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John Burnham papers

Identifier: MSS-0233

Scope and Contents note

These papers consist of correspondence, congressional reports, and other materials. The majority deal with Burnham's capture by an Algerian corsair off Gibraltar, his captivity in Algiers, 1793-1794, his attempts to secure his release, and his subsequent efforts to receive reimbursement from the U.S. Congress for the amount of the ransom paid. Some of the papers; however, deal with other matters, including Burnham's voyages, and family matters.


  • 1792-1832/1943?


Biographical/Historical note

John Burnham was probably born in Wethersfield, Connecticut on October 15, 1758. At age fifteen he volunteered for service in the Revolutionary Army and served for two years in this capacity. In 1777, Congress called him to service and he enlisted for a three year period. Also, in 1777, he was taken prisoner by the British and held on the British ship Good Intent which was lying off of the coast of New York. After his release from the ship, he served out the duration of his term of enlistment. His time of service consisted of 5 years in all.

After peace with Great Britain, Burnham became a sailor. He served as master of the ship Camilla for a period of time and accumulated a small fortune. In April of 1792, he took command of the ship Hope. On October 6, 1793, while transporting cargo to Malaga, he was taken prisoner near the straits of Gibraltar by an Algerian corsair, stripped of all his possessions, and made a slave.

While in captivity, Burnham wrote the British consul in Cadiz, Spain, James Duff (a personal friend), to ask that Duff attempt to secure his release. Eventually, Duff went to Algiers with the sum of $4,400 which he gave to the Swedish consul. The Swedish consul then secured Burnham's release in April 1794, after six months of imprisonment. After his release, Burnham may have suffered from a form of paralysis caused by his ill-treatment during his captivity. From 1794 until at least 1832 Burnham sought reimbursement from Congress for the ransom paid to secure his release.

On his return from Algiers, Burnham went to Philadelphia and interceded with the government to arrange the release of other Americans remaining in Algiers. He was given an audience with President Washington for this purpose. Burnam married Barbara McCarthy, daughter of Judge McCarthy and Mrs. McCarthy (Caroline Lanford), all of Wethersfield, Connecticut, on October 15, 1798. Burnham and his wife had at least one daughter- Caroline Duff Burnham. In later life Burnham lived in Auburn, New York. He died on October 7, 1837.


0.4 Linear Feet (105 items)

Language of Materials



Correspondence and other material relating to the captivity of Captain John Burnham in Algiers, 1793-94, his attempts to buy his freedom and subsequent efforts to secure reimbursement from Congress.


gift of W. H. Mitchell, 1969


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Processed by

Lloyd W. Bardell
Guide to the John Burnham Papers
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections Repository

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0266