Category Archives: piracy

From Merchants to Mercenaries in Mughal India

From The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire, by William Dalrymple (Bloomsbury, 2019), Kindle pp. 90-91:

Soon both the British and the French were intriguing with the different states in the south, covertly offering to sell their military assistance in return for influence, payments or land grants. In 1749, in return for a small trading port, the EIC became involved in its first attempt at what today would be called regime change, taking sides in a succession dispute in the Maratha kingdom of Tanjore. The attempted coup was a miserable failure.

Dupleix, however, had much more success as a military entrepreneur. His clients had to pay for their European weapons and troops in land grants and land revenue collection rights that would enable the French Compagnie to maintain its sepoys and finance its trade from Indian revenues rather than importing bullion from Europe. Dupleix sold his services as a mercenary first to one of the claimants to the throne of the Carnatic, and then, in a much more ambitious move, despatched the Marquis de Bussy to Hyderabad to take sides in the succession crisis that had followed the death of the region’s most powerful Mughal overlord, Nizam ul-Mulk, as his sons fought for control of the Nizam’s semi-detached fragment of the Mughal Empire. Dupleix was handsomely rewarded for his assistance with a present of £77,500, the high Mughal rank of Mansab of 7,000 horse – the equivalent of a Dukedom in Europe – the rich port of Masulipatnam and a jagir (a landed estate) worth £20,000. Selling the services of his trained and disciplined troops, he soon realised, was an infinitely more profitable business than dealing in cotton textiles.

Dupleix’s generalissimo, the Marquis de Bussy, who also made a fortune, could hardly believe the dramatic results his tiny mercenary force achieved as he marched through the Deccan: ‘Kings have been placed on the throne with my hands,’ he wrote to Dupleix in 1752, ‘sustained by my forces, armies have been put to flight, towns taken by assault by a mere handful of my men, peace treaties concluded by my own mediation … The honour of my nation has been taken to a pinnacle of glory, so that it has been preferred to all the others in Europe, and the interests of the Compagnie taken beyond its hopes and even its desires.’

In reality, however, these were all two-way transactions: weak Indian rulers of fragmented post-Mughal states offered large blocks of territory, or land revenue, to the different European Companies in return for military support. The warfare that followed, which usually involved very small Company armies, was often incoherent and inconclusive, but it confirmed that the Europeans now had a clear and consistent military edge over Indian cavalry, and that small numbers of them were capable of altering the balance of power in the newly fractured political landscape that had followed the fall of the Mughal Empire. The Carnatic Wars that rumbled on over the next decade might have had few conclusive or permanent strategic results, but they witnessed the transformation of the character of the two Companies from trading concerns to increasingly belligerent and militarised entities, part-textile exporters, part-pepper traders, part-revenue-collecting land-holding businesses, and now, most profitably of all, state-of-the-art mercenary outfits.

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Nader Shah Robs the Mughal Empire, 1739

From The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire, by William Dalrymple (Bloomsbury, 2019), Kindle pp. 76-80:

On 21 May, Nader Shah with a force of 80,000 fighting men crossed the border into the Mughal Empire, heading for the summer capital of Kabul, so beginning the first invasion of India for two centuries. The great Bala Hisar of Kabul surrendered at the end of June. Nader Shah then descended the Khyber. Less than three months later, at Karnal, one hundred miles north of Delhi, he defeated three merged Mughal armies – around a million men, some half of whom were fighters – with a relatively small but strictly disciplined force of 150,000 musketeers and Qizilbash horsemen armed with the latest military technology of the day: armour-penetrating, horse-mounted jazair, or swivel guns.

Nader Shah’s job was certainly made much easier by the increasingly bitter divisions between Muhammad Shah’s two principal generals, Sa’adat Khan and Nizam ul-Mulk. Sa’adat Khan arrived late at the Mughal camp, marching in from Avadh long after the Nizam had encamped, but, keen to show off his superior military abilities, decided to ride straight into battle without waiting for his exhausted soldiers to rest. Around noon on 13 February, he marched out of the earthwork defences erected by the Nizam to protect his troops, ‘with headlong impetuosity misplaced in a commander’, and against the advice of the Nizam, who remained behind, declaring that ‘haste is of the devil’. He was right to be cautious: Sa’adat Khan was walking straight into a carefully laid trap.

Nader Shah lured Sa’adat Khan’s old-fashioned heavy Mughal cavalry – armoured cuirassiers fighting with long swords – into making a massed frontal charge. As they neared the Persian lines, Nader’s light cavalry parted like a curtain, leaving the Mughals facing a long line of mounted musketeers, each of whom was armed with swivel guns. They fired at point-blank range. Within a few minutes, the flower of Mughal chivalry lay dead on the ground. As a Kashmiri observer, Abdul Karim Sharistani, put it, ‘the army of Hindustan fought with bravery. But one cannot fight musket balls with arrows.’

Having defeated the Mughals in an initial engagement, Nader Shah then managed to capture the Emperor himself by the simple ruse of inviting him to dinner, then refusing to let him leave. ‘Here was an army of a million bold and well-equipped horsemen, held as it were in captivity, and all the resources of the Emperor and his grandees at the disposal of the Persians,’ wrote Anand Ram Mukhlis. ‘The Mughal monarchy appeared to be at an end.’ …

On 29 March, a week after Nader Shah’s forces had entered the Mughal capital, a newswriter for the Dutch VOC sent a report in which he described Nader Shah’s bloody massacre of the people of Delhi: ‘the Iranians have behaved like animals,’ he wrote. ‘At least 100,000 people were killed. Nader Shah gave orders to kill anyone who defended himself. As a result it seemed as if it were raining blood, for the drains were streaming with it.’ Ghulam Hussain Khan recorded how, ‘In an instant the soldiers getting on the tops of the houses commenced killing, slaughtering and plundering people’s property, and carrying away their wives and daughters. Numbers of houses were set on fire and ruined.’ …

The massacre continued until the Nizam went bareheaded, his hands tied with his turban, and begged Nader on his knees to spare the inhabitants and instead to take revenge on him. Nader Shah ordered his troops to stop the killing; they obeyed immediately. He did so, however, on the condition that the Nizam would give him 100 crore (1 billion) rupees* before he would agree to leave Delhi. ‘The robbing, torture and plundering still continues,’ noted a Dutch observer, ‘but not, thankfully, the killing.’

In the days that followed, the Nizam found himself in the unhappy position of having to loot his own city to pay the promised indemnity. The city was divided into five blocks and vast sums were demanded of each: ‘Now commenced the work of spoliation,’ remarked Anand Ram Mukhlis, ‘watered by the tears of the people … Not only was their money taken, but whole families were ruined. Many swallowed poison, and others ended their days with the stab of a knife … In short the accumulated wealth of 348 years changed masters in a moment.’

Nader never wished to rule India, just to plunder it for resources to fight his real enemies, the Russians and the Ottomans. Fifty-seven days later, he returned to Persia carrying the pick of the treasures the Mughal Empire had amassed over its 200 years of sovereignty and conquest: a caravan of riches that included Jahangir’s magnificent Peacock Throne, embedded in which was both the Koh-i-Noor diamond and the great Timur ruby. Nader Shah also took with him the Great Mughal Diamond, reputedly the largest in the world, along with the Koh-i-Noor’s slightly larger, pinker ‘sister’, the Daria-i-Noor, and ‘700 elephants, 4,000 camels and 12,000 horses carrying wagons all laden with gold, silver and precious stones’, worth in total an estimated £87.5 million in the currency of the time. In a single swift blow, Nader Shah had broken the Mughal spell. Muhammad Shah Rangila remained on the throne, but, with little remaining credibility or real power, he withdrew from public life, hardly leaving Delhi.

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Aurangzeb’s Mughal Legacy, 1707

From The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire, by William Dalrymple (Bloomsbury, 2019), Kindle pp. 62-63, 82-83:

It was the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 that changed everything for the Company.

The Emperor, unloved by his father, grew up into a bitter and bigoted Islamic puritan, as intolerant as he was grimly dogmatic. He was a ruthlessly talented general and a brilliantly calculating strategist, but entirely lacked the winning charm of his predecessors. His rule became increasingly harsh, repressive and unpopular as he grew older. He made a clean break with the liberal and inclusive policies towards the Hindu majority of his subjects pioneered by his great-grandfather Akbar, and instead allowed the ulama to impose far stricter interpretations of Sharia law. Wine was banned, as was hashish, and the Emperor ended his personal patronage of musicians. He also ended Hindu customs adopted by the Mughals such as appearing daily to his subjects at the jharoka palace window in the centre of the royal apartments in the Red Fort. Around a dozen Hindu temples across the country were destroyed, and in 1672 he issued an order recalling all endowed land given to Hindus and reserved all future land grants for Muslims. In 1679 the Emperor reimposed the jizya tax on all non-Muslims that had been abolished by Akbar; he also executed Teg Bahadur, the ninth of the gurus of the Sikhs.

While it is true that Aurangzeb is a more complex and pragmatic figure than some of his critics allow, the religious wounds Aurangzeb opened in India have never entirely healed, and at the time they tore the country in two. Unable to trust anyone, Aurangzeb marched to and fro across the Empire, viciously putting down successive rebellions by his subjects. The Empire had been built on a pragmatic tolerance and an alliance with the Hindus, especially with the warrior Rajputs, who formed the core of the Mughal war machine. The pressure put on that alliance and the Emperor’s retreat into bigotry helped to shatter the Mughal state and, on Aurangzeb’s death, it finally lost them the backbone of their army.

But it was Aurangzeb’s reckless expansion of the Empire into the Deccan, largely fought against the Shia Muslim states of Bijapur and Golconda, that did most to exhaust and overstretch the resources of the Empire. It also unleashed against the Mughals a new enemy that was as formidable as it was unexpected. Maratha peasants and landholders had once served in the armies of the Bijapur and Golconda. In the 1680s, after the Mughals conquered these two states, Maratha guerrilla raiders under the leadership of Shivaji Bhonsle, a charismatic Maratha Hindu warlord, began launching attacks against the Mughal armies occupying the Deccan. As one disapproving Mughal chronicler noted, ‘most of the men in the Maratha army are unendowed with illustrious birth, and husbandmen, carpenters and shopkeepers abound among their soldiery’. They were largely armed peasants; but they knew the country and they knew how to fight.

From the sparse uplands of the western Deccan, Shivaji led a prolonged and increasingly widespread peasant rebellion against the Mughals and their tax collectors. The Maratha light cavalry, armed with spears, were remarkable for their extreme mobility and the ability to make sorties far behind Mughal lines. They could cover fifty miles in a day because the cavalrymen carried neither baggage nor provisions and instead lived off the country: Shivaji’s maxim was ‘no plunder, no pay’.

But what appeared to be the end of an era in Delhi looked quite different in other parts of India, as a century of imperial centralisation gave way to a revival of regional identities and regional governance. Decline and disruption in the heartlands of Hindustan after 1707 was matched by growth and relative prosperity in the Mughal peripheries. Pune and the Maratha hills, flush with loot and overflowing tax revenues, entered their golden age. The Rohilla Afghans, the Sikhs of the Punjab and the Jats of Deeg and Bharatpur all began to carve independent states out of the cadaver of the Mughal Empire, and to assume the mantle of kingship and governance.

For Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and the other Rajput courts, this was also an age of empowerment and resurgence as they resumed their independence and, free from the tax burdens inherent in bowing to Mughal overlordship, began using their spare revenues to add opulent new palaces to their magnificent forts. In Avadh, the baroque palaces of Faizabad rose to rival those built by the Nizam in Hyderabad to the south. All these cities emerged as centres of literary, artistic and cultural patronage, so blossoming into places of remarkable cultural efflorescence.

Meanwhile, Benares emerged as a major centre of finance and commerce as well as a unique centre of religion, education and pilgrimage. In Bengal, Nadia was the centre of Sanskrit learning and a sophisticated centre for regional architectural and Hindustani musical excellence.

To the south, in Tanjore, a little later, Carnatic music would begin to receive enlightened patronage from the Maratha court that had seized control of that ancient centre of Tamil culture. At the other end of the subcontinent, the Punjab hill states of the Himalayan foothills entered a period of astonishing creativity as small remote mountain kingdoms suddenly blossomed with artists, many of whom had been trained with metropolitan skills in the now-diminished Mughal ateliers, each family of painters competing with and inspiring each other in a manner comparable to the rival city states of Renaissance Italy.

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Origin of the British East India Company, 1600

From The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire, by William Dalrymple (Bloomsbury, 2019), Kindle pp. 44-45:

On 31 December 1600, the last day of the first year of the new century, the ‘Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading to the East Indies’, a group of 218 men, received their royal charter.

This turned out to offer far wider powers than the petitioners had perhaps expected or even hoped for. As well as freedom from all customs duties for their first six voyages, it gave them a British monopoly for fifteen years over ‘trade to the East Indies’, a vaguely defined area that was soon taken to encompass all trade and traffic between the Cape of Good Hope and the Strait of Magellan, as well as granting semi-sovereign privileges to rule territories and raise armies. The wording was sufficiently ambiguous to allow future generations of EIC officials to use it to claim jurisdiction over all English subjects in Asia, mint money, raise fortifications, make laws, wage war, conduct an independent foreign policy, hold courts, issue punishment, imprison English subjects and plant English settlements. It was not without foundation that a later critic and pamphleteer complained that the Company had been granted monopoly on ‘near two-third parts of the trading World’. And though it took two and a half centuries for the potential to be realised, the wording of the EIC’s charter left open from the beginning the possibility of it becoming an imperial power, exercising sovereignty and controlling people and territory.

In the intervening year, the merchant adventurers had not been idle. They had been to Deptford to ‘view severall shippes’, one of which, the May Flowre, was later famous for a voyage heading in the opposite direction. Four vessels had been bought and put into dry dock to be refitted. Given that time was of the essence, a barrel of beer a day was authorised ‘for the better holding together of the workemen from running from ther worke to drinke’. What was intended as the Company’s 900-ton flagship, a former privateering vessel, specifically built for raiding Spanish shipping in the Caribbean, the Scourge of Malice was renamed the Red Dragon so that it might sound a little less piratical.

Before long the adventurers had begun to purchase not only shipping, but new masts, anchors and rigging, and to begin constructing detailed inventories of their seafaring equipment – their ‘kedgers’, ‘drabblers’, ‘all standard rigging and running ropes’, ‘cables good and bad, a mayne course bonnet very good’ and ‘1 great warping hauser’. There was also the armament they would need: ‘40 muskets, 24 pikes … 13 sackers, 2 fowlers, 25 barrelles of powder’ as well as the ‘Spunges, Ladles and Ramers’ for the cannon.

They also set about energetically commissioning hogsheads to be filled with ‘biere, 170 tonnes, 40 tonnes of hogshed for Porke, 12 tonnes drie caske for Oatemeal, one tonne dryie caske for mustard seed, one tonne dry caske for Rice … bisket well dryed … good fish … very Dry’ as well as ‘120 oxen’ and ‘60 Tons of syder’. Meanwhile, the financiers among them began to collect £30,000 [over £3 million today] of bullion, as well as divers items to trade on arrival – what they termed an ‘investment’ of iron, tin and English broadcloth, all of which they hoped would be acceptable items to trade against Indonesian pepper, nutmeg, cloves, mace, cardamom and the other aromatic spices and jewels they hoped to bring home.

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African Slaves Save Macao, 1622

From African Samurai, by Geoffrey Girard and Thomas Lockley (Hanover Square, 2019), Kindle pp. 310-311:

Chinese pirate crews in the South China Seas, an area which no state power adequately controlled and where it was often in minor rulers’ interests to turn a blind eye for their own financial benefit, often employed Africans who had escaped from slavery or gone it alone. An example, though shortly after Yasuke’s time in the 1620s, was the Chinese pirate, smuggler and merchant, Zheng Zhilong.

Zheng had a large African bodyguard corps, more than three hundred men at its peak. The bodyguards were recruited from various places, but most entered his service via Macao, the Portuguese enclave in southern China, and many were escaped slaves. They could also have been men freed in reward for their part in the successful defense of Macao against the Dutch in 1622.

In this battle, an attempt by the Dutch to wrest control of the inter-Asian trade from the Portuguese, Macao found itself virtually defenseless as the Dutch attacked when most of the Portuguese merchant militia were away on trading missions in China. In a desperate bid to defend the outpost, all African slaves—a large group who did most of the manual labor in the colony—were granted their freedom, and as much alcohol as they could drink, in exchange for fighting in the city’s defense. These drunken, newly freed men and women were wildly successful in destroying the Dutch, and their mercenary Japanese and Thai troops, despite being heavily outnumbered. The Africans charged the Dutch musket fire fearlessly and gave no quarter; and as it was the feast of John the Baptist, allegedly celebrated by removing heretic Protestant heads from their bodies. The former slaves, having been released from their bondage, would have been searching for better employment (and quickly), and pirates such as Zheng Zhilong could provide this.

Zheng had lived much of his life in Japan, where he was safe from Chinese government authority and could take advantage of Japanese and European trade and smuggling opportunities. At the height of his power, his fleet was estimated at up to a thousand ships and controlled almost all interactions in the South China Sea.

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British Ties with Oman

From Arabian Assignment: Operations in Oman and the Yemen, by David Smiley. (The Extraordinary Life of Colonel David Smiley Book 2; Sapere Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 11-12:

The British connection with Muscat dates from the early days of the East India Company in the seventeenth century, though the first treaty between Britain and the Sultan was not signed until 1798. An agreement followed two years later for agents of the East India Company to reside at Muscat, but the appalling climate killed off so many of them that it lapsed. Throughout the nineteenth century the British and the Sultan, who was then the most important ruler in the Gulf, collaborated closely in suppressing piracy, and the slave trade ceased in the Sultanate under a treaty of 1822. By a treaty of 1852 Britain (and France) recognized the independence of the Sultan, who still conducts his own foreign policy and maintains his own armed forces. Under subsequent agreements he may call on British help in time of trouble.

The trouble came soon after the old Imam’s death; the principal causes were Saudi ambition and, of course, oil. Ever since 1937 the Saudis had been trying to expand their territory beyond the edge of the Rub al Khali [the Empty Quarter], claiming frontiers with their neighbours — the States of the Aden Protectorate, the Sultanate, and the Trucial Sheikhdoms — which those neighbours refused to accept. After the Second World War the two superpowers, Russia and America, became increasingly involved in Arabia and the Gulf, the former pursuing an old imperial design, the latter attracted by fresh discoveries of oil: both with a common interest in reducing the influence of Britain. Encouraged by the new situation, the Saudis in 1952 suddenly occupied the strategic oasis of Buraimi, owned partly by the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi, a Trucial State, and partly by the Sultan of Muscat.

The Sultan gathered a force of between six and eight thousand tribesmen and, but for the ill-advised intervention of the British Government, would have expelled the intruders immediately, thus dealing a sharp blow to Saudi prestige and cementing the loyalty of the Omani tribes. When he failed to move, Saudi intrigue began to prosper.

The dispute went to international arbitration at Geneva, where the Saudi method, perfectly respectable in Arabia, of reinforcing their arguments with offers of large sums in gold to the members of the Tribunal caused such scandal that the President and the British delegate resigned in protest. At the end of 1955 the seemingly inexhaustible patience of Her Britannic Majesty’s Government ran out; in a sudden, bloodless coup the Trucial Oman Scouts descended on Buraimi, expelled the Saudi garrison, and established a garrison of their own and another of the Sultan’s in the Oasis. But the three year delay had been disastrous for the Sultan. The Saudis had made good use of the time to spread their influence in Oman, suborning the tribesmen with lavish gifts of money and arms. Moreover, a new Imam had arisen on the death of the Sultan’s old friend: one Ghalib bin Ali. A weak and colourless personality appointed by a cabal of three sheikhs but never formally elected, he was virtually a Saudi puppet; he possessed, however, a valuable ally in his brother, Talib, the Wali [Governor] of Rostaq, a brave, energetic and extremely ambitious leader with considerable military ability, who soon emerged as the driving force of the movement. Immediately after his election Ghalib, with his brother, toured his domain, setting up his own garrisons in his holy capital of Nizwa and in other strategically important towns and villages in the interior.

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Omani Rulers Foreign & Domestic

From Arabian Assignment: Operations in Oman and the Yemen, by David Smiley. (The Extraordinary Life of Colonel David Smiley Book 2; Sapere Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 9-10:

Although Omani Dynasties have on occasion extended their territory as far afield as India and Zanzibar, Muscat itself has known a long succession of foreign overlords, from the Persians of Cyrus the Great to Albuquerque’s Portuguese — who behaved atrociously, lopping off limbs, ears and noses to punish or even to prevent resistance. These and other invaders — the hosts of the Prophet, the Caliphs of Baghdad, Turks and Tartars, Wahabis from beyond the Empty Quarter — have swarmed over the country. But although some of them ruled, for longer or shorter periods, over Muscat and the coastal belt, none of them established firm control behind the mountains, in Oman, where the tribes continued in their old way of life, intriguing and fighting among themselves in rancorous isolation from the outside world and deeply resentful of all intruders, Arab or nasrani [Christian].

They followed the Sharia law of Islam, rigorously interpreted according to the doctrines of the Ibadhi sect brought to Oman by the Kharejites [Seceders] — survivors from mutinous soldiers in the army of Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law — and proclaimed at Nizwa at the end of the seventh century by Abdullah bin Ibadh. Ibadhis may not drink or even smoke, and must not trim their beards — though they sometimes trim their moustaches. Their puritan creed regards the Koran as the sole source of authority and teaches that it must be read literally, without interpretation; and, more important for the political history of Oman, their tradition requires that the choice of their Imam should be by election among the Faithful.

For nearly a thousand years, until the early seventeenth century, the Imams of Oman, who held both spiritual and temporal jurisdiction over their subjects, were elected on personal merit or popularity; any attempt by a reigning Imam to ensure the succession for his eldest son was fiercely resisted by the fanatical Ibadhi Qadhis — the judges who administered the law. But early on in the seventeenth century there arose a dynasty of Imams, the Al Yaarabah (or Yariba), who from their capital in the ancient fortress town of Rostaq established firm control over the interior of Oman. They not only expelled the Portuguese from Muscat, built up a powerful navy, and extended their influence throughout the Persian Gulf and even to East Africa, but such was their prestige that they were able to modify the elective principle and ensure that the succession to the Imamate continued in the direct line for nearly a hundred years. This last achievement was to have profound significance for the future.

After 1720 the al Yaarabah dynasty began to collapse in a series of disputes over the succession. There followed nearly twenty-five years of civil war, with two rival Imams fighting for supremacy, one supported by a confederation of tribes under the leadership of the Beni Ghafir — the Ghafiri faction — the other by a confederation under the Beni Hina — the Hinawis; these factions, whose rivalry has dominated most of the subsequent history of Oman, exist to this day and any Ruler, to be successful, must be able to control or hold the balance between them. The war ended with the victory of the Hinawi candidate, Ahmed bin Said, Governor of Sohar; this brave and energetic soldier expelled the Persians, who had taken advantage of the confusion to re-occupy Muscat, and founded the present ruling dynasty of Al bu Said.

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U.S. Private Trade with Britain, 1812-14

From The Age of Fighting Sail: The Story of the Naval War of 1812, by C. S. Forester (Doubleday, 1952; eNet, 2012), Kindle Loc. 1091-1131:

It became apparent that provisions from America were necessary to maintain the British effort in the Peninsula, despite Wellington’s search for other sources of supply in Canada and Egypt and the Barbary States.

This was [Admiral] Warren’s opportunity to kill two birds, or three birds, with one stone. From Halifax and Bermuda he began to issue licences to American ships, giving them immunity from capture while they were engaged on voyages to and from Lisbon. During the periods of Non-intercourse and Embargo a wide connection had been built up with those merchants who were willing or anxious to evade the regulations of the United States Government; it was easy enough to make the new system known to them. The cargoes could be sold to the Portuguese Government, or to private merchants in Lisbon. They might feed the Portuguese army or the Portuguese civilian population; in either case it was a burden lifted from the shoulders of the British Government, which would have had to undertake the task—and could well have found it impossible—if it had not been performed by American private enterprise.

There was more than a possibility that some of the supplies might find their way into British Government hands and might feed British soldiers; some of the flour might be baked into biscuits to feed British sailors who might fight American ships; that possibility did not check the trade that was carried on. We find Wellington writing as early as September 1812, ‘I am very glad that Mr Forster has given licences to American ships to import corn to Lisbon.’ Wellington was a man of the strongest common sense and of a clear insight into human nature. We find him writing at the same time pressing that Portuguese ships should be licensed in a similar way to trade with American ports. That would render him less dependent on American shipping; also he warned that there was every chance that American ships, crossing the Atlantic protected by their licences, would be tempted to turn aside towards the end of their voyage and run the blockade into French ports. It would be well to assume that a man guilty of one knavery could be capable of another.

By the issue of licences Warren could not only keep Wellington’s army fed; he could retain the goodwill of the American mercantile community. He was sowing the seeds of discord—if any more needed to be planted—between that community and the American Government if the latter could ever nerve itself to cut off this profitable business. American ships sailing from American ports carried with them American newspapers and American news; for Warren they constituted an invaluable source of information regarding American public opinion, regarding the movements of American ships-of-war, and also regarding any attempts to maintain American trade along lines that the British Government did not approve of. The New England states were profiting by this system of licences, while the Southern states were suffering from the interference with their necessary seaboard communications. Later a proclaimed blockade of the Southern seaboard hampered those communications even worse. There was at least the chance that the sectional favour he was conferring would lead to sectional jealousies and from there to sectional strife.

Warren’s astute handling of the situation did not lead to all the advantages that he expected, and it led to some unexpected difficulties, of which the principal one arose from the necessity for payment for the American supplies. Portugal, devastated by war and with much of her manpower conscripted into her army, had little enough to export in return. A little could be done by sending British manufactured goods to Lisbon for sale by Portuguese merchants to Americans, but that did not bridge the gap. All the large balance had to be paid for in cash, in gold and silver. The problem had been exercising Wellington’s mind (Wellington fought a series of successful campaigns while acting as his own paymaster-general and economic adviser as well as his own chief-of-staff and commissary-general) even before the war began during the period of the Embargo: ‘The exporters of specie, to the great distress of the Army and the ruin of the country, are the American merchants . . . these merchants cannot venture to take in payment bills upon England . . . they must continue therefore to export specie from Portugal.’ Again: ‘When the Americans sell their corn in Lisbon they must receive payment in money.’ In the midst of commanding England’s Army in a desperate war he was writing such lines as ‘The merchants of England will, of course, send Colonial goods and merchandise where they can sell it with advantage,’ but even he had to set limits on his activities—‘I cannot enter into the detail of sending Colonial goods or merchandise to pay for corn.’

The final result was a constant drain of gold and silver from England to America at a time when the British Government was at its wits’ end to find any supply of the precious metals. England had to endure the troubles resulting from a paper currency, inflation, and a rising cost of living, while Wellington, who needed hard cash to pay his army’s way during its constant movements in the Peninsula, had to devote many anxious hours as to how to proportion his limited supplies between paying his long-enduring troops and his Spanish muleteers and buying the vital stores from America. It is hardly necessary to add that the American merchants did not suffer. The troops fell into six months’ arrears of pay, the muleteers and the Portuguese middlemen into as much as a year, but the Yankee captains sailed home with the gold and silver which, by the end of the war, gorged the New England banks and was to play an important part in American expansion and in the later development of American industry.

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First Barbary Ambassador to U.S.

From Dawn Like Thunder (Annotated): The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy, by Glenn Tucker (Corsair Books, 2019), Kindle Loc. c. 8150ff:

When the American fleet was released from the patrol off Tripoli by Lear’s peace treaty, [Commodore] Rodgers showed his power to Bey Hamouda Pacha at Tunis.

He dispatched the Congress and the Vixen and followed with the Constitution, Constellation, Essex, John Adams, Siren, Nautilus, Franklin, Enterprise, Hornet, and part of the flotilla of gunboats which were now arriving from the United States; sixteen sail in all….

They made an imposing sight when they rounded Cape Bon and stood into Tunis Bay on August 1, 1805.

Then Rodgers wrote a letter asking the Bey if he wanted peace or war and giving him the generous time of thirty-six hours in which to reply….

The Bey now refused to receive Decatur, whom Rodgers sent ashore, and the Captain started back to the ship. The Bey told Davis that Rodgers’ letter amounted to a declaration of war. But Bey Hamouda Pacha had no appetite for the big guns of the frigates anchored off his city, and on quick reflection he sent a messenger to Rodgers in such hot haste that he reached the waterfront ahead of Decatur and got a conciliatory reply to the Commodore before Decatur could report how he had been snubbed.

Lear eventually went ashore to assist Davis in the negotiations, but he could not have put any indemnities or weasel clauses into this arrangement even had he desired because Rodgers was watching. To the Bey’s complaint that the entire American fleet had descended on him, Rodgers gave assurance it was not so, because a frigate, a brig, eight gunboats, and two mortar boats had not yet arrived.

Davis wrote to Rodgers suggesting a suspension of any hostilities until a communication could be had with the President of the United States.

That was not Rodgers’ way of doing business. He replied that unless Bey Hamouda gave a guarantee of the maintenance of peace and signed it in the presence of the British and French consuls, he would seal the port so tight that nothing could get in or out. Then Rodgers sent a copy of the wording he wanted in the guarantee. Lear and the Bey went into a round of letter-writing during which Rodgers’ patience was wearing thin. In a letter of August 15 he declared that the Bey must give a guarantee of peace and then he could send an ambassador to Washington to treat if he desired.

Then Rodgers let loose to Lear an opinion about this petty tyrant: “His prevaricating with you in particular, induces me to believe, that he is now more than ever the Scoundrel, I had thought him before, and I have only to repeat, that if he does not do all that is necessary, & proper, that even at the risk of my Conducts being disapproved by my Country, he shall feel the Vengeance of the Squadron now in his Bay.”

In the face of such force and persistency Bey Hamouda capitulated. He gave notice that the United States would be placed on a most-favored-nation basis and that he would send an ambassador to the United States to deal with any complaints. Rodgers answered cordially, said he had a frigate returning, and asked to have the ambassador make ready at once.

The ambassador was Sidi Suliman Mellimelli, who sailed with Decatur on the Congress, and was to become a startling figure, during the winter of 1805-1806, in the American capital where he lived luxuriously at the expense of the American government and pressed a claim for tribute and indemnity.

Decatur carried a letter from Rodgers to Secretary Smith, saying of the Bey of Tunis that if his late hostility should be overlooked, “I can with almost certainty say that he will never again attempt to behave in a similar manner.”

Mellimelli took four beautiful Arabian stud horses with him as a gift to President Jefferson, one having been a gift to the Bey from the Dey of Algiers. The scrupulous Jefferson would not accept them for himself but the Treasury sold them as part payment of Mellimelli’s expenses. But first they were kept in the President’s stables and the stud fees went to the collector of revenues.

The ambassador was accompanied by a suite of eleven, including an Italian band. He was short on women, for whom he had a ravenous appetite. The prim little Secretary of State Madison had to have concubines supplied at public expense, and wrote about it later, saying: “Appropriations to foreign intercourse are terms of great latitude and may be drawn on by very urgent and unforeseen occurrences.”

Madison never lacked the ability of choice expression. Mellimelli did not know the tightness of the American farmer-congressman. He was unable to exact a single coin from Congress or Secretary Gallatin, but the more freehanded Lear did make an adjustment with the Bey two years later by paying $10,000.

After much difficulty and some revolts among his followers, Mellimelli, whose main argument for tribute appeared to be that he would likely be killed if he returned without it, was packed off home in a ship from Boston. The United States continued its payments of tribute to Algiers through the years, but learned what other powers had long known, that it was best to be in arrears.

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Navy Gunners vs. Tripoli Pirates, 1801

From Dawn Like Thunder (Annotated): The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy, by Glenn Tucker (Corsair Books, 2019), Kindle Loc. ~2750:

Captain Sterrett bore a British flag as he approached the Tripolitan ship, an expedient frequently practiced in the naval warfare of the day. He inquired of the Tripolitan the object of her cruise. The commander replied that he had come out to look for Americans but lamented that he had not yet found a single one. Sterrett promptly lowered the British and hoisted the U.S. colors and ordered a volley of musketry discharged across the Tripolitan’s decks.

The Tripoli replied with a partial broadside. It was 9:00 a.m. For three hours the ships lay alongside at pistol range and blazed away at each other with broadsides and small arms. Three times they came together and the Muslims tried to board. Each time they were beaten back with severe loss.

Fortunately the Enterprise had a small Marine Corps detachment, commanded by Lieutenant Enoch S. Lane, whose fire was particularly effective during the boarding efforts. An equal number of times the Tripolitans seemed to give up the contest and surrender. They struck their colors, but each time as the wary Lieutenant Sterrett drew close for boarding and as the American gun crews relaxed their efforts, came to the spardeck and cheered for their victory, the enemy ship hoisted her flag again, let loose a blast and renewed the battle. After the last deception Sterrett ordered the gunners to sink the craft, whose fire had grown steadily weaker under the unmerciful bombardment from the American guns. The seamen took up the cry of “Sink the villains.”

Finally the unhappy and treacherous Admiral Rais Mahomet Rous, who like his second in command was wounded, called out for mercy. He bent over the vessel’s waist in a supplicating position which appeared to be a genuine surrender.

Sterrett, not to be duped by further trickery, held his fire but told the commander to come aboard the Enterprise or send some of his officers. The Admiral replied that the Tripoli’s boat was so shattered it was unfit for use.

Sterrett then inquired what assurance he would have that his men would not be murdered if he sent a detail aboard the Tripoli. The Admiral threw his colors into the sea. After that and other supplications and assurances, the American commander decided to take the risk. When the boarding party headed by Lieutenant Porter reached the enemy deck it found a scene of death and desolation almost unparalleled in such small ship actions.

The ship was shot to pieces. Of her eighty men thirty were dead and thirty wounded, leaving but twenty to man the ship. The deck was covered with bodies, splinters, blood, and wreckage. The ship’s surgeon had been killed and there was no one on board to care for the wounded. With the two top officers wounded and the third officer dead, the distressed vessel was virtually out of control.

But the strange feature of this battle fought for three hours at close pistol range, with the two ships often lying alongside, was that when Captain Sterrett checked the American gunners, marines, and seamen, not an American had received a single scratch.

The reason can only be guessed at; partly chance, but mainly because the Barbary powers who were accustomed to boarding defenseless merchant vessels were not fitted by training or temperament for the fierce, desperate, pent-up fury of sea actions in the era of “iron men and wooden ships,” in which, for some reason, the Americans of that day seemed to excel.

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