Richard O'Brien, US Consul-General to Algiers

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Richard Henry O'Brien

Birthdate: (66)
Death: 1824 (66)
Immediate Family:

Son of William O'Brien and Rebecca O'Brien
Husband of Elizabeth Maria "Betsy" O'Brien
Father of George Africanus O'Brien

Managed by: Private User
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About Richard O'Brien, US Consul-General to Algiers

Richard O'Brien was a privateer during the American Revolution and was later appointed US Consul-General to the Barbary state of Algiers. He had previously spent 10 years as a slave in Algiers after his ship was captured. During the period of his captivity, he learned the language, represented the interests of the other prisoners, and became a clerk of the Dey.

Not until the Presidencies of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams & James Madison, would the threat to American ships and shipping finally be dealt with and resolved, during the 'Barbary Wars' of the early 19th-century. However, prior to these events, literally thousands of individuals would rot, starve, die or experience years of servitude in North Africa, such as the crew of the Philadelphia ship, Dauphin, taken captive west of Lisbon, on the 30th of July, 1785.

The master of the Dauphin, Richard O'Brien (1758-1824), would be in bondage to the Muslims for some ten years, after which he would return as Consul-General to Algiers. An outbreak of the bubonic plague alone, would bring about the demise of 200 Christian slaves, from January to May of 1787, including crew members of the Dauphin. O'Brien's correspondence and journal, written while a captive in North Africa, is both informative & essential, in understanding those trying times in American history. He would eventually return to Philadelphia, serve in the state legislature and die in Pennsylvania in 1824.

While a prisoner in Algiers, O'Brien would write the following entry in his journal, for February 19, 1790:

"Picture to yourself your Brother Citizens or Unfortunate Countrymen in the Algerian State Prisons or Damned Castile, and starved 2/3rd's and Naked. ..The Chains of their Legs, and under the Lash...Beat in such a Manner as to Shock Humanity...No Prospects of ever being Redeemed or Restored to their Native Land & Never to See their Wives & Families...Viewing and Considering of their approaching Exit, where 6 of their Dear Country-man is buried with thousands of other Christian Slaves of all nations...Once a Citizen of the United States of America, but at present the Most Miserable Slave in Algiers."

In 1793 a brief Portuguese-Algerian truce exposed American merchant ships to capture by Barbary pirates, forcing the United States, which had thus far only managed to conclude a treaty with Morocco, to engage in negotiations with the other Barbary States. In 1795, The U.S. Government dispatched diplomats Joel Barlow, Joseph Donaldson, and Richard O’Brien to North Africa and successfully concluded treaties with the states of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. Under the terms of these treaties, the United States agreed to pay tribute to these states. The treaty with Algiers freed 83 American sailors.

Richard O'Brien took up his consular duties in Algiers on January 26, 1798.

On June 5, 1798, the Philadelphia brig Mary, with its cargo and crew was captured by Algierian pirates, causing Richard O'Brien to write from Algiers and "forewarn all citizens of the United States of the danger they run in risqueing {sic} their liberty, vessels, and property..." (The Philadelphia True American & Commercial Advertiser, January 18, 1799).

Eventually Richard O'Brien advised the US government that the only way to ensure safe passage of American merchant ships was to negotiate through the mouth of a canon. He continued to represent US interests during the First Barbary War both as consul and as advisor to his replacement.

Note: As a consequence of his fondness for north Africa, he gave his son George the middle name "Africanus".

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Richard O'Brien, US Consul-General to Algiers's Timeline

Age 44
Age 66