Papers of John Adams, volume 17

VIII. John Lamb’s Supplementary Instructions for Negotiations with Algiers, 1–11 October 1785 Adams, John American Commissioners Jefferson, Thomas
VIII. John Lamb’s Supplementary Instructions for Negotiations with Algiers
Supplementary Instruction for Mr. Lamb [ 1–11 October 1785 ]

We have received information that two American vessels, the Dauphin from Philadelphia & and the Maria from Boston with their Crews & Cargoes have lately been taken by the Algerines off the coast of Portugal, & that the crews are reduced to slavery.1 Our full powers to that State being for the general purpose only of concluding a treaty of Amity & Commerce, the redemption of our citizens made captive before the conclusion of such treaty may not be thought comprehended within those powers. nevertheless as the misfortune of these our countrymen has not been produced by any fault or folly of theirs, as their situation would illy admit the delay of our asking & receiving the pleasure of Congress on their subject, & as we presume stronly that it would be the will of Congress that they should be redeemed from their present calamitous condition, we think ourselves bound, in so distant a situation, & where the emergency of the case is so great, to act according to what we think would be the desire of Congress, and to trust to their goodness & the purity of our own motives for our justification.

We therefore authorize you to treat for the emancipation of the crews of the said vessels & of any others which have been or may be taken by the same power before the cessasation of hostilities which we expect you to effect. Administering in the mean time such necessary aids as their situation may require. In negotiating this special treaty you are to consider yourself as acting for the masters of the 447vessels as well as for the United States, and you will agree to no terms which they shall not approve. You will take from them their obligations, each for his crew separately, binding themselves & their owners to indemnify the United States for the monies which shall be paid for their redemption, subsistence, transportation to their own country & other charges incurred, if the Congress shall be of opinion that such indemnification should be required, transmitting to us such special treaty for our definitive execution. You will also adopt the best measures you can for returning the citizens you shall redeem to their own country. As we require a transmission of this treaty before its definitive conclusion, it is the less necessary for us to speak of the sum which you may venture to engage. We do not expect to redeem our captives for less than 100 Dollars a head, & we should be fearful to go beyond the double of that sum—howevever we trust much in your discretion & good management for obtaining them on terms still better than these if possible.

London. Octr. 1. 1785. John Adams.
Paris. Octr. 11. 1785. Th: Jefferson2

RC in David Humphreys’ hand (private owner, 1948); endorsed: “Supplemental / Instructions / to / Mr John Lamb—”


Thomas Jefferson learned of the captures of the Maria and the Dauphin from Richard O’Bryen’s letter of 24 Aug., which he received on 22 Sept. (Jefferson, Papers , 8:440–441). He then drafted these additional instructions for Lamb, the fair copy of which he enclosed for JA’s signature with his second letter of 24 Sept., below. With that letter Jefferson also enclosed a copy, in David Humphreys’ hand, of O’Bryen’s letter of 24 Aug., which is now at its date in the Adams Papers.

For additional information about the captured American ships and the plight of their crews, see the 27 Aug. letter to JA from O’Bryen and his fellow prisoners, Isaac Stephens and Zaccheus Coffin, above. Unfortunately these instructions came to nothing, for Lamb’s mission failed, and the prisoners were not released until mid-1796, after the conclusion of the 1795 Algerian-American Treaty of Peace and Amity. The survivors did not return to America until early 1797 ( AFC , 11:553–554).


The datelines and signatures are by JA and Jefferson, respectively.

IX. The American Commissioners to the Comte de Vergennes, 1–11 October 1785 Adams, John American Commissioners Jefferson, Thomas Vergennes, the Comte de
IX. The American Commissioners to the Comte de Vergennes
Sir [ 1–11 October 1785 ]1

The friendly dispositions which his Majesty has been pleased to shew to the United States of America on every occasion, as well as the assurances given them in the 8th. Art. of the treaty of Amity & Commerce that he would employ his good offices & interposition with the powers on the coast of Barbary to provide for the safety of 448the Citizens of the United States their vessels and effects encouraged us to address you our letter of March 28th on that subject. To this you were pleased to favour us with an answer on the 28th of April enclosing the sentiments of His Excellency the Maãl. de Castries on the same subject & confirming our expectations of His Majesty’s good offices whensoever we should be efficaciously prepared to enter into negotiation with those States.2 As circumstances rendered impracticable our proceeding in person to that court, Congress have been pleased to invest us with other full powers authorizing us to substitute agents to proceed thither for the purpose of negotiating & maturing the terms of treaty and of signing them in a preliminary form but requiring their definitive execution by us. They have also permitted & enabled us to comply with those demands to whi[ch] other nations are in the habit of submitting. In consequence of these powers we have appointed Thomas Barclay Esqr agent to the court of Morocco & John Lamb Esqr. to the Government of Algiers, who will immediately procceed to their respective destinations for the purpose of negotiating treaties of Amity & Commer[ce] with those two powers. It remained for us to apprise your Excellency of these transactions, & to beg leave through you to represent to His Majesty that being now fully vested with the powers requisite for carrying these negotiations into effect, and enabled to comply with such moderate demands as actual circumstances give us reason to expect, the moment is arrived in which his powerful influence with those States may be interposed, to our great benefit. And to pray that he will interpose it either by direct address to those powers, or through the medium of his Ministers, Consuls or Agents residing there, or in such other manner as His Majesty shall judge most consistent with his honour & most likely to avail the United States of his efficacious aid.

We have the honour to be with sentiments of the most profound respect / Your Excellency’s / Most obedient and / Most humble Servants

London. Octr. 1. 1785. John Adams.
Paris Octr. 11. 1785. Th: Jefferson3

RC in David Humphreys’ hand (Arch. Aff. Étr., Paris, Corr. Pol., É.-U., vol. 30:334–335); internal address: “His Excellency / The Count de Vergennes.” Text lost due to a tight binding has been supplied from a Tr (PCC, No. 117, I, f. 17–19).


Thomas Jefferson drafted this letter and the fair copy for JA’s signature that was enclosed with his second letter of 24 Sept., below. Compare it with the first version of the letter drafted by JA on 15 Sept. (No. V, above) and enclosed with JA’s letter to Jefferson of that date, below.


The commissioners are paraphrasing Art. 8 449of the 1778 Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce (Miller, Treaties , 2:8–9). For the commissioners’ 28 March 1785 letter to Vergennes and the French foreign minister’s reply of 28 April, in which he enclosed a copy of a 24 April letter from the naval minister, the Marquis de Castries, concerning French assistance for American negotiations with the Barbary States, see vol. 16:579–581.


The datelines and signatures are by JA and Jefferson, respectively.