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White Slave Narratives

History teachers seem to have almost entirely forgotten the so-called Barbary Wars, the campaigns waged against corsairs whom, for centuries, terrorized the Mediterranean coast. Rather like the modern day scourge of Somali pirates off the African Horn, the Barbary pirates waged their aggression on a tantalizing scale, wreaking havoc across much of the Mediterranean, and even capturing slaves from as far north as modern day Iceland.

Between the sixteen and the nineteenth centuries entire swathes of the European coastline were depopulated, as tens of thousands of ordinary travellers, and other living near to the sea, were captured and enslaved. Estimates have put the total number forced into so-called ‘White Slavery’ on the Barbary coast as much a million and a half souls.

A great many perished in the inhuman conditions at Algiers and Tripoli, falling victim to their wounds or disease before any ransoms were paid. Many more never made it to the large slave markets along the North African coast, the caravans in which they found themselves, succumbing to attack or to thirst.

Robert Adams was, of course, shipwrecked on the western coast of Africa, taken inland towards what was regarded by all as an African Hell. He knew of the Barbary pirates and their cruel reputation, alluding to them in his description of the captain’s unwise decision to sail so perilously close to shore.

Like Adams, a number of the survivors – who triumphed by staying alive against all odds – published accounts of their survival. These Narratives became a thing of obsession with the ordinary public.

Like the white slaves who penned them, they form a bewitching slice of history almost forgotten today.

A handful of the Narratives follows, with links of where to buy reprints or download the originals.

(1) A Curious, Historical and Entertaining Narrative of the Captivity and almost Unheard of Sufferings and Cruel treatment of Mr. Robert White, 1790 (2) A Journal of the Captivity and Sufferings of John Foss; Several Years a Prisoner in Algiers, 1798
(3) A Narrative of the Shipwreck of the Ship Oswego, on the coast of South Barbary, and of the sufferings of the master and the crew while in bondage among the arabs; interspersed with numerous remarks upon the country and its inhabitants, and concerning the peculiar perils of that coast, Judah Paddock, Her Late Master, 1818 (4) A Relation of Seven Years Slavery under the Turks of Algier, Suffered by an English Captive Merchant, 1704
(5) A True Relation of the Travels And most miserable Captivity of William Davis, Barber-Surgeon of London, under the Duke of Florence, 1704 (6) American Captives in Tripoli; or, Dr. Cowdery’s Journal in Miniature. Kept during his late captivity in Tripoli, 1806
(7) An Affecting Narrative of the Captivity and Sufferings of Thomas Nicholson (A Native of New Jersey) Who has been Six years a Prisoner among the Algerines, And from whom he fortunately made his escape a few months previous, to Commodore Decatur’s late Expedition. To which is added, a Concise Description of Algiers and of the Customs, manners, etc of the Natives – and some particulars of Commodore Decatur’s Late Expedition, Against the Barbary Powers, 1816 (8) An Authentic Narrative of the Loss of the American Brig Commerce, Wrecked on the Western Coast of Africa, in the Month of August, 1815, With an Account of the Sufferings of the Surviving Officers and Crew, Who Were Enslaved by the Wandering Arabs, on the African Desart, or Zahahrah; and Observations Historical and Geographical, &c. Made During the Travels of the
Author, While a Slave to the Arabs, and in the Empire of Morocco, James Riley, 1817
(9) An Authentic narrative of the Shipwreck and Sufferings of Mrs. Eliza Bradley, the Wife of Capt. James Bradley of Liverpool, Commander of the Ship Sally, which was wrecked on the coast of Barbary, in June 1818, 1820 (10) An Historical and Geographical Account of Algiers; comprehending a novel and interesting detail of the events relative to the American Captives, James Wilson Stevens, 1797
(11) Barbarian Cruelty; Or, an Accurate and Impartial Narrative of the Unparallel’d Sufferings and almost incredible Hardships of the British Captives Belonging to the Inspector Privateer Capt. Richard Veale, Commander, 1751 (12) Eben-ezer, or, A small monument of great mercy, Appearing in Miraculous Deliverance of William Okeley, William Adams, John Anthony, John Jephs, John — Carpenter, From the Miserable Slavery of Algiers, with the wonderful Means of their Escape in a boat of canvas, the great Distress and the utmost Exremities which they endured at Sea for Six Days and Nights; their late Arrival at¬ Mayork; With several Matters of Remarque during their long Captivity, and following Providence of God which brought them safe to England, William Okeley, 1675
(13) History of the Captivity and Sufferings of Mrs. Maria Martin, who was six years a Slave in Algiers: two of which she was confined in a dark and dismal dungeon, loaded with irons, 1807 (14) Horrors of Slavery, or of the American Tars in Tripoli, William Ray, 1808
(15) Narrative of a Residence in Algiers; Comprising a Geographical and Historical Account of the Regency; Biographical Sketches of the Dey and His Ministers; Anecdotes of the late War; Observations on the Relations of the Barbary States with the Christian powers, Signor Pananti (16) Narrative of Joshua Gee of Boston, Mass., While he was captive in Algeria of the Barbary pirates 1680-1687
(17) Neapolitan Captive: Interesting Narrative of the Captivity and Sufferings of Miss Viletta Laranda, A Native of Naples, Who, with a Brother, was a passenger on board a Neapolitan vessel wrecked near Oran, on the Barbary coast, September 1829, and who soon after was unfortunately made a Captive by a wandering clan of Bedouwen Arabs, on their return to Algiers to the Deserts – and eleven months after providentially rescued from Barbarian Bondage by the commander of a detached Regiment of the victorious French Army, 1830 (18) Slaves in Algiers; or, a Struggle for Freedom: A Play, interspersed with songs, in three acts, Susanna Rowson, 1794
(19) The American Captive, or Siege of Tripoli, James Ellison, 1812 (20) The Captives, Eleven Years a Prisoner in Algiers, James Leander Cathcart, (published posthumously) 1899
(21) The Captivity and Sufferings of Mrs. Mary Velnet, Who was Seven Years a Slave in Tripoli, three of which she was confined in a dungeon, loaded with irons, and four times put to the most cruel tortures ever invented by man. To which is added, The Lunatic Governor, and Adelaide, or the Triumph of Constancy, a Tale, Mary Velnet, 1828 (22) The Glory of Goodness. The Goodness of God, Celebrated; in Remarkable Instances and Improvements thereof: And more particularly in the REDEMPTION Remarkably obtained for the English Captives, Which have been Languishing under the Tragical, and the Terrible, and the most Barbarous Cruelties of Barbary. History of what the Goodness of God, has done for the Captives, lately delivered out of Barbary, Cotton Mather, 1703
(23) The History of the Long Captivity and Adventures of Thomas Pellow, In South Barbary, 1740 (24) The life and amorous adventures of Lucinda, an English lady: her courageous and undaunted behaviour at sea, in an engagement wherein she was taken by a rover of Barbary, and sold a slave at Constantinople, 1722
(25) The Narrative of Robert Adams An American Sailor who was wrecked on the West Coast of Africa in the year 1810; was detained Three Years in Slavery by the Arabs of the Great Desert, 1816 (26) White Slavery in the Barbary States, Charles Sumner, 1853

NB some of the images are only given for illustrative purposes, and are not from the book that is cited.