Jonathan Cowdery’s American Captives in Tripoli (1806)
The 307 crew members of the frigate Philadelphia spent nineteen months in captivity in Tripoli (from October 1803 to June 1805) during the first US-Barbary War. They were divided by rank and the officers were treated with the respect and privileges due to their status. Jonathan Cowdery’s account reflects his own and the other officers’ experience of captivity and conveys a more complex view of the historical situation and of Tripoli than the formulaic tradition of the Barbary captivity genre generally provides. This essay offers a close reading of the account and shows how its insider perspective, however unusual, was corroborated by contemporary naval and consular archives.