May 18

The Perdicaris Affair

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 12:01 AM

In recent years, the abductions abroad of Americans or nationals of other countries by revolutionary groups, pirates, or bandits for reasons of politics, terror, or simple ransom has challenged the ability of governments to respond in a rapid and effective manner.

President Theodore Roosevelt faced such a situation on May 18, 1904 when in Tangier, Morocco, a bandit named Raisuli kidnapped a U.S. citizen, Mr. Ion Perdicaris, and his stepson, and held them for ransom in a pale repetition of the days of the Barbary pirates. In a larger context, the inability of the Sultan of Morocco to deal with bandits such as Raisouli was not conducive in allaying the fears of the many Christians residing in Tangiers, who became increasingly apprehensive of an outbreak against them.

In view of these circumstances, Rear Admiral French E. Chadwick, U.S. Navy, Commander in Chief, South Atlantic Squadron, was ordered by telegraphic instructions of 27 May 1904 to proceed with his squadron of four warships to Tangier to access the gravity of the situation. The squadron arrived off Tangier three days later and Admiral Chadwick, in company with the American Consul General, called upon the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Morocco. Meanwhile, the U.S. European Squadron, under Rear Admiral Theodore F. Jewell, U.S. Navy, was also ordered to proceed with his three warships to Tangier, and reached the port on 1 June. A total of seven American warships with Marine detachments now lay at anchor off the Moroccan coast.

The American Consul at Tangier believed the situation instigated by the bandit Raisuli warranted the establishment of a suitable Marine guard at the Consulate, to which Admiral Chadwick agreed. A detachment of Marines from the armored cruiser Brooklyn under the command of Captain John T. Myers, USMC, went ashore at Tangier on 30 May 1904 and remained until 26 June, when they were withdrawn. Captain Myers, or “Handsome Jack” as he was popularly known, had been a hero of the defense of the Legation Quarter in Peking during the earlier Boxer Rebellion.

Ironically, although President Roosevelt had made it abundantly clear that the American Government “wanted Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead,” an agreement had been reached privately between personal representatives of Mr. Perdicaris and Raisuli, which resulted in the American’s release, unharmed, in late June. The Navy warships off Tangier and the Marine guard at the American consulate probably had done little to influence the outcome of what became known as the “Perdicaris Affair,” but their presence undoubtedly allayed the worst fears of the resident Christian community, and caused the American Consul at Tangier to sleep a bit more soundly.

 
 
 
  • Jim Valle

    The Perdicaris Affair became the inspiration for a satirical play by George Bernard Shaw entitled “Captain Brassbound’s Conversion”.
    In one scene the highly assertive captain of an American armored cruiser is cornered by an equally assertive Englishwoman.
    “Is it true, Captain, that there are no women on board your ship”?
    “Yes, mam’am, that’s so”.
    “My word, Captain, however do you manage without women”?
    “Why ma’am, sometimes we feel that deprivation most keenly!”

  • http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/23504/The-Wind-and-the-Lion/ Marc DeLamater

    The Perdicaris Affair also became the basus for the highly-fictionalized 1975 film “The Wind and the Lion”, starring Sea Connery as the the Raisuli, Candice Bergen as a Mrs. Ion Perdicaris, and Brian Keith as Teeddy Roosevelt. Director John Milius wrote the screenplay based on an “American Heritage” article on the incident by Barbara Tuchman.

    See also:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wind_and_the_Lion

  • Steven Hintz

    And a ripping good movie it is, too . . . even though it is not good history.