First Barbary War


The First Barbary War (1801-1805) was the first overseas war conducted by the United States. The nations on the Barbary Coast of Morocco involved were Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. The war ended in victory for the United States, with peace treaties between the three Barbary States and Morocco.

Thomas Jefferson, Painting, Rembrandt Peale

Thomas Jefferson was President during the First Barbary War.

Overview of the First Barbary War

The First Barbary War was the first overseas war fought by the United States. It took place during the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson and lasted from 1801 to 1805. It is also known as the Barbary Coast War or the Tripolitan War. In the war, the United States fought against pirates from the nations known collectively as the Barbary States those nations were:

  • Algiers
  • Morocco
  • Tunis
  • Tripoli

The incident arose over tributes that were customarily paid to these nations by U.S traders. In 1801, Tripoli increased demands for payment. President Jefferson refused the demand and Tripoli declared war on the United States by cutting down the flagstaff in front of the U.S. Consulate.

Congress authorized the use of military force for the protection of American interests in the Mediterranean. On August 1, 1801, the USS Enterprise defeated the Tripoli at sea. In 1802, Jefferson increased the presence of the Navy in the area by deploying additional ships under the command of Commodore Edward Preble.

On July 14, 1804, under Preble’s command, the Navy attacked Tripoli, but the most famous event of the war occurred in April and May of 1805 with the Battle of Derma. General William Eaton and First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon led a force of eight Marines and 500 mercenaries from Alexandria, Egypt across the desert to the city of Derma, which they laid siege to. Upon their victory, the American flag was raised. This marked the first time the American flag was raised in victory on foreign soil.

The events of the First Barbary War are memorialized by the line in the Marine’s Hymn, “the shores of Tripoli” and the Tripoli Monument that stands at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Significance of the First Barbary War

The First Barbary War was important for several reasons:

  1. It was the first foreign war conducted by the United States and was fought entirely overseas on land and water.
  2. Prior to the war, the United States ended the practice of paying tribute to the Barbary States.
  3. The outcome of the war established the presence of the United States as a military force on a global scale.

First Barbary War — Quick Facts

After the War for Independence, American merchant ships were no longer enjoyed the protection of the British Navy.

During the 1780s pirates operating out of the North African states of Morocco, Tripoli, Algiers, Tunis began boarding American vessels in the Mediterranean Sea, stealing cargo and imprisoning their crews in return for ransom.

Beginning in 1784, the United States began paying money to the Barbary States in return for the safe passage of American vessels.

While serving as U.S. Ambassador to France, Thomas Jefferson argued against paying tribute to the Barbary States.

When Thomas Jefferson became President in 1801, Tripoli demanded $225,000 in tribute from the new administration.

Thomas Jefferson refused to make the payment and instead sent American naval vessels to the Mediterranean to defend American shipping interests.

Tripoli responded by declaring war on the United States in May of 1801.

Hostilities began when the USS Enterprise engaged and defeated the Tripolitan corsair Tripoli on August 1, 1801.

During the next few years, U.S. Naval forces blockaded the Barbary ports and waged a campaign of raids against Barbary fleets.

An important American victory in the war came at the Battle of Derna, in 1805 when eight U.S. Marines led 500 mercenaries in a successful overland attack against the Tripolitan city of Derna.

The war eventually wound down by 1805, as the Barbary States grew weary of the blockade and raiding campaign.

Tripoli signed a treaty ending hostilities on June 10, 1805, which the U.S. Senate ratified a year later.

The U.S. paid a ransom of $60,000 for the return of all American prisoners but refused to pay any future tribute to ensure free passage of American vessels in the Mediterranean.

The First Barbary War did not settle the issue of piracy in the Mediterranean. By 1807, Algerian pirates had resumed activities against American vessels.

The issue of piracy against American shipping in the Mediterranean was not resolved until the Second Barbary War in 1815.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title First Barbary War
  • Date 1801–1805
  • Author
  • Keywords first barbary war, barbary coast war, tripolitan war, jefferson overseas war, barbary pirates
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 22, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 5, 2022