A Guide to the William Eaton Papers, 1794-1807
Best known for serving as consul to Tunis, William Eaton (1764-1811) was born in Connecticut to a middle class farmer. At the age of sixteen, he ran away to join the Continental Army and served for three years. After his stint in the military, Eaton graduated from Dartmouth College in 1790, and worked as a clerk in the Vermont legislature for two years. In 1792, he returned to the military with a commission to the Legion of the United States.
In 1799, Eaton was appointed the U. S. Consul at Tunis, during a tumultuous period in the relationship between Tunis and the United States due to raids along the North African coast by Barbary pirates. President John Adams appointed Eaton to negotiate more agreeable terms with the bey of Tunis, following the rejection of a previous treaty by the U. S. Congress. In the two years it took Eaton to negotiate the treaty, the demands increased and Eaton came to believe that military intervention would be more effective for securing trade than paying tribute
Eaton was ordered to leave Tunis by the bey in 1811, having failed to reach an agreement; three years later he returned on a military mission following Tripoli’s declaration of war on the United States. He made contact with Hamet Caramanly and signed an agreement for cooperation in the war (though it was never ratified). With Caramanly, Eaton led a force of U. S. Marines and mercenaries across the Libyan desert to attack the city of Derne. Eaton’s attack on the city was successful, and he prepared to march on Tripoli until being informed that the U. S. Consul-General Tobis Lear reached a peace agreement. He returned home a hero welcome, though he was disillusioned with the treaty’s agreement to pay a ransom.
In 1807, Eaton served as the principle witness in the treason trial of Aaron Burr after having met with Burr several times, though his testimony did not convince the justices and Burr was acquitted.
Composed of letters, official documents, and treaties, the William Eaton Papers, 1794-1807, chronicle his career, notably his position as U. S. Consul for Tunisia. Distinguished correspondents include John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Marshall. Official documents relate to Eaton’s appointments as consul and captain as well as a land grant from the Massachusetts legislature. Written in English, Italian, and Arabic, the treaty is between the United States and Hamet Caramanly, the Bashaw of Tripoli in 1805.
This collection is restricted for security purposes.
William Eaton Papers, 1794-1807, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
This collection was processed by Ryder Kouba, February 2012.
Detailed Description of the Papers