The Barbary Treaties 1786-1816
Hunter Miller's Introduction

In the half century from 1786 to 1836 the United States made nine treaties with the Barbary States, as they were then called: Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. Seven of those treaties appear in the present volume (Documents 14, 17, 20, 21, 31, 34, and 37).

In three of the Barbary treaties Arabic is the language of the original: Morocco, 1786 and 1836, and Tripoli, 1796-1797. In the treaty with Tripoli of 1805 both English and Arabic seem to have been used. Turkish is the language of two treaties: Algiers, 1795, and Tunis, 1797-1799. While it is not entirely certain, the remaining three treaties appear to have been in English only: Algiers, 1815 and 1816, and Tunis, 1824; however, in the original treaty with Algiers of 1816 there is written, on the respective pages opposite the English, a Turkish summary of the English text. The texts in Arabic or Turkish are, so far as they are available, reproduced.

Reproduction of such texts presents a question as to the order or arrangement of the pages or articles. Pursuant to advice from eminent orientalists, in this edition, which is essentially one of American volumes, the ordinary order of pagination from left to right is maintained throughout, even in the case of pages or articles of Arabic or of Turkish text; and accordingly such pages or articles have, when necessary, been rearranged and are reproduced in the order usual and customary here.

An English translation is written in the originals of the treaties with Algiers of 1795 and with Tripoli of 1796-1797; similarly, a French translation is written in the original of the treaty with Tunis of 1797-1799. The English translation of the treaty with Morocco of 1786 is a separate document (91 C. C. Papers, I, folio 213) signed and sealed by Jefferson and Adams. A copy of the treaty with Morocco of 1836 has an English translation on pages opposite the Arabic; that copy bears the signature of James R. Leib, the American Commissioner. All of the above-mentioned translations are printed literally, that is, with no revision of capitalization, punctuation, or spelling. (The treatment of translations in the ordinary case is to make the style conform to modern usage.)

The original treaties with Tripoli of 1805, Algiers of 1815, and Tunis of 1824, are missing; copies of the two latter in English and a copy of the first in English and Arabic and bearing the signature of Tobias Lear, are in the respective files. It is of record that the Dey of Algiers possessed a Turkish translation of the treaty with Algiers of 1815, but there is no such translation in the Department of State archives.

The early English translations of the Barbary treaties in all cases but one, that made from the French translation of the treaty with Tunis of 1797-1799, are printed literally; in the notes the transliteration of the months of the Mohammedan calendar conforms to that in Webster's Dictionary.

Something should also be said as to dates stated in terms of the Mohammedan calendar, or, in other words, in the years of the Hegira. Whenever the equivalent of a date given by that calendar is found, in a document of the period, stated in the new style of the Christian era, that equivalent is accepted as the then current calendar usage, even though a calculation by the ordinary tables would not, to the day, agree; and preference for then current practice over calculation is extended even to cases where there is a nearly contemporaneous record of an equivalent date written by the two calendars; usage of the past is preferred to mathematics of the present; though it should be added that no instance of a difference greater than one or two days has been noticed.

The years of the Mohammedan calendar are purely lunar, consisting of twelve lunar months, each beginning with the approximate new moon. The length of the year is 354 days except in intercalary years, when it is 355.

The divergences between the astronomical Mohammedan calendar and the usage locally current are thus to be explained. Nearly all Mohammedan countries, since the spread of Islam, have had their calendars calculated astronomically beforehand and have used them for all secular purposes. There is also a regular calendar for religious purposes; the Sacred Law obliges all Mohammedans to fix the dates of their religious feasts (in the first place, the beginning and the end of the ninth month, Ramadan, and the beginning of the twelfth month, Zu'lhijjah) not by means of calculation, but by the observation of the appearance of the new moon, taking, however, as their point of departure that a month can have only twenty-nine or thirty days. In order to get the required dates for the religious feasts, not only the beginning of the months in which those feasts occur, but the beginning of all the months, is fixed by the observation of the appearance of the new moon, as a deviation from that method in any month might have the consequence of error (from the point of view of the religious law) in the fixation of the dates of the feasts; thus, if the new moon is not visible on the eve of the thirtieth day of a certain month, that month is counted full and the next one commences after the thirtieth day of its predecessor. So, by the religious calendar, the beginning and the end of any month may always differ by one or two days in different countries, and even in two places a few miles distant from each other; and while the Mohammedan law authorities do not prohibit the dating of letters, contracts, events, etc., in accordance with the astronomical calendar, still the writers of letters, documents, and chronicles often deviate in their datings from the astronomical calendar in the same degree as does the actual feast-calendar of their dwelling place.(1)

An elaborate discussion of the calendar, with valuable tables, is in Osmanische Zeitrechnungen, by Joachim Mayr, which is printed as a supplement to Die Geschichtsschreiber der Osmanen und ihre Werke, by Franz Babinger. One statement there made as to the calendar day is to be noted (page 418, translation):

As divisions of the day the Turks use twenty-four hours of equal length, twelve of the day and twelve of the night, but begin the enumeration with sunset, so that there is a notable shifting of the hours during the course of the year.

The era of the Hegira, or the Mohammedan era, is dated from July l9, A. D. 622, according to the Gregorian calendar.

The names of the Mohammedan months, according to Webster's Dictionary, and the number of days in each, are as follows: Muharram, 30; Safar, 29; Rabia I, 30; Rabia II, 29; Jumada I, 30; Jumada II, 29; Rajab, 30; Shaban, 29; Ramadan, 30; Shawwal, 29; Zu'lkadah, 30; Zu'lhijjah, 29 (30 in intercalary years).

(1) The statements in this paragraph are adapted from letters to the editor from Dr. C. Snouck Hurgronje, of Leiden. Back

Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America.
Edited by Hunter Miller
Volume 2
Documents 1-40 : 1776-1818
Washington : Government Printing Office, 1931.
127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT 06511.