When Thomas Barclay, the United States' consul general in France, landed at Mogador, Morocco in June 1786, he was not the first official American to visit the Barbary Coast, but he was to become the most successful.
After the Revolution, reopening the Mediterranean to American shipping was an important foreign-policy goal of the new nation. In the prewar years, Thomas Jefferson estimated, more than 100 American ships had been busy in the Mediterranean trade, and the region had accounted for a sixth of American exports of wheat and flour and a quarter of American exports of fish. British passes had protected the colonies' ships from the corsairs based along the Barbary Coast, but that protection was withdrawn when the Revolution began. Now the United States hoped to sign treaties with the various states of the North African coast to jointly put an end to the corsairs' predations.
Captain John Lamb of Connecticut had been sent to negotiate with the ruler of Algiers, but his mission had failed utterly a few months earlier, and historians divide the blame between the emissary and the ruler. Barclay, on the other hand, with tact, patience, and modest deportment, successfully negotiated a treaty of peace and commerce with Moroccan Sultan Sidi Muhammad ibn Abd Allah, the first treaty ever between the United States and an Arab, African or Muslim nation.
As Barclay and his secretary, Colonel David S. Franks, a Revolutionary War veteran, a diplomatic courier and fluent in French, stepped onto the Moroccan shore, the governor of Mogador, 'Umar ibn Dawidi, received them. Barclay wrote, "I arrived here after an agreeable passage of five days and was well received by the Governor and by the people, who seemed pleased to see Persons from a country at so great a distance come to compliment their Sovereign. The Governor was so polite as to request I would return on board the Vessel to give him an Opportunity of receiving us on shore at the Head of his Soldiers, and has since proposed making an entertainment in the Country...."
The arrival of the Americans in Morocco was the culmination of almost 10 years of determined effort on the part of Sultan Sidi Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allah to establish relations with the new republic across the ocean. In the 29 years he had been in power, Sidi Muhammad—a reformer who saw greater benefits for his country in maritime trade with Europe than in traditional overland trade with the Sahara and sub-Saharan Africa—had already signed trade treaties with all the major nations of Europe. He had also built a new port on Morocco's Atlantic coast, called al-Suwayra (Essaouira) by the Moroccans and Mogador by the Europeans, to receive the increased trade that resulted.
The Moroccan sultan had first included the Americans in a list of countries to whom he opened his ports in a letter dated December 20, 1777. He had followed the American war of independence through reports of the French consul at his court and through European gazettes. He had sent inquiries to the Americans through European agents and merchants.
But when the United States had still not responded to his overtures in 1784, Sidi Muhammad lost patience and ordered the capture of an American brigantine. That succeeded in attracting America's attention. Congress gave John Adams and Thomas Jefferson permission "to commence and prosecute negotiations...with [representatives] of his Majesty the Emperor of Morocco" and made available "any money in Europe belonging to the United States" to finance the effort. The appointment of Barclay in October 1785 as special agent to Morocco was the result.
Born in Strabane, County Tyrone, in northern Ireland in 1728, Barclay emigrated to Philadelphia to help in an uncle's business, and became a wealthy merchant and shipowner. In 1774 he was named a member of the Committee of Correspondence to communicate with the other colonies about convening a congress. Later that year he was elected by the citizens of Philadelphia to the city's Committee of Inspection and Observation, and in 1777 was appointed to Pennsylvania's Navy Board. In 1780 he subscribed £5000 to the capital of a bank organized to provision the Continental Army.
In 1781 Barclay was appointed United States consul to France. When he, his wife and three young children sailed to France in October of that year, he became the first American consul anywhere in the world. The next year, Congress gave him the job of auditing all the public accounts of the United States in Europe, and the state of Virginia named him its agent in Europe. In 1783, at the suggestion of the French foreign minister, he was named consul general.
Yet it is with his reports and letters describing Morocco and the treaty negotiations in Marrakech that Barclay earned his place in American diplomatic history. His detailed and informative reports to Adams and Jefferson—the latter had replaced Benjamin Franklin as envoy to France—on 18th-century Morocco and on Sultan Sidi Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allah have been printed in Jefferson's Papers, but the minutiae of his travels, the itemized lists of gifts and gratuities dispensed, the people he met and the logistics of travel within Morocco, found in 80 pages of expense accounts by Barclay and Franks, have never been published. These pages, sometimes in fading ink, often in barely legible handwriting, are on microfilm in the National Archives in Washington, and offer a fascinating glimpse into a culture and society unknown to Americans of the 18th century.
In the latter months of 1785, Barclay and Franks organized their trip. Like ambassadors through the centuries, they had to order and purchase gifts—in this case not only for the sultan, but for all the court officials and, indeed, for nearly every person whom they were to meet. Franks went to London to buy books on Spain and Morocco, maps of Barbary, and a coach. He also brought back Barclay's commission and instructions, signed by Adams, to be cosigned in Paris by Jefferson. Meanwhile, Barclay, with advice from the French, the Dutch and the Spanish court, was selecting gifts for the sultan. These included two rather spectacular clocks—one in the shape of a birdcage and the other of a Greek temple—gold and silver watches, swords, pistols in velvet cases, a gold and enamel snuff box, silk-lined umbrellas in crimson and green, crystal vases, silver spoons, sumptuous fabrics—including lace, fine brocades, cambrics, velvets, satins and taffetas—and 50 dozen phosphorus matches. Finally, on January 17, 1786, Barclay and Franks were on their way.
Traveling by carriage across France and Spain with their French servants, a French grammar, a Spanish-English dictionary and a copy of Don Quixote, the two Americans reached Madrid and the court of Charles in in March. To prepare themselves for the Spanish court, they had in their baggage a copy of Thompson's translation of A Description of the Royal Palace, and Monastery of St. Laurence, called the Escurial; and of the Chapel Royal of the Pantheon. They were received at court by the Spanish king and taken in hand by the prime minister, the Conde de Floridablanca. They were given much advice and four letters of introduction: from Charles in to the sultan; and from Floridablanca to Conde O'Reilly, governor of Cadiz; to the Spanish consul general in Morocco, Juan Manuel González Salmón; and to Father Rios, head of the Franciscan mission in Meknes. Since Morocco was "on a most cordial and friendly footing with Spain," the way for the Americans was graciously smoothed by the Bourbon court of Spain. Barclay wrote, "I am persuaded that this Minister [Floridablanca] is extremely well disposed to serve our Country, and I doubt not but this Court will greatly strengthen our endeavours with the Barbary Powers."
Proceeding to the port of Cadiz, Barclay and Franks stocked up on sea stores and supplies for their journey in Morocco. As their accounts show, these were considerable.
As gifts, they took two chests of tea, 40 tea canisters, 200 pounds of sugar, 50 pieces of britannia cloth and 240 silk handkerchiefs. For themselves, their purchases included wax candles, candlesticks, plates, napkins, a "mace of quills," a ream of paper, "ink, [sealing] wafers, and inkstand," oilcloth to cover their beds, powder and shot, "20 Ells Linnen for sheets," mattresses for their servants, a trunk, cords, and "bread to take on board." They also laid in a supply of cinchona bark, then called Jesuit's bark, whose quinine content would ward off malaria. Barclay stored his carriage in Cadiz, for in Morocco they would be traveling with camels and mules and sleeping in tents; there were no inns and no facilities for travelers in the 18th-century Alawite sultanate.
On May 26 Barclay and Franks left Cadiz, anchoring five days later off Mogador. The next two weeks were busy ones. A courier had to be hired, provisioned and sent to Marrakech to notify the sultan that the American envoy had arrived and would soon be on his way. Wood, nails and padlocks had to be purchased to make boxes for the tea and sugar bought in Cadiz and for the gifts for the sultan in Marrakech; a litter had to be built for Barclay; mules and camels to be hired; and Spanish reals and dollars exchanged for ounces and blanquils, Moroccan silver coins of the day. And yet more stores were laid in for the trip to Marrakech: an iron spit and cooking tripod, "2 cases Sirops," "sundry crockery & Queens ware," two decanters and six glasses, "cords & pins for the Tents," a cooking pot and "two skins for carrying water."
On June 13 the caravan was ready: an armed escort, the two Americans, their two servants, an Englishman from Mogador who was helpful to Barclay, five litter-bearers, the baggage muleteers, and a string of camels carrying the boxes of presents. At the head of this convoy was the governor of Marrakech, sent by the sultan to accompany the American envoy as a welcoming gesture and an official guide.
Five days later, Barclay and his entourage arrived at the gates of Marrakech, where they were welcomed by musicians. A member of the sultan's family lent Barclay and Franks a house and sent servants to clean it and a rug to furnish it. Within a week Barclay had had two audiences with Sultan Sidi Muhammad, the first public, the second private. Gifts, wrapped in silk handkerchiefs and britannia cloth, were presented at both.
At the public audience, Barclay wrote, there were about 1000 people present. "The Emperor came out on horseback, and we were presented by the Basha of Morocco [Marrakech]. After enquiring what kind of Journey we had and whether we came in a frigate, He asked the situation of America with respect to Great Britain, and the Cause of our Separation. He then question'd me concerning the number of American troops during the war and since the peace, of the religion of the white Inhabitants and of the Indians, of the latitude of the United States, and remarked that no person had sail'd farther than the 80th. Degree of North Latitude, and enquired whether our Country produced Timber fit for the construction of Vessels."
Barclay was then asked to produce the official letters. "Ordering the one from King of Spain to be open'd, He examin'd it and said He knew the writing very well." The sultan ended the audience by telling the American, "'Send your Ships and trade with us, and I will do everything you can desire.' As he said this, he looked around at his people, and they all exclaimed as one, 'God preserve the life of our Master!'" As he left the audience, Sidi Muhammad requested that his palace gardens be shown to Barclay and Franks, and that a young sailor named James Mercer, the sole American castaway in the country, be turned over to him.
Treaty negotiations then began—and were nearly made moot immediately by a suggestion from the sultan.
"After the first Audience was over Mr. Taher Fennish [al-Tahir ibn 'Abd al-Haq Fannis], in whose Hands the Negotiation was placed, came from the Emperor and informed me that His Majesty had read the Translation of the Letters, That he had made a Treaty with Spain very favorable for that Country, that he would write to His Most Catholic Majesty to give a Copy of that Treaty, from which, one with the United States might be formed, and that he would either request the King of Spain to order it to be signed at Madrid, or it might be sent to Morocco for Signature by Express."
Barclay saw this proposal as a potential setback: A treaty that he had not negotiated, and whose contents he did not know, would be signed for the United States by some other official, and his own efforts would have been wasted. Barclay replied that "I had taken a long Journey in order to make this Treaty and that I would be very sorry to return untill it was finished. If Mr. Fennish would give a Copy of the Spanish Articles I would point out such as would be necessary for us...."
Fennish answered that "...some of the Papers were at Mequinez [Meknes], some at Fez and that it would be impossible to collect them so as to make them useful on this Occasion."
Barclay, ever resourceful, suggested that if permission were granted him, he "would lay before the Emperor through him [Fennish] the Head[ing]s of such a Treaty as I imagined would be perfectly agreeable to both Countries, that if any objections should appear, we would talk them over, and after due Consideration, do what would seem right."
His suggestion was accepted, and the negotiations began in earnest. As they continued, Barclay's second audience with the sultan took place.
This audience was held "in the Garden, when the King was again on horseback and as soon as we bowed to him, he cried, bona! bona! and began to complain of the treatment he had receiv'd from the English. He examined a gold enameled watch [See Aramco World, September/ October 1994] that was among the presents, and an Atlas with which he seemed very well acquainted, pointing out to Different parts of the World and naming them, though he could not read the names as they were printed."
Keenly interested in the United States, the sultan asked Barclay to show him a map of the country. Looking at it intently, the sultan "called for a pen arid paper and wrote down the latitudes to which his Vessels had sail'd, after which he put down the latitudes of the Coasts of America, desiring to know which were the best ports, and said he wou'd probably send a Vessel there."
It was then that Barclay presented the sultan the only truly American gift he had brought: a book containing the Articles of Confederation.
"One of the Interpreters told him it also contained the reasons which induced the Americans to go to war with Great Britain. Let these reasons, said he, looking over the book, be translated into Arabic and sent to me as soon as possible."
Not surprisingly, the sultan was the subject of many pages of Barclay's reports to Adams and Jefferson. Sidi Muhammad, Barclay wrote, "is 66 years of age according to the Mahometan [sic] reckoning which is about 64 of our years. He is of a middle Stature, inclining to fat.... He is a just man according to his Idea of Justice, of great personal Courage, liberal to a Degree, a Lover of his People, stern and rigid in distributing justice, and though it is customary for those people who can bring presents never to apply to him without them, yet the poorest moor in his Dominions, by placing himself under a Flag which is erected every Day in the Court where the public Audiences are given, has a right to be heard by the Emperor in preference to any Ambassador from the first King upon earth, and to prefer his complaint against any subject be his rank what it may."
A subject of vivid interest to Americans was the captivity and enslavement of their citizens by the corsairs operating off the Barbary Coast. Barclay laid those fears to rest in regard to Sidi Muhammad.
"There are not any Prisoners or Christian Slaves in the Empire of Morocco, except Six or Seven Spaniards, who are in the Sahara or Desert.... And here it will be doing a piece of justice to the Emperor which he well Deserves to say that there is not a man in the World who is a greater enemy to Slavery than He is. He spares neither money nor pains to redeem all who are so unfortunate as to be cast away, whom he orders to be fed and cloth'd, until they are return'd to their Country."
Barclay's assignment, besides the negotiation of a treaty, included the gathering of whatever information he could about the sultan's dominions, and his reports showed a propensity for numerical detail. Writing about the sultan's family, he enumerated, "His families which are in Morocco, Mequinez and Tafilet consist of 4 Queens, 40 women who are not married, but who are attended in the same manner as if they were Queens, 243 Women of inferior Rank, and these are attended by 858 females who are shut up in the seraglios, and the number of Eunuchs is great."
And on the Sultan's army, Barclay wrote, "The Grandfather of the present King rais'd an army of 100,000 Negros from whose Descendants, the Army has ever since been recruited. But these Standing forces at different times and for various reasons have been reduced to the number 14767, four thousand of whom are station'd at Morocco and the remainder in Seven Regiments in the different Provinces...."
In fact, throughout the almost four months Barclay and Franks spent in the country, Barclay took every opportunity to learn as much as he could. He visited every Atlantic port except Agadir. He inspected crops, he counted guns and fortifications, he studied anchorages and water levels, he queried Europeans who had lived decades in Morocco, and he questioned governors of the towns he visited. His intelligence reports were models of clarity and perspicacity.
As for the prospects for trade between the United States and Morocco, Barclay was candid.
"It will appear that few of the articles produced in Morocco are wanted in our parts of America, nor could any thing manufactur'd here find a sale there except a little Morocco leather, which is very fine and good and the consumption of it in the Empire almost incredible."
Despite this assessment, Barclay knew the importance of the treaty. "Our Trade to the Mediterranean is render'd much the securer for it, and it affords us Ports where our ships may rest if we shou'd be engaged in a European War, or in one with the other Barbary states."
By mid-July the treaty of 25 articles had been translated, copied in a calligraphic hand in Arabic, English, and Spanish—the latter version intended for Charles III of Spain—bound in red leather, and stamped with the sultan's seal. It is a tribute to Barclay's skill that virtually all the headings of the draft treaty he had brought with him to Morocco were included in the final version—though in most cases in much more concise language.
Barclay and Franks left Marrakech July 16, returning to Mogador in a caravan, escorted by 16 troops, that included the new French consul, his servants and the young American sailor whom the sultan had turned over to Barclay. In August Barclay and Franks made their way up the coast, stopping to inspect ports along the way. At Dar al-Bayda (Casablanca), they were received by the Spanish consul general, Juan Manuel González Salmón, and in Tangier Barclay lodged with Giacomo Girolamo Chiappe, the Republic of Venice's consul in Morocco. Barclay paid his respects to Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Malik, governor of Tangier and one of the sultan's well-traveled diplomats. He had two audiences with 'Abd al-Malik and apparently came away with a request, for Barclay's expense report shows that he did some shopping for the governor when he returned to Cadiz: "loaf sugar to send to Pasha of Tangier" and "40 pounds of tea."
The Americans returned to Spain at the end of September. Barclay remained in Spain on public business, while Franks returned to Paris with the treaty. It was signed by Jefferson and Adams in January 1787, ratified by Congress six months later, and proclaimed by the president of Congress on July 18, 1787. It remained in effect for 50 years. Barclay, meanwhile, having pleased the Congress, was appointed consul to Morocco by President George Washington in 1791, but died in Lisbon in 1793, before he was able to return to the country where he had achieved his triumph of quiet diplomatic tenacity. In 1967, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs noted that the treaty's basic provisions had never been broken, and the relationship that it had begun 180 years earlier was the longest-lasting treaty relationship in United States history.
Priscilla Roberts, a research librarian, helped develop the library of the Tangier American Legation Museum while living in Morocco between 1982 and 1985.
James Tull, now retired, was a foreign service officer at the American Embassy in Rabat in 1975 and 1976. Their biography of Barclay is in progress.