriguing details of the international diplomacy mobilized to address the crisis. Parker based this diplomatic history on dispatches, personal papers, and official communications, including unpublished British, French, Italian, and Tunisian documents. He puts flesh on the bare bones of the crisis, bringing to life the fate and identity of the unfortunate American captives and the leaders in Algiers, clarifying for the first time the unhelpful roles played by the British and the French. Front page news at the time, the incidents involved a roll call of America’s founding fathers, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, James Monroe, and Alexander Hamilton. The crisis led to the creation of the U.S. Navy and America’s presence in the Mediterranean, which has continued intermittently to the present.

Lucidly written and abundantly instructive, Uncle Sam in Barbary offers serious lessons about the limitations of force not backed by diplomacy, lessons of continuing relevance to U.S. foreign policy in a region again presenting a major challenge.

In RICHARD PARKER’S thirty-one years in the U.S. Foreign Service, he distinguished himself as an Arabic language and area specialist and represented the United States as ambassador to Algeria, Lebanon, and Morocco in the Ford and Carter administrations. He has taught at several universities, published six other books, edited the Middle East Journal, and was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the John Adams Fulbright Fellow in London, and scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute.