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Victims of American Independence
May 2 at 7:30 pm
Tuesday, May 2, 2017 – 7:30 PM
Brett Goodin, Ph. D., the Margaret Henry Dabney Penick Postdoctoral Fellow of the Smithsonian Institution: “Victims of American Independence?” Declaring independence from Great Britain inadvertently opened American sailors to capture and enslavement in the North African “Barbary States” of Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and Morocco. Between the years 1785 and 1815 approximately 500-700 American sailors were held as “white slaves,” primarily for ransom rather than labor, in North Africa. Among the most prolific American captives were Richard O’Brien and James Cathcart. Before captivity the pair served as privateers and in the Continental and Royal Navies during the American Revolution. During a decade of captivity in Algiers they leveraged that Revolutionary service, framing themselves as “victims of American independence,” to elicit sympathy from the American public and government officials. After the U.S. government spent almost 15% of its total revenue in 1795 to ransom the captives and secure a treaty with Algiers, O’Brien and Cathcart were sent back to North Africa as U.S. consuls to Algiers and Tripoli, where they planned and attempted a coup d’état during the First Barbary War with Tripoli.
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