University of Texas, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History

William Eaton Papers, 1794-1807

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Eaton, William, 1764-1811
Title: William Eaton papers
Dates: 1794-1807
Abstract: 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.
Identification: urn:taro:utexas.cah.03133
Extent: 1 inch
Language: English .
Repository: Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Note

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.

Scope and Contents

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.


Conditions Governing Access

A portion of this collection is restricted; contact repository for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

There are no use restrictions on this collection. Publisher is responsible for complying with copyright law.

Index Terms

Personal Names
Adams, John, 1735-1826.
Eaton, William, 1764-1811
Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826.
Madison, James, 1749-1812
Corporate Names
United States. Department of State
Diplomatic and consular service
International relations
United States

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

William Eaton Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Accession Number(s)


Processing Information

This collection was processed by Ryder Kouba, February 2012.

Detailed Description of the Collection


2F301 [SRH1230007337] RESTRICTED
Conditions Governing Access
to McKnight, James; and on same to Eaton, September 5, 1802
Unidentified author, marked P. S., June 20, 1801
Unidentified author "Danish consul." Copy to Eaton, July 11, 1801
Adams, John and Pickering, Timothy to Richard O'Brien, Eaton, and James Leander Cathcart, December 18, 1798
Barrow, Samuel to Eaton, December 26, 1801
Cathcart, James Leander to Eaton, June 29, 1801
Dale, Richard to Eaton, November 14, 1801
Eaton, Eliza Sikes to Eaton, February 14, 1807
Field book and map of 10,000 acres granted to Eaton by Massachusetts legislature, 1807
Henry, James W. to Eaton, April 11, 1796
Humbert, J. to Eaton, December 30, 1801
Humphreys, David to Eaton, December 30, 1801
Jefferson, Thomas to Eaton, March 16, 1806
King, Rufus to Eaton, November 24, 1800; May 21, 1801; March 16, 1802
Lincoln, Levi to Eaton, March 21, 1801
Madison, James to Eaton, October 18, 1801 and April 14, 1803
Marshall, John to Eaton, August 30, 1800
Massachusetts deed for Eaton's Aroostock lands, January 1808
Massachusetts legislature, Senate, resolution giving Eaton land, February 25, 1806
Mendrice, Frances Co. to Eaton, January 27, 1805
Missett S. to Eaton, January 8, 1805
Murray, Alexander to John Barry, February 12, 1799
to Eaton, August 18, 1802
Pickering, Timothy to Eaton, December 4, 1795 and January 11, 1800
Smith, William to Eaton, June 11, 1801
U. S. Treaty, convention between the United States and Hamet Caramanly Bashaw of Tripoli. Signed at Alexandria, Egypt, February 23, 1805
Wayne, Anthony to Eaton, January 21, 1794
Washington, George, printed and handwritten invitation to Eaton, April 15, 1794
2W139 [SRH1230020295] RESTRICTED
Conditions Governing Access
Washington, George, appointment for Eaton as Captain in the Fourth sub Legion, March 19, 1793
Adams, John, appointment of Eaton as U. S. Consul for Tunisia, July 10, 1797