From the 1600s to the early 1800s, merchant ships in the Mediterranean were plagued by groups known as the Barbary pirates. These pirates originated from the North African countries that were called the Barbary States. These states were Algiers, Tripoli, Morocco, and Tunis.
The Barbary pirates would capture merchant ships, take the ship’s cargo and hold the crew for ransom or sell as slaves.
Courtesy of American Battlefield Trust
Courtesy of Janus UMD
Before the Revolutionary War, American ships frequently traded in the Mediterranean. These ships were protected from the pirates by treaties the British made with the Barbary States. After the colonies split from Britain, these treaties no longer applied. With America’s lack of a navy, they became targets for the pirates.
American trade practically ceased in the Mediterranean. In 1784, the Continental Congress began negotiating treaties with the Barbary States. A commission was created to manage the negotiations, with John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin as its members.