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Memorial of Hannah Stephens requesting the release of her husband from Algiers, December 9, 1791

In June 1785 Algerian pirates captured Isaac Stephens, captain of the Boston ship Maria, and his crew en route to Spain. The sailors were held captive for eleven years before Congress was able to secure their release. During Stephens’s captivity, his wife Hannah repeatedly petitioned Congress, citing her family’s terrible sufferings in her husband’s absence.

Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

Memorial of Hannah Stephens requesting the release of her husband from Algiers, December 9, 1791

Protection from Piracy - 2

Pirates from the Barbary States preyed on ships off Africa’s western and Mediterranean coasts for centuries. After gaining independence, the U.S. lost British protection on the seas. In the 1780s and 1790s, pirates captured and enslaved many American sailors and demanded exorbitant ransoms for their return. With diplomatic means failing, Congress authorized the creation of the U.S. Navy to defend against further attacks on American commerce.