The Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. I., No. 3, November, 1834 online

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Produced by Ron Swanson



Au gré de nos desirs bien plus qu'au gré des vents.
_Crebillon's Electre_.

As _we_ will, and not as the winds will.





The _Publisher and Proprietor_, has made such arrangements for the
management of the _Editorial Department_, as he hopes will be
satisfactory to his patrons. If the circulation of the "Messenger"
continues to increase, he has it in contemplation not only to secure
regular able contributions, but also to embellish some of his monthly
numbers with handsome lithographic drawings and engravings; but the
cost cannot be prudently incurred without an enlargement of his list.
He therefore hopes that such of his friends as feel an interest in the
successful prosecution of this first serious attempt to establish a
literary periodical south of the Potomac, will aid him in extending its
circulation - as the best means of ensuring its continuance and utility.
_If each of his subscribers would only procure an additional one_, the
work would not only be _firmly established_ but greatly _increased in
value_. The Publisher avails himself of this opportunity to inform the
correspondent of the Portland Advertiser that the latter is mistaken in
respect to the place of his nativity. The Publisher did once reside in
the city of Boston, and can freely bear testimony to the high
character, the generous feelings and the noble accomplishments of its
citizens - but he was only a sojourner among them; having been born, and
for the most part reared in the Ancient Dominion. If he were not a full
blooded Tuckahoe Virginian, he would like to be a Bostonian.

All communications of every kind must be addressed to T. W. White,
_Publisher and Proprietor_.

The issuing of the present number has been delayed in consequence of
the change to a _monthly_ instead of a semi-monthly publication. The
Publisher hopes that the change will be agreeable to his patrons. He is
firmly persuaded of its expediency in various respects.

For the Southern Literary Messenger.


And Present Condition of Tripoli, with some accounts of the other
Barbary States.

No. I.

_Washington City, November, 1834_.

Agreeably to my promise, I send you the sheets containing _Sketches of
the History and present condition of Tripoli, with some account of the
other States of Barbary_ which may perhaps be found worthy of insertion
in the "SOUTHERN LITERARY MESSENGER." They are the fruits of researches
made for my amusement, into the history of those countries, and to
which I was led by information accidentally obtained respecting the
present condition of affairs in Tripoli.

The north of Africa has so long remained in comparative obscurity,
exercising little or no influence in the grand game of national
contests, which forms the subject of our most interesting modern
histories, that works relating to it are few in number, and generally
bear unequivocal marks of the ignorance or prejudice of the writers.
For this reason, it is difficult to obtain a correct statement of
facts, and almost always impossible to arrive at motives; persons
therefore who estimate the propriety of labor, by calculating the value
of its produce, would easily be diverted from such researches, although
they might not object to profit by their results.

I have endeavored to arrange into a regular series, the facts thus
collected, passing lightly over those which are the most generally
known, and introducing occasionally a few observations, which will not
I hope be considered obtrusive. Yet I fear that I shall not succeed in
communicating any interest to the pages of your periodical; the details
of selfish intrigue, murder and treachery, never relieved by incidents
springing from generous motives, which constitute the history of the
north African nations, are, I must confess, more likely to excite
disgust than pleasurable emotions; still they exhibit man as he is,
without the light of civilization, or the restraints of moral duty; and
may serve to attach us still more strongly to those social and
political institutions, without which a similar state of things might
exist among ourselves.

I am, sir, &c. R. G.

The countries lying on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, and
usually denominated the Barbary States, have for many ages been almost
forgotten by the christian world, or only remembered as the abode of
pirates and ruffians. The maritime powers of Europe seem however at
length to have recollected, that at a short distance from them, are
territories of great extent and fertility, capable of producing most of
the articles now obtained, by means of long and dangerous voyages, from
the East and West Indies, and offering every facility for commercial
intercourse, with the countless nations inhabiting the vast continent
of Africa. These territories are, it is true, already inhabited by
people living under acknowledged governments; but a continued course of
misconduct, which experience has shewn to be incorrigible, has caused
them to be regarded as completely out of the pale of civilization; and
if they retain their independence much longer, it will be rather from
jealousy among their powerful neighbors than from any respect for their
claims to nationality.

The French have already set the example, by the conquest of the
principal places on the coast of Algiers, and although they have as yet
penetrated but a short distance into the interior, there can be no
doubt that steady and well directed efforts, such as they are now
pursuing, must eventually secure to them the possession of a large and
valuable tract. The British have indeed protested strongly against the
retention of these conquests, but never, that we have heard, on the
grounds of injustice to the vanquished party.

Tunis, the next in power as in situation to Algiers, would be even a
more important acquisition in a political or commercial point of view,
than Algiers; but it would not probably be reduced without an immense
expenditure of blood and treasure; for its resources are comparatively
great, and its government efficient and well organised. Besides which,
it has not of late afforded any cause for dissatisfaction, having
yielded with a good grace to the necessity of abandoning piracy, and
evinced a disposition to seek for wealth, by the surer means of
industry and commerce.

Tripoli, the other and least important of the States of Barbary, had,
until lately, pursued a course similar to that of Tunis, and its
condition was highly prosperous; it was in fact the first to desist
from piratical cruises, for which the world is indebted in a great
measure to the efforts of the United States, during the years 1803 and
4. But dissensions in the family of the sovereign have at length
produced a civil war, in which the foreign residents suffer as well as
the natives; and thus have motives, at least specious, for foreign
interference, been given to the two powers which divide between them
the empire of the Mediterranean. The French, as usual, took the lead,
by sending a squadron to Tripoli, which in 1828 dictated the terms of
the redress to be made to their citizens; and they have since that
period, by the aid given indirectly to one of the contending parties,
obtained a degree of ascendancy which has excited the jealousy of Great

These circumstances induced inquiries into the present condition of
Tripoli, which naturally led to others respecting its past history and
that of the neighboring states; and the results being considered
interesting, have been thrown together in the following form.

* * * * *

The north-western part of the African continent is traversed by a lofty
and extensive mountain range, which is known to us by its classic name
of ATLAS. On the northern and western sides, these ridges extend to the
sea, forming by their projections numerous capes and promontories,
which have been the dread of navigators in every age. On the south,
they in many places disappear as abruptly in the great ocean of sand
called _Zahara_, or the Desert, which stretches across the continent,
from the Atlantic to the valley of the Nile, and the shores of the
Mediterranean; the descent is, however, generally gradual, leaving
tracts of productive soil between the steeps and the desert; these
tracts, though not adapted for the growth of grain, are so highly
favorable to the Palm, that they are known by the name of
Bilad-oul-jerrid, or the Country of Dates.

The mountains are highest and most continuous in the west; towards the
east they become gradually lower, and there are many breaks in the
chain, through which the sand makes its way from the desert; at length
they disappear entirely beyond the great bend which the coast of the
Mediterranean makes to the southward near Tripoli; and the sand having
no barrier to check its advances, is rolled by the prevailing southerly
winds to the shores of the sea.

Thus bounded and cut off from other habitable countries by sea and by
sand, the region of the Atlas may be considered as one vast island; and
these circumstances of its situation should ever be borne in mind, in
moral or political speculations concerning it. Hence it was, that
civilization did not gradually overspread it from the east, and that it
could only be colonized by maritime powers; that neither the Egyptians,
the Persians, nor the Macedonians effected its conquest, as they
neither possessed adequate fleets, nor troops accustomed to the
peculiar difficulties and dangers of the desert; and that the Arabs
alone, a people bred among trackless wastes of sand, ventured to invade
it without assistance from the sea. Indeed the little that is known of
the geology of northern Africa, encourages the supposition that at some
past period this country was encircled by water; and ingenious attempts
have been made to prove that it was in reality the famed island of
Atlantis, which was vainly sought by the ancient navigators in the
ocean beyond the Pillars of Hercules.

The climate and soil of these countries are various, as may be
suspected from their situation and the inequalities of their surface.
Of the interior we know but little, and deductions from facts must
supply the place of observation. On some of the mountains the snow
remains during nearly the whole year, while the valleys and plains have
yielded sugar, coffee and other productions, which require regular and
intense heat. Grain is raised abundantly in the west, and the olives,
grapes and figs of Barbary have been celebrated at all times. Of its
general fertility, the immense population which it formerly supported
is a sufficient evidence, while the athletic forms of the inhabitants
prove its salubrity. But few rivers flow from the interior into the
sea, and the largest streams are said to proceed from the southern
sides of the mountains, whence they are discharged into lakes or
dispersed in the sand.

The coasts, as already observed, are precipitous and dangerous,
particularly in autumn, during the prevalence of northerly winds; they
are however free from shoals and other hidden difficulties, and have
many ports which are safe and easy of access, while others might be
rendered so by art. It is likewise certain, that many of the existing
obstacles to the navigation would disappear, if a proper survey were
made, and lighthouses were established where requisite; for the charts
now in use are very defective, and no provisions whatever are made by
the governments of the country; this, however, there is reason to
believe, will ere long be corrected.

The superficial extent of Barbary cannot be as yet calculated; we know
that it has coasts of five or six hundred miles on the Atlantic, and of
about fifteen hundred on the Mediterranean; but the breadth between the
sea and the desert varies considerably, and is no where correctly laid
down. It is probably greatest in the vicinity of the Atlantic and in
Tunis, where it may be one hundred and fifty miles; in Algiers, Shaler
considers it generally to be about sixty miles; but Tripoli is merely a
narrow strip of soil, on the Mediterranean, in many places traversed by
rocky spurs from the mountains, and tracts of sand from the desert.

The materials for the early history of this country are very imperfect;
we possess no works of ancient native writers, and the accounts from
which all our information must be drawn, appear in the form of episode,
in those of Greek and Roman historians. It seems to have been
originally inhabited by fierce and intractable tribes, of which those
most advanced in civilization, had only reached the pastoral state.
Herodotus gives us the names of many of these tribes, which it is now
useless to enumerate; those of the eastern part were comprehended by
the Greeks under the general name of _Nomades_, or wanderers, which,
unknown among themselves, was afterwards converted by the Romans into
_Numidians_, and became their distinctive national appellation; the
_Mauri_ occupied the western part, and this term, (in English,
_Moors_,) is now applied by Europeans to all the natives of Barbary.

The enterprising Greeks and Phoenicians did not allow the advantages
offered by northern Africa to be neglected, and they established
colonies on its coast, which attained a high degree of prosperity. The
Greeks made their settlements on the sterile shore now forming the
eastern part of Tripoli, and lying immediately south of Peloponnesus,
where the Mediterranean forms a gulf anciently called the Great Syrtis.
As the surrounding country is by no means productive, these colonies
could only have been supported by trade with the interior of Africa;
and were probably the resort of caravans bringing gold, gums, spices,
ivory and other precious articles, to be exchanged for the manufactures
of Greece and Asia. Such a traffic, we know from the accounts of late
travellers, is still carried on from Tripoli; and the part of the
desert lying south of it is better adapted than any other for that
purpose, on account of the many _oases_, or islands of cultivable soil,
which are scattered through it, offering rest, and a supply of food and
water to the caravans while on their march. By these means, the Greek
cities acquired great wealth, and became the seats of luxury,
refinement and science; and stupendous ruins, the haunt of the jackal
and hyæna, still remain to attest the former splendor of Cyrene and

The more adventurous Phoenicians made their settlements farther
westward, in the fertile region now composing the states of Algiers,
Tunis and a small part of Tripoli; they flourished even more than those
of the Greeks, and became the principal seats of commerce in the
western Mediterranean. Of many of these colonies, history has preserved
to us the names, and nothing more; one of them, however, far outshone
the rest, and its struggle for supremacy with Rome, forms the subject
of one of the most interesting portions of ancient history. Of
Carthage, perhaps it might be as Sallust conceived, "_melius silere
quam parum dicere_," better to say nothing, than only a little; yet a
few remarks on its political system and the results of that system,
will serve to illustrate the condition of northern Africa during this
early period.

The situation of this celebrated city near the narrow streight which
separates Sicily from Africa, was admirably adapted for commerce with
either division of the Mediterranean; its rivals, Agrigentum and
Syracuse, possessed indeed the same advantages of site; but Carthage,
besides a soil equally fertile, had the superiority in her intercourse
with the central parts of the continent. Of her constitution we know
too little to be able to judge what share her government may have had
in her advancement; there is every probability, however, that wealth
had great influence in her councils, and that its acquisition was at
first the great end of individual and national enterprise. The first
object of her statesmen seems to have been, to extend her dominion over
the territory at home; this was attempted by means of colonies
judiciously placed, which by amalgamation with the native tribes, and
by the example of the advantages to be derived from fixed habits, and a
respect for rights to landed property, were gradually subduing and
civilizing the rude aboriginals; these could not from their habits be
easily extirpated, as they might retire to the mountains, or if there
pressed, find a safe retreat in the _land of dates_ behind; they were
moreover valuable as soldiers, and as carriers across the desert. The
other Phoenician colonies, though many of them were never subject to
Carthage, yet all acknowledged her as the head of their league, and she
relied upon their support, in case of invasion from abroad. But they
too were to be reduced, and gradually incorporated into the
Carthaginian empire; things were rapidly advancing towards this
consummation when Carthage fell.

The other grand object of their policy was the subjection of the whole
country surrounding the western half of the Mediterranean, which was to
be carried on by the quiet and sure means of trading colonies,
established at convenient places on the coast. Thus, was the African
shore to the streights of Gibraltar, that of Spain, the south of Gaul
and the neighboring islands, dotted with colonies from Carthage, each
of which had a territory behind, constantly increasing in extent. To
support these establishments fleets were necessary, which could be
easily manned by a nation having so extensive a trade by sea, while the
native tribes of the interior furnished the hardiest soldiers.

Yet with all this apparent strength, the feet of the Carthaginian
colossus were of clay; the wealth which enabled her to carry on this
system made offices venal, narrowed the minds of her citizens and
debased their character, while it excited the cupidity of her
neighbors. Mercenary troops she could hire, and was sure of their
fidelity while she paid them punctually; and with such, a general who
should succeed in gaining their confidence, might effect immense
results; but a succession of generals capable of doing this was not to
be expected; and a single defeat was likely to be attended by
depression and disorganization. She had, comparatively speaking, but
few citizens in her armies; but few persons who could be urged by
patriotism or interest in the public glory; and without such a class,
no nation can long sustain itself against extraordinary difficulties.
These defects would have ceased in time, when her possessions at home
had been consolidated, and the other cities had been reduced under her
government; but she was not destined to arrive at this point.

The prosperity of the north African nations, did not fail to excite the
jealousy and cupidity of surrounding powers, and accordingly we find
that all the great conquerors of the East formed plans for their
subjection. The Persians after conquering Egypt sent an army which took
and plundered Cyrene, but retired without proceeding farther. But
another project was formed against their independence by a conqueror
the most sagacious and successful who has ever yet appeared. Among the
commentaries left by Alexander of Macedon, as recorded by Diodorus
Siculus, (_Book_ xviii. _Chap._ 1.) was found a project for the
"invasion and subjection of the Carthaginians, and others dwelling on
the coasts of Africa, Spain and the adjacent islands; for which a
thousand ships were to be built, in the ports of Phoenicia, Syria,
Cilicia and Cyprus, larger than those of three tiers of oars; with
directions for carrying a straight and easy road along the shore of the
Mediterranean, from Egypt to the Pillars of Hercules." With such an
armament, and such a leader, it is highly probable that the project
could have been carried into effect; the Grecian colonies already
acknowledged his power, he was therefore secure of finding friends in
the most difficult part of the country, either for naval or land
operations; and the efficiency of his political arrangements in all
other cases, does not permit us to doubt, that he would have founded in
north Africa, a permanent and substantial empire. But this was not to
be; Alexander died in the early summer of life, and of those who shared
his dominions, no one was alone able to carry such a project into
effect, and each was too much engaged in securing his own part, for any
operation to have been conducted in concert.

While the designs of Carthage were advancing towards fulfilment, she
was gradually becoming a military state. Her fleets covered the sea,
often transporting a hundred and fifty thousand combatants, and her
armies of mercenary troops, led on by one of the most persevering and
ingenious leaders of whom we have any account, overran an immense
extent of territory, surmounting natural obstacles of the most
appalling character, and overthrowing enemies celebrated for their
skill and courage. But her commerce suffered, and the expenses of the
war exhausted her treasury. Of the other African cities, many had
declared and acted in favor of her enemies, while others were ready to
desert her when a favorable opportunity should offer. The native tribes
had acquired civilization sufficient to unite them, and to make them
aware of their own importance; their chieftains had become ambitious,
and Rome made offers to them which Carthage could never have advanced.

In this conjuncture, her long absent and long victorious army was
recalled, to meet the enemy on her own shore; but Hannibal had grown
old, and was routed at Zama; during his absence a generation had arisen
which knew him not, and banishment succeeded his defeat. The once proud
republic had lost all, and consented to a treaty, the ruinous terms of
which she was forced to receive as a boon, and did not dare infringe.
Her navy being destroyed, Spain and her other conquests soon fell into
the hands of the Romans, and at length the decree went forth "Carthago
delenda est." The fate of this renowned city is well known. Within a
century from the day on which Hannibal sent home the spoils taken at
Cannæ, the banished Roman Marius sought refuge among the desolate ruins
of Carthage.

The other Phoenician as well as the Greek colonies, submitted to the
conquerors on favorable terms; the chieftains of the wandering tribes
who had adhered to Rome, were rewarded by the titles of kings; and
enjoying the semblance of sovereignty over territories named by a
majority of the Roman Senate, served to keep each other, and the
cities, in check. In process of time, even this last shew of
independence disappeared, and the region of the Atlas finally became
one Roman province, under the appellation of Africa.

As a part of the Roman dominions, Africa reached its highest state of
civilization; the cultivation of the land was carried to so great an
extent, that it was considered the granary of the Mediterranean, and
the cities on its coast were the depots of a most extensive trade with
the interior of the continent. Carthage arose with additional splendor
from her ruins, and for more than eight hundred years continued to be
the capital of the province. The inhabitants retained their former
characters; those of the coast were ingenious and industrious; fond of
luxury and not celebrated for their good faith or moral character; the
mountaineers kept up their reputation for courage, and we read of few
battles gained by the Roman arms without the assistance of Numidian
archers, or Mauritanian cavalry. Nor were the Africans excluded from
office, for we find three of them successively filling the Imperial
throne. They embraced christianity with the rest of the empire under
Constantine, and churches innumerable marked the fervor of their
devotion. Their religious zeal was farther shown in the bloody
controversy between the orthodox and the Donatists, which desolated the
country during the fifth and sixth centuries of our æra, and nearly
extinguished the light of civilization. The invasion of the Vandals
soon after inflicted another blow upon its prosperity; these barbarians
were however soon reduced to submission by Belisarius, and Africa

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