Late 1798 a pirate raid near Sardinia, captured roughly 1000 people, mostly women and children. What role did one of these newly acquired slaves a 12 year old girl, play in America's first Foreign War? The First Barbary War.

Secretary of State James Madison refers to her twice in correspondence.

To James Madison from Jacob Wagner, 7 September 1801

It is of a singular texture. I hope we shall not be obliged also to pay the ransom of the Grandaughter of the Sicilian Count, the history of whom is given in his letter of the 20th.

From James Madison to George Davis, 26 December 1803

Whatsoever may be Mr. Eaton’s individual claims upon the Sardinian Lady he ransomed,4 you will carefully abstain from representing either to the Regency of Tunis, or otherwise, that the United States possess any right or claim to hold her in the condition of a Slave. It has not been considered how far Mr. Eaton, could charge her ransom to the public, nor is it known that he intends to do so: but it is certain that if they are chargable with it, it would neither comport with their sentiments nor those of their Government to enforce any claim involving the disposal of her person. It therefore depends upon your own judgement how far as an individual the friend of Mr. Eaton, or his Agent, you will take any steps, and what they may be for securing his reimbursement.

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    This isn't a trivia quiz site. If you want to post an answer telling the story of Anna Maria Porcile and explaining the part she played in the build-up to the First Barbary War, then you should probably do so. Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 17:56
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    How can any answer be more authoritative than the question? What are you looking for in an answer?
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 18:08
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    I have nominated this question for re-opening. At first, I whole-heartedly agreed that this sounded very trivial, however with the edited in information, I find myself interested in possible answers.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 18:34
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    Just google "Anna Maria Porcile". @JMS: VtC as trivia as well. IMO you should explain what you're searching for beyond what turns up in such a search. Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 21:02
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    @TheHonRose That would be my understanding too (we seem to have read the same books!). :) Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 22:10

1 Answer 1


To summarize, the basic involvement of Anna Maria Porcile was that, as an enslaved individual whose family was too poor to buy her freedom, she was taken in by the then US consul in Tunis, William Eaton. He first 'guaranteed' her purchaser's debt, giving her family 6 months to pay for her release, but when they failed to be able to do so, he borrowed the approximately $5,000 dollars from a local merchant, Unis bin Unis, to gain her release. This debt was added to other debts he had accrued while trying to appease the local ruler, the Bey of Tunis,Hammuda Pasha, and supporting his plan to back Hamet Caramelli in a coup to replace his brother the current Pasha of Tripoli, Yusef Caramelli. This outstanding debt was later used as leverage to remove Eaton as consul when Commodore Morris entered Tunis and was confronted by the Beys minister and the creditor Unis over the amount owed. The Bey asked Morris to remove Eaton as consul, asking for him to be replaced with someone "with a disposition more congenial to Barbary interests."3

Eaton was removed as consul on March 3, 1803. But he would return to the region later, after gathering support for his plan to place Hamet in power. He would, with his 8 marines and force of 500 mercenaries and backers of Hamet, become the hero of the Battle of Derna, which some credit with the final act which pressured the Pasha of Tripoli to sign a peace treaty and surrender the captured sailors from the Philadelphia.

So, though her presence is trivial to the war, the debt Eaton accrued while rescuing her from slavery contributed to his removal from the post of consul which led to his availability for the first US action on foreign soil (and first US attempted coup on foreign soil), the Battle of Derna.


There have been books written about the Barbary Wars, and the actions involved, several of which include:

(This source claims the debt was 34,000, and that Eaton raised 12,000 by selling the Gloria for $7000 and other belongings for $5000, Morris made up difference of $22,000.)

(from 2005,has several pages discussing the Porcile girl, and claim the entire debt amount was 22,000)

A recent book from 2017, details the amounts involved in the $22,000 dollar figure:

  • $10,000 for the bribe to the Sapitapa
  • $5,000 for the Porcile girl
  • $7,000 for the undeliverd cargo on the Anna Maria

  • THE UNITED STATES AND THE BARBARY STATES , An extensive article in the Atlantic Monthly, VOL. VI.,DECEMBER, 1860., is essentially an overview of the events and includes some good background concerning the attempts at appeasement and Eatons' actions at the time.

Other Sources:

There are many US public records which relate information concerning these events, and concerning Eatons' ongoing attempts at getting reimbursement for his expenditures while consul of Tunis:

Published in 1834, this contains many letters concerning Congress and State Department discussion of claims of Eaton concerning expenses he made while in Tunis, including the Porcile girl.

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    Many Kudos for the excellent sourcing.
    – Twelfth
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 19:09
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    There are more, but many are just discussing the same debates in congress concerning his expenses, so I left them out as mainly irrelevant to the question as posed.
    – justCal
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 19:12
  • Very thorough. A few background facts for color. 1799 The US agreed to pay Tripoli annual payments in exchange for free passage of it's merchant fleet. In 1800 payments to the Barbary Coast pirates amounted to 20% of the annual United States budget. 1801 Thomas Jefferson refuses to pay annual payment to Tripoli which kicks off the first Barbary War.
    – user27618
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 20:00
  • Eaton didn't just lead the ground forces in the First Barbary Coast War. He was dispatched by Jefferson with a concept and no money and no troops with one ship to transport him. With that he raised 500 european mercenaries, and 1000 Arabs with bluster, promises and threats, and he ended up capturing Libya's second largest city.
    – user27618
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 20:13
  • Eaton's reason for ransoming the 12 year old Sardinian noble girl: "because being in my house, both the honor of my flag and my own sensibility dictated it."
    – user27618
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 20:16

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