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Message from President George Washington to Congress, December 30, 1790

In 1785 Algerian pirates seized two American merchant ships—the Dolphin and the Mary. The crews were still held captive five years later when President George Washington sent this letter to Congress, enclosing Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson’s report on negotiations with Algiers. Washington requested that Congress provide whatever it considered “most expedient” to free the men.

 

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

Message from President George Washington to Congress

Protection from Piracy - 1

Barbary pirates preyed on ships off Africa's western and Mediterranean coasts for centuries. After U.S. independence, Britain withdrew protections for American ships formerly stipulated in treaties with the Barbary States. In the 1780s and 1790s, pirates captured and enslaved many American sailors, demanding exorbitant ransom payments. After diplomatic means failed, Congress authorized the creation of the U.S. Navy to prevent further raids on American commerce.