New Jersey’s Barbary Diplomat (Part 1 of 2)


  • Lawrence S. Freund



Charles Davenport Coxe, the descendant of a prominent New Jersey family, likely inspired by the exploits of a small detachment of U.S. Marines in the spring of 1805 in Libya, accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the Corps that fall, leading to an unanticipated (but coveted) diplomatic career. A few years earlier, Coxe had lobbied for consular appointments in France. Now, arriving aboard a U.S. warship in Tunis harbor, he found himself ordered ashore by his ship’s commander to replace the late American chargé d’affaires. While exploiting the commercial opportunities of his consular post, Coxe also became directly involved in the politics of the region, notably the seizure of American ships by both the Barbary regencies as well as European powers. In 1810, he exercised considerable diplomatic skill in avoiding a clash between Tunis and the United States over the contested ownership of a commercial vessel. Coxe departed Tunis in 1815, returning to the United States and the family home in New Jersey, although not without hope of reclaiming one of his former positions. That story, however, will unfold in part two of this piece, in the Winter 2023 issue of NJ Studies.