Consul in France, Diplomat in Barbary

Priscilla H. Roberts and Richard S. Roberts

This is the first-ever biography of Thomas Barclay, the first American consul to serve the United States abroad and the man who, in 1786, successfully negotiated our first treaty with an Arab, African, or Muslim nation. It is the story of an Ulster-born immigrant building his fortune as a Philadelphia merchant in international trade, then losing it as he gives priority to his adopted country's fight to gain and build on independence. It tells how, after emigrating to Philadelphia in the 1760s, Barclay became a leading member of the Irish community, a successful merchant/ship owner, and political activist. This biography follows his move to France with his wife and three small children when the Continental Congress named him consul in 1781. There, before an American consular service existed, before Congress knew a consul from a consul general, Thomas Barclay did what-ever was needed, wherever it was needed. To shipping, naval, and other tasks, Congress added an audit of American public expenditures in Europe since 1776. Then Jefferson and Adams added diplomacy in Barbary, where Barclay negotiated a rare tribute-free treaty of commerce and amity with the Sultan of Morocco. His personal relationships with Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson reveal as much about them as about him. On assignment for President Washington in 1793, he became the first American diplomat to die in a foreign country in the service of the United States.


As America's first successful diplomat in a Muslim country, Thomas Barclay takes on special interest today. In the papers of the Founding Fathers words such as prudence, intelligence, diligence, integrity, honesty, and honor are associated with him. But he has not received his due from historians because information about him is spare, scarce, and scattered-there are no extant Barclay letterbooks or large collections of private papers. The authors scoured archives in London, Paris, Bordeaux, Lorient, Amsterdam, Madrid, Lisbon, Tangier, Washington, Philadelphia, Bucks County (PA), and Bethany (WV) for documents that help Thomas Barclay step from history's shadow to take his rightful place among the dramatis personae of the Revolutionary era.


This work presents a fresh perspective for anyone interested in Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson; in the shipping business, resistance politics, and Irish Americans in pre-independence Philadelphia; in early American foreign affairs in Europe and North Africa; in consular affairs before there was a U.S. Consular Service; and in the international trade issues faced by America and her merchants and diplomats after the Revolutionary War.



Jacket illustration: Thomas Barclay, undated portrait, artist unknown. Courtesy of the Patricia Barclay Trewartha family.


South East View of Mogodor. Drawn by James Grey Jackson, plate 10 in "An Account of the Empire of Marocco and the District of Sus..." London, 1809. Courtesy of the Tangier American Legation Museum Library.

9781611460513 (R&L)
9780934223980 (AUP)
Lehigh University Press - Thomas Barclay (1728-1793)