Kidnap Scrapbook: Letters on the Perdicaris Affair


TALIM Enchantment Ellen Perdicaris
Ellen Perdicarisby Ion Perdicaris, n.d., featured in Enchantment: Pictures from the Tangier American Legation Museum

Thanks to an alert reader, we've been made aware of a rare book on sale: "Archive of letters sent to his wife during the period of his capture: Ion Perdicaris."  Only $5,802 to the right bidder.  "Approximately 300 items, most autograph letters, mounted or inlaid in an album, folio (457 × 324 mm). Original full dark green roan, green watered silk doublures and endpapers, turn-ins with decorative roll all around in blind, all edges gilt. Hinges weak, spine rather worn. Very good.  Bookseller Inventory # 30719."


The notes accompanying the book advertisement provide a very nice summary of the Perdicaris Affair:

A contemporary assemblage of more than 300 letters of sympathy and eventually congratulation, addressed to Ellen (formerly Varley, née Rouse), wife of the Greek-born hostage Ion Hanford Perdicaris (1840–1925), the central figure in a notable kidnapping known as the Perdicaris incident. Perdicaris's Greek father had emigrated from Athens to the United States, becoming a US citizen and making a fortune as one of the organizers of the Trenton Gas Company in New Jersey. Ion lived the easy life of a playboy until the American Civil War, when the family's property in South Carolina was threatened with confiscation by the government of the Confederate States of America. In order to forestall any confiscation, Ion Perdicaris travelled to Greece to renounce his United States citizenship and acquire Greek nationality. He subsequently moved to Tangier, and fell in love with an Englishwoman, Ellen Varley, wife of the eminent telegraph engineer C. F. Varley. The Varleys divorced in 1873 and Ellen and her four children settled with Perdicaris in Tangier, in a house full of exotic animals. Fascinated by Moroccan culture, Perdicaris wrote several books on the country and became the unofficial head of Tangier's foreign community.

On 18 May 1904, Perdicaris and Ellen's elder son Cromwell were kidnapped from their home by bandits under the control of Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli, an outlaw considered by many to be the rightful heir to the throne of Morocco. Several of Perdicaris's servants were injured by Raisuli's men, and Ellen was left behind alone. Shortly after leaving Tangier, Perdicaris broke his leg in a horse fall. Raisuli demanded of Sultan Abdelaziz of Morocco $70,000 ransom, safe conduct, and control of two of Morocco's wealthiest districts. During his captivity Perdicaris came to admire and befriend Raisuli, an early example of what has since become known as Stockholm syndrome. US president Theodore Roosevelt, who had succeeded to the presidency upon the assassination of William McKinley, responded to the apparent kidnap of a US citizen with a classic display of gunboat diplomacy. He quickly dispatched several warships and Marine companies, though with little idea of what US forces could achieve on such hostile foreign soil.

Secretly advised that Perdicaris had relinquished American citizenship 40 years earlier, Roosevelt brushed that aside, pointing out that Raisuli had believed Perdicaris to be a US citizen when he kidnapped him. Roosevelt succeeded in getting Britain and France to put pressure on the sultan to accept Raisuli's demands, which he agreed to do on 21 June 1904. Roosevelt's "big stick" diplomacy and his reported demand for "Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead" helped him secure the presidency in his own right in a landslide victory in the election of November that year. Perdicaris and his family moved to England shortly after the incident, eventually settling in Tunbridge Wells. He died in London in 1925. The story was loosely adapted to film in the 1975 motion picture The Wind and the Lion, with Sean Connery in the role of Raisuli.

Here's a recent film (12 min. by Abdelkader Salah Haddouch) showing Raisuli's palace in  Tazrout, near Chefchaouen, where Perdicaris was held hostage.  We are fond of telling the Perdicaris story to visitors, and the Library of Congress deems the Perdicaris Affair important enough to dedicate a Chronicling America page to it.  Plenty of links to period news stories, where we learn that

The English housekeeper [phoned] the operator to inform the American Consulate… and Consul General Gummere, accompanied by guards, hastened to the scene.  Long before they arrived, the band had fled, carrying their prisoners into the mountain region…

That gives us another perspective on Mr. Gummere, galloping off to save an Amcit.

Now, does anyone want to get us this book?

Gerald Loftus

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