Joel Barlow

On this date in 1754, Joel Barlow was born in Redding, Connecticut. Educated at Dartmouth College and Yale, he served as a chaplain in the Revolutionary War. His edition of The Book of Psalms, issued in 1785, was widely used by the Congregationalists. Barlow, a liberal thinker, left the ministry, took up law and was admitted to the bar in 1786. As a writer and poet he was a member of the well-known “Hartford Wits.”

Barlow became a deist after traveling in France, according to C.B. Todd (Life and Letters of J. Barlow, 1886). Barlow’s claim to freethought fame was as counsel to Algiers, when he secured the release of prisoners and negotiated the Treaty with Tripoli of 1797, which stated that the U.S. was not a Christian nation. It was written in Algiers in Arabic and signed on Nov. 4, 1796. Barlow translated the treaty, which was ratified by the U.S. Senate on May 29, 1797.

George Washington was president when the treaty was signed in Tripoli, but it was signed by John Adams. Barlow also befriended Thomas Paine and was responsible for getting Paine’s The Age of Reason published during his imprisonment in Paris. Barlow became U.S. ambassador to Napoleon’s court in 1811 and died in 1812 at age 58 in Poland while traveling to meet Napoleon during his retreat from Moscow.

Freedom From Religion Foundation