Today's post is an admission of ignorance, prompted by the resurgence of interest in the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States, with its bicentennial commemorations (check the PBS link above, plus this great Navy/Marine/Coast Guard site, "Our Flag Was Still There").
With the resources at hand (8,000 volume library, JSTOR database of academic journals, and of course the internet), I have found precious little about the impact of the War of 1812 in North Africa and neighboring Spain. Readers are welcome to chime in.
Here's what I've found, along with the questions raised by my informal research:
- James Simpson would have been the US Consul in Tangier during the war years. But he was often resident in British Gibraltar. Would he have been interned as the representative of a warring nation? If he spent the war years in Tangier, what role did he play?
- War vs. Trade: British-French Peninsular War in Spain: G.E. Watson of University College Cardiff wrote in The Historical Journal (1976) that the British were dependent on American exports of foodstuffs to Spain right up to the declaration of the War of 1812, and beyond. Did North African ports play a role?
- Naval action: "In 1810 [Stephen] Decatur took command of the United States and became Commodore of the Southern Station, the command he held when the War of 1812 broke out. On October 25, 1812, while sailing off the coast of Morocco, the United States engaged the British frigate Macedonian, capturing it after a short battle in which the Macedonian's masts were completely shot away." From the Robinson Library. Question: with Decatur active off Morocco's Atlantic Coast, was there action in the Strait of Gibraltar too?
- Postwar naval action: Unbeknownst to the ships at sea, the USS Constitution captured HMS Levant and HMS Cyane on February 20, 1815, three days after Congress ratified the war's end. The action took place off the coast of Morocco.
- Link to Barbary Wars: "In 1812, the new Dey of Algiers, Hajji Ali, rejected the American tribute negotiated in the 1795 treaty as insufficient and declared war on the United States. Algerian corsairs captured an American ship several weeks later. In accordance with an agreement between the Dey and British diplomats, the Algerian declaration was timed to coincide with the start of the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States. The war with Britain prevented the U.S. Government from either confronting Algerian forces or ransoming U.S. captives in Algiers. Once the Treaty of Ghent ended war with Britain, President James Madison was able to request that Congress declare an authorization of force on Algiers, which it did on March 3, 1815. The U.S. Navy, greatly increased in size after the War of 1812, was able send an entire squadron, led by Commodore Stephen Decatur, to the Mediterranean." From the State Department Office of the Historian.
- That other Tangier: "British forces used Tangier as a base during the War of 1812…" Tangier Island, Virginia, that is, in the Chesapeake Bay.
- Elsewhere in the Chesapeake, at Baltimore's Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key was inspired to compose The Star Spangled Banner, which became the US national anthem. He kept the tune – but it's a good thing he changed the words – from a previous composition, When the Warrior Returns, his ode to the sailors of an earlier Barbary War. Otherwise we'd still be singing "O say can you see" how the Navy "stained the blue waters with infidel blood…"