Morocco

A CARAVAN ARRIVING on the outskirts of the city of Morocco in North Africa as depicted in this drawing by author Edwin Lord Weeks were also a common site in Tripoli, Libya, during the time Cuthbert Jones served as U.S. Consul. He was appointed to the post by President U.S. Grant.  

(50th in a Series)  

In August 1876, the Catahoula News in Harrisonburg reported a story that drew the interest of just about everyone:  

“Cuthbert Jones, son of Mrs. Laura Jones, of our parish, who has been in Europe a number of years attending the Heidelberg University, having completed his education returned to Washington, where a week or ten days since he received from President Grant the appointment of consul to Tripoli, an office of dignity and handsome salary.”  

The news was a shocker.  

Cuthbert was wanted for murder in Louisiana for the 1870 killing of General St. John Richardson Liddell aboard the steamboat St. Mary on the Black River. Cuthbert’s father and brother were involved in the shooting, too, and both were murdered by a mob two weeks later in Harrisonburg. Cuthbert escaped, went to New Orleans and met up with his mother before returning with her to Europe.  

The murders of Cuthbert’s father, Col. Charles Jones, and brother, Willie, ended a 24-year feud between Jones and General Liddell. Six people died in the bloody dispute over time.  

Cuthbert knew that the mob intended to kill him, too, and although his trial was moved from Catahoula Parish to Jefferson Parish following action by the Louisiana Legislature, Cuthbert quietly left New Orleans in 1870 and until the article appeared in the Catahoula News in 1876, most thought they would never hear from Cuthbert again.  

In a letter published in a newspaper in 1885, Cuthbert spoke of the feud: “A tragedy, or a series of tragedies, for which I was in no wise responsible, had determined me to exile myself and live abroad until the lapse of years had cooled passion and healed resentment. This I did at the sacrifice of wealth and prosperity.”  

His education was one reason he got the appointment to Tripoli.  

“I am something of a linguist,” Cuthbert wrote in the letter, “speaking French, German, Italian, Spanish and Arabic, as well as English.”  

Politics had a role, too, as President U.S. Grant was a Republican as was Cuthbert’s late father, Col. Jones. Political appointments represent rewards for service or support from those in power.  

At the time Cuthbert was appointed, northern Africa was a place of great interest to Americans. Tripoli is located on the northern coast of Libya on the Mediterranean Sea south of Sicily. To the east along the shoreline is Benghazi.  

A trading center, the Tripoli is located in the farming region along the north coast and is noted for its fine harbor. The Barbary pirates once made Tripoli its base. To the south is the Sahara Desert, which covers most of Libya.  

Today, Libya has a population of 1.1 million and primarily made up of those of the Sunni Muslim faith.  

GREAT CARAVANS  

In the 1870s, when Cuthbert began his role as Consul to Tripoli, a U.S. government report noted:  

“Tripoli, a country of Northern African, and one of the Barbary States, is on the Mediterranean Coast … At the north lies the Mediterranean Sea, at the east, Barca, at the south Fezzan and the Libyan desert, at the west Tunica … The area of Tripoli is 125,000 square miles. Its population is estimated at from 500,000 to 750,000, not including Barca and Fezzan.  

“Tripoli has 800 miles of seacoast … In many parts of Tripoli, however, the soil is very fertile, is well cultivated, and produces abundant harvests of wheat, barley, millet and maize. There are also plantations of palm and orange trees, and luxuriant gardens of oranges, lemons, pomegranates and many other fruits.”  

It was also noted that Tripoli “is governed by a pasha and is an unlimited despotism. The pasha pays a tribute to Turkey and is supported by Turkish soldiery. Mohammedanism is the religion of the people. Education is much neglected.”  

As a consul, it was Cuthbert’s job to represent the U.S. government’s commercial interests and to be of assistant to U.S. citizens residing in the country.  

He served during a time when great caravans of trade came out of the Sahara.  

In a report issued in 1878, Cuthbert reported that he had “endeavored upon various occasions during the past year to lay before the merchants of the city the advantage which would accrue to them by the purchase of American cotton goods … I have been able to convince them that America can deliver this article cheaper and better than England, and many would be willing to tempt the proof of my statement, were they in a financial position to do so. The universal answer is that they have no correspondents in America, and as the whole business of this place is carried on by a system of barter and exchange of goods, instead of cash payments, they find themselves at a loss how to proceed.  

“Large and extended credit is given by English banks, who act at the same time as brokers, selling the cargoes of esparto grass and other articles sent from here, and returning cotton goods and other articles in payment. Buying for cash is a mode of business unknown to the Tripolitan merchant, but where there is barter he is willing, and not unfrequently obliged, to give very advantageous bargains in order to be able to continue his floating business.”  

Additionally, Cuthbert reported that a telegraph cable was to be laid by an English company between Tripoli and Malta which would “have the very desirable effect of connecting us with the civilized worlds. But judging from the limited number of Europeans in this place, who alone would avail themselves of this means of communication, I cannot think that such an undertaking would prove lucrative unless a large subsidy be obtained from the Turkish Government, and, therefore, am still skeptical as to its ever existing.”  

Finally, he said Belgium had sent a group to Murzak, 600 miles south, on a mission “surrounded more or less by mystery. It is the prevailing opinion, however, that the intention was to examine into the practicability of laying a railroad from the coast” to Murzak in southwest Libya “with the object of facilitating the communication with the interior. That such scheme will ever be realized, when the amount of trade and the obstacles to be overcome owing to the nature of the country to be traversed are taken into consideration, is beyond the limits of probability.”  

WOOD, SHEEP & CAMELS  

In his 1880 annual report, Cuthbert wrote that the “large excess of imports over exports is due principally to the large amount of cotton goods imported, which is generally greater in the second and third quarters of the year, owing to the fact that this season is generally chosen for sending caravans into the interior. Caravans, however, leave at all seasons of the year.”  

He said the “principle articles of import during the last quarter have been cotton goods, woolen goods, sheep, camels, oil and petroleum.”  

The principle articles of export included “ostrich feathers, ivory and esparto grass,” which included several tough grasses in northern Africa used to make printing paper, baskets, rope, shoes, nets, brooms and mats.  

Additionally, he reported an economic problem caused through counterfeit currency:  

“There has been in consequence of the importation of the currency at this port. This has been in consequence of the importation by certain merchants here of a considerable quantity of counterfeit medjidies {a silver coin}. This coin was manufactured in Europe (the exact country not ascertainable), and has an intrinsic value of 3 francs, whereas the good coin of the same name has an intrinsic value of 4 francs nearly, and in commerce it is worth 4 francs and 40 centimes.  

“Upon arrival here it was exchanged by the importers for gold and merchants who, believing in its genuineness, have used it in their various business transactions. Thus much of it has been disposed of in the esparto market and the poor Arab has been the eventual loser.  

“Besides the direct loss sustained by those who have their money in medjidies – for, of course, the good medjidies have for the present decreased in value, owing to the difficulty of distinguishing them from the counterfeit – it will create a suspicion as regards the genuineness of the other coins in circulation here, which will not be with its inconvenience.”  

After a few years in the position, a new administration took office in the U.S. and Cuthbert’s job as consul ended. He would return to the United States and settle for a while in Washington, D.C., where he would be considered as consul to Callao along the Pacific Coast of Peru, but politics and the Jones-Liddell Feud would sabotage his appointment, and Cuthbert would find himself back in the headlines and at odds with a congressman from Vidalia, Louisiana.  

(To Be Continued)  

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