On their arrival at Algiers, they were given rags swarming with vermin to wear, fed coarse camel meat and sour milk, and spent time in dark rat-infested dungeons "where the slaves sleep four tier deep." Resistance of any kind was punished severely by a practice known as bastinado , which consisted of savage beatings on the soles of the feet and posterior. Cathcart suffered such torture on several occasions.
James Cathcart would remain a prisoner for ten long years. He and many other Americans who were similarly captured and enslaved would endure hardships that are difficult to comprehend. Yet, America was helpless to respond because the Navy had been disbanded at the end of the Revolution and, for a time, the new nation's merchant mariners would remain at the mercy of these merciless brigands. It was a particularly bitter pill to swallow for a people who had recently earned their freedom in a long and arduous war.
Eventually, Cathcart would be released but would return as a diplomatic representative to Tripoli, playing a key role in an unfolding drama of retribution as the resurrected U.S. Navy earned its sea legs off the Barbary Coast. With a cast of characters that included the likes of Stephen Decatur, Edward Preble, and Presley O'Bannon, it is a story peppered with incredible feats of daring and disheartening setbacks, a time for the establishment of core values and for hard lessons learned. But by the final curtain, Barbary piracy was ended and the United States Navy firmly established, never again to be abandoned.
Much as Cathcart had risen from slave to diplomat, the new nation had faced great trials and emerged as a player on the world stage—with a Navy that would ensure that it would continue to play a leading role.