1786 Autograph Letter Signed by John Lamb, American Hostage Negotiator with Algeria in the First Barbary War, to American Chargé d’Affaires in Spain, William Carmichael.
“He deceived me in his Vessel’s sailing”
Fine 1786 letter written during the First Barbary War — an 18th-century diplomatic nightmare of international hostage negotiations — as America struggled to assert its sovereignty and rights in a lawless sphere of the word.
In 1785, the American schooners Maria and Dauphin were captured and sailors taken hostage by the Barbary Coast State of Algeria. The Barbary Coast States, including Morocco and Algeria, demanded tribute as well as ransoms for the hostages. John Lamb, American envoy during the First Barbary War, was charged to attend to hostage negotiations to release the American sailors; appointed envoy by Thomas Jefferson, then U.S. Minister to France.
Here, in September 1786, Lamb writes from the Spanish port city of Alicante to William Carmichael (c. 1739–1795), American chargé d’affaires in Spain. A Connecticut merchant and sea-captain engaged in the Barbary Trade, John Lamb and his secretary Paul R. Randall had arrived in Spain the previous March. But even after visiting Algeria, the men were unsuccessful in gaining the release of the sailors for lack of sufficient funds. Negotiations by U.S. Consul Thomas Barclay with Morocco went well, but the negotiations with Algeria to release the sailors was stalled. Things were not going well.
In this opening passage, Lamb doubts the motives of Count de Expilly, sent by William Carmichael to assist in the negotiations:
I have wrote pressing letters long since to have my acct. settled and likewise sent the coppies [sic] all to Congress and no answer. I have been profound with regard to your letters to me. I have not entered one house since I came to Alicante excepting whom I hire. Excepting once I din’d with the governor. To Robt. Montgomery, your letters to me have been cover’d and he has regularly deliver’d them to me unopened. The reason the count [Count de Expilly] did not Indorse the cockett [endorse the shipping warrant] in Algiers. I rather that I did not ask him. He deceived me in his Vessel’s sailing. Two days I asked him when the vessel was to sail, the night before she did sail he told me on his honor that she would not sail within two days. The next morning I was called at 6 o’clock and the vessel was then howling out which was the occasion of not any of the cockett not being indors’d. ... [T]hese Realities led me to believe that he was not a friend To our publick. Besides here in Alicant[e] [he] reported Publickly that the English would give more to hinder us of a peace at Algiers than America could give for a peace. My motives for Giving you appreciation of him which I did in simpathy [sic] and not to give you offense: was the above conduct of the man and which Indused [sic] me to believe that he was not a man for our Trust. (pp[1–2])
Lamb is clearly on the defensive and his letter continues on in this fashion, in good detail, revealing the hardships of being an 18th century American envoy. Lamb is failing spectacularly to effect any change from Spain, but he is passionate in defending his actions. Over four full pages he optimizes his bifolium’s geographical space to its potential; to pen his position, to defend his actions. Regardless, Lamb’s 1786 mission was a fiasco. Not until 1796 were the surviving American hostages in Algeria freed.
Description: 1786 Autograph Letter Signed by John Lamb, American Hostage Negotiator with Algeria in the First Barbary War, to American Chargé d’Affaires in Spain, William Carmichael.
Alicante [Spain], September 30th 1786. Quarto. Four pages. ALS. Bifolium; Dutch laid paper with “C & I Honig” countermark. Emendations and corrections to text. Three lines of commentary at the top of the letter from “H.T.L.” Transmittal folds; some toning and minor staining; very good.