Portrait of Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson was President during the First Barbary War.

First Barbary War Facts


Facts About First Barbary War

Following the American Revolution colonial sailing vessels 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 theirs crews in return for ransom.

Beginning in 1784, the United States began paying money to the Barbary States in return for 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.

  • Article Title First Barbary War Quick Facts
  • Coverage 1801–1805
  • Author
  • Keywords first barbary war, barbary coast war, tripolitan war, jefferson overseas war, barbary pirates
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date November 29, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 11, 2021
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