The Washington Post
White Gold: The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and Islam's One Million White Slavesby Giles Milton
The true story of white European slaves in eighteenth century Algiers, Tunis, and Morocco
In the summer of 1716, a Cornish cabin boy named Thomas Pellow and fifty-one of his comrades were captured at sea by the Barbary corsairs. Their captors--Ali Hakem and his network of Islamic slave traders--had declared war on the whole of Christendom. France,/p>/b>… See more details below
The true story of white European slaves in eighteenth century Algiers, Tunis, and Morocco
In the summer of 1716, a Cornish cabin boy named Thomas Pellow and fifty-one of his comrades were captured at sea by the Barbary corsairs. Their captors--Ali Hakem and his network of Islamic slave traders--had declared war on the whole of Christendom. France, Spain, England and Italy had suffered a series of devastating attacks. Thousands of Europeans had been snatched from their homes and taken in chains to the great slave markets of Algiers, Tunis and Salé in Morocco.
Pellow and his shipmates were bought by the tyrannical sultan of Morocco, Moulay Ismail, who was constructing an imperial palace of such scale and grandeur that it would surpass every other building in the world, a palace built entirely by Christian slave labor.
Resourceful, resilient, and quick-thinking, Pellow was selected by Moulay Ismail for special treatment, and was one of the fortunate few who survived to tell his tale.
An extraordinary and shocking story, drawn from unpublished letters and manuscripts written by slaves and by the padres and ambassadors sent to free them, White Gold reveals a disturbing and long forgotten chapter of history.
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IA NEW AND DEADLY FOETHE PALE DAWN sky gave no inkling of the terror that was about to be unleashed. A sea mist hung low in the air, veiling the horizon in a damp and diaphanous shroud. It enabled the mighty fleet to slip silently up the English Channel, unnoticed by the porters and fishermen on Cornwall's southwestern coast.The lookout who first sighted the vessels was perplexed. It was not the season for the return of the Newfoundland fishing fleet, nor was a foreign flotilla expected in those waters. As the mists lifted and the summer skies cleared, it became apparent that the mysterious ships had not come in friendship. The flags on their mainmasts depicted a human skull on a dark green background--the menacing symbol of a new and terrible enemy It was the third week of July 1625, and England was about to be attacked by the Islamic corsairs of Barbary.News of the fleet's arrival flashed rapidly along the coast until it reached the naval base of Plymouth. A breathless messenger burst into the office of James Bagg, vice admiral of Cornwall, with the shocking intelligence of the arrival of enemy ships. There were at least "twentye sayle upon this coast"--perhaps many more--and they were armed and ready for action.Bagg was appalled by what he was told. Over the previous weeks he had received scores of complaints about attacks on Cornish fishing skiffs. Local mayors had sent a stream of letters informing him of the "daily oppression" they were facing at the hands of a little-known foe. Now, that foe appeared to be preparing a far more devastating strike on the south coast of England.Bagg penned an urgent letter to the lord high admiral in Lon-don, demanding warships to counter the threat. But it was far too late for anything to be done. Within days of their being sighted the corsairs began to wreak havoc, launching hit-and-run raids on the most vulnerable and unprotected seaports. They slipped ashore at Mount's Bay, on the south Cornish coast, while the villagers were at communal prayer. Dressed in Moorish djellabas and wielding damascene scimitars, they made a terrifying sight as they burst into the parish church. One English captive would later describe the corsairs as "ugly onhumayne cretures" who struck the fear of God into all who saw them. "With their heads shaved and their armes almost naked, [they] did teryfie me exceedingly" They were merciless in their treatment of the hapless congregation of Mount's Bay. According to one eyewitness, sixty men, women and children were dragged from the church and carried back to the corsairs' ships.The fishing port of Looe was also assaulted. The warriors streamed into the cobbled streets and forced their way into cottages and taverns. Much to their fury, they discovered that the villagers had been forewarned of their arrival and many had fled into the surrounding orchards and meadows. Yet the corsairs still managed to seize eighty mariners and fishermen. These unfortunate individuals were led away in chains and Looe was then torched in revenge. The mayor of Plymouth informed the Privy Council of the sorry news, adding that the corsairs were steadily ransacking the surrounding coastline. The West Country, he said, had lost "27 ships and 200 persons taken."Far more alarming was the news--relayed by the mayor ofBristol--that a second fleet of Barbary corsairs had been sighted in the choppy waters off the north Cornish coast. Their crews had achieved a most spectacular and disquieting coup: they had captured Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel and raised the standard of Islam. It had now become their fortified base, from which they attacked the unprotected villages of northern Cornwall. They had "seized diverse people about Padstow" and were threatening to sack and burn the town of Ilfracombe.These two-pronged attacks caught the West Country completely unprepared. The duke of Buckingham dispatched the veteran sea-dog Francis Stuart to Devon, with orders to root out and destroy this menacing new enemy. But Stuart was dismayed to discover that "they are better sailers than the English ships." His letter to the duke, admitting defeat, expresses his fear that the worst was yet to come. "Theis picaroons, I say, will ever lie han-kering upon our coastes, and the state will find it both chargeable and difficult to cleere it." The long coastline had few defenses to deter the North African corsairs, who found they could pillage with impunity. Day after day, they struck at unarmed fishing com-munities, seizing the inhabitants and burning their homes. By the end of the dreadful summer of 1625, the mayor of Plymouth reckoned that 1,000 skiffs had been destroyed, and a similar num-ber of villagers carried off into slavery.
THESE MISERABLE CAPTIVES were taken to Sale, on Morocco's Atlantic coast. This wind-blown port occupied a commanding position on the north bank of the great Bou Regreg river estuary. Her massive city walls were visible from far out to sea, and her turreted battlements and green-glazed minarets sparkled in the North African sunshine.Just a few decades earlier, these landmarks had been a welcome sight for England's seafaring merchants. Lace-ruffed Elizabethans had come to Salé to exchange silver and woolens for exotic produce,brought in by desert caravans from the steaming tropics of equatorial Africa. In the overcrowded souks and alleys, they had jostled and traded with Moorish merchants dressed in flowing djellabas. After much haggling and bartering, they loaded their vessels with ivory and skins, wax, sugar and amber, as well as the fragrant Meknes honey that was famed throughout Europe.On the south bank of the estuary, directly opposite Sale, lay the ancient town of Rabat. This, too, had been a "great and famous towne," boasting beautiful palaces and an extraordinary twelfth-century mosque. But Rabat had fallen into slow decay. By the early 1600s it was scarcely inhabited, and most of the dwellings had been abandoned. "It was in a manner desolate," wrote an anonymous English visitor, "abandoned by the Arabs because of wild beasts."Rabat would have fallen into complete ruin had it not been for a most unexpected circumstance. In 1610, King Philip III of Spain expelled all one million Spanish Moors from his land--the final chapter in the reconquest of southern Spain from the infidel. Although these Moriscos had lived in Spain for generations, and many were of mixed stock, they were allowed no right of appeal.One of the most enterprising of these emigre groups was known as the Hornacheros, after the Andalusian village in which they had lived.Wild and fiercely independent, they pillaged without scruple. One Englishman would later describe them as "a bad-minded people to all nations," and even their fellow Moriscos viewed them as thieves and brigands.Expelled from their mountain stronghold in Spain, this haughty clan of 4,000 men and women set their sights on the ruined settlement of Rabat. They restored the kasbah, or fortress, and adapted with remarkable ease to their new homeland, which they renamed New Salé. However, they continued to harbor a deep resentment against Spain and vowed to do everything in their power to strike back. To this end, they began to forge alliances with pirates from Algiers and Tunis who had been preying onChristian shipping in the Mediterranean for more than a century. Within a few years, hundreds of cut-throats and desperadoes--some of them European--began to converge on New Salé in order to train the Hornacheros in the black arts of piracy.The Hornacheros and their cohort of renegades made a formidable fighting force. This highly disciplined band became known in England as the Sallee Rovers. But to their Islamic brethren they were called al-ghuzat, a title once used for the soldiers who fought with the Prophet Mohammed, and were hailed as religious warriors who were engaged in a holy war against the infidel Christians. "They lived in Salé, and their sea-borne jihad is now famous," wrote the Arabic chronicler, al-Magiri. "They fortified Sale and built in it palaces, houses and bathhouses."The Sale corsairs rapidly learned mastery of square-riggers, enabling them to extend their attacks far into the North Atlantic, and soon assembled a fleet of forty ships. They plundered with abandon, attacking villages and seaports right along the coasts of Spain, Portugal, France and England. One Sale corsair, Amurates Rayobi, led more than 10,000 warriors to Spain and ransacked the coastline without pity. Their success emboldened their co-religionists elsewhere in Barbary. The al-ghuzat from Algiers targeted vulnerable merchant vessels passing through the Straits of Gibraltar. They were fortunate that their attacks coincided with the beginnings of the mercantile age, when there were rich pickings to be had on the open seas. Between 1609 and 1616, they captured a staggering 466 English trading ships.Kings and ministers across Europe were paralyzed by a sense of helplessness. Sir Francis Cottingham, one of King James I's clerks of the council, bemoaned the fact that "the strength and boldness of the Barbary pirates is now grown to that height ... as I have never known anything to have wrought a greater sadness and distraction in this court than the daily advice thereof."The lack of any coordinated defense encouraged the Sallee Rovers to widen their attacks. One of Salé's most infamous renegadecaptains, the Dutchman Jan Janszoon, laughed in scorn at the ease with which he could seize European shipping. Known to his comrades as Murad Rais, he had first cocked a snook at the Channel defences in 1622, when he sailed to Zeeland in order to visit his estranged wife. A few years later, he embarked on a remarkable voyage of pillage to Iceland. His three-strong fleet dropped anchor at Reykjavik, where Murad led his men ashore and proceeded to ransack the town. He returned to Salé in triumph, with 400 enslaved Icelanders--men, women and children.Wales, too, was hit on several occasions, while the fishing fleets of the Newfoundland Banks suffered several devastating raids. In 1631, Murad Rais set his eye on the richly populated coasts of southern Ireland. He raised a force of 200 Islamic soldiers and they sailed to the village of Baltimore, storming ashore with swords drawn and catching the villagers totally by surprise. He carried off 237 men, women and children and took them to Al-giers, where he knew they would fetch a good price. The French padre Pierre Dan was in the city at the time, having been granted permission by the authorities to tend to the spiritual needs of his enslaved co-religionists. He witnessed the sale of new captives in the slave auction. "It was a pitiful sight to see them exposed in the market," he wrote. "Women were separated from their husbands and the children from their fathers." Dan looked on helplessly as "on one side, a husband was sold; on the other, his wife; and her daughter was torn from her arms without the hope that they'd ever see each other again."Murad Rais's bravado was feted in Morocco, and he was accorded the singular honor of being made governor of the port of Safi, some 200 miles to the south of Sale. His daughter visited him soon afterward and found that power had quite gone to his head. He was "seated in great pomp on a carpet, with silk cushions, the servants all around him." When he took his leave, it was "in the manner of royalty."Murad Rais was just one of many European renegades to strike an alliance with the fanatical corsairs of Barbary. The English apostate John Ward headed to Tunis shortly after King James I signed a peace treaty with Spain. Forbidden to attack the Spanish treasure fleet, Ward vowed to "become a foe to all Christians, bee a persecuter to their trafficke, and an impoverisher of their wealth." He and his locally recruited crew wreaked such havoc in the Mediterranean that his name was celebrated all along the coast.This so delighted the ruler of Tunis that he gave Ward an abandoned castle and a large plot of land. Ward converted it into his principal residence, "a very stately house, farre more fit for a prince than a pirate." He lived "in a most princely and magnificent state," according to Andrew Barker, one of his English captives. Barker was stunned by the wealth that Ward had accrued and said he had never seen "any peere in England that beares up his post in more dignitie, nor hath attendants more obsequious."Like so many Christian renegades, Ward had originally turned to piracy in order to seize treasure. But he quickly realized that the merchants of Barbary were more interested in human booty and would pay huge sums to acquire Christian slaves as laborers, domestic servants and concubines. Ward began to focus on capturing ships' crews, who were taken to Tunis, Algiers or Sale to be sold in the slave markets.The Sallee Rovers were particularly successful in seizing men, women and children, growing fabulously wealthy and powerful from their traffic in captured Christians. In about 1626--the year after their raids on Cornwall and Devon--they cast aside all pretense of owing any allegiance to the Moroccan sultan and declared their intention of ruling themselves. "[They] resolved to live free," wrote the French slave, Germain Mouette. "Finding themselves more numerous than the natives of Salé oblig'd them no longer to own any sovereign." Sale became a pirate republicand was henceforth governed by a twelve-strong divan--stave-trading corsairs--who were overseen by a grand admiral.
FEW IN ENGLAND had any inkling of the fate of captives seized by the corsairs. They disappeared without trace and the majority were never heard from again. But one of them did manage to get a letter smuggled back to England. Robert Adams, who was seized in the first wave of raids in the 1620s, managed to relay news to his parents in the West Country. "Lovinge and kind father and mother," he wrote, " ... I am hear in Salley, in most miserable captivitye, under the hands of most cruell tyrants." He explained that he had been sold in the slave market soon after being landed in the town and was subjected to the harshest treatment by his owner. "[He] made mee worke at a mill like a horse," he said, "from morninge untill night, with chaines uppon my legges, of 36 pounds waights a peece."Adams ended his letter with a desperate plea for help. "I humbly desire you, on my bended knees, and with sighs from the bottom of my hart, to commiserat my poor distressed estate, and seek some meanes for my delivery out of this miserable slavery."Adams's parents must have been appalled by what they read, but any appeals for help from the authorities fell on deaf ears. The lords of the Privy Council displayed a callous lack of concern for the enslaved mariners, while church leaders were powerless to do anything more than organize collections for the families of cap-tured seamen. Eventually, the "slave widows" themselves were galvanized into action. They drafted a petition, signed by the "distressed wifes of neere 2,000 poore marriners," and sent it to the Privy Council. The petition reminded the lords that the women's captured husbands had "for a longe tyme contynued in most wofull, miserable and lamentable captivitie and slavery in Sally" It also informed them that they were enduring "most un-speakable tormentes and want of foode through the merciles crueltieof theire manifolde masters." Their continual absence was not only a source of grief, but also threatened the very survival of their families. Many women had "poore smale children and infantes" who were "almost reddie to perrish and starve for wante of meanes and food."Their request was straightforward and emotionally charged. "[We] most humblie beseech Your Honours, even for Christ Jesus sake ... to send some convenient messenger unto the Kinge of Morocco ... for the redemption of the saide poore distressed captives."What these women did not realize was that King Charles I had already started to tackle the problem of the captives being held in North Africa. Within months of acceding to the throne in 1625, he dispatched the young adventurer John Harrison on a secret mission to the infamous city of Salé.Harrison's voyage was one of extreme danger. He was required to land in Morocco without being captured by the corsairs, and then travel to Sale undetected where he had to contact the ruling divan. He was given full powers to negotiate the release of all the English slaves being held by the town's corsairs. This latter point had provoked much heated debate among the inner circle of King Charles's advisers. Sir Henry Marten, an eminent lawyer and Cornish Member of Parliament, was appalled by the idea of entering into dialogue with the Sallee Rovers, stating bluntly that they were "a company of pirates, with whom there is no treating or confederacy." He argued that Harrison should parley only with the Moroccan sultan, even though the sultan had virtually no influence over the Sale corsairs. King Charles himself was rather more pragmatic. Although he penned a long letter to the "high and mightie" sultan, Moulay Zidan, he suggested that Harrison might have more success if he negotiated directly with the corsairs who were terrorizing English shores.Harrison landed secretly in Tetouan in the summer of 1625 and set out for Sale disguised as a Moorish penitent. Lesser men mightwell have balked at such a hazardous assignment, but Harrison was in his element. He relished the opportunity to smuggle himself inside one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Nevertheless, the overland journey stretched him to his physical limits, "the greatest parte on foote, bare-legged and pilgrime-like." It was blisteringly hot, and Harrison suffered from the dusty air and a constant lack of water. He would later describe it as "a most desperate journey," yet he took a perverse pleasure in traveling undercover.Harrison could have been forgiven for a failure of nerve on his arrival at the great walls of Sale, whose array of bronze cannon gave a hint of the menacing threat within. His orders were to penetrate the inner sanctum of this nest of corsairs, who held all Christians in the utmost contempt. Their spiritual leader was Sidi Mohammed el-Ayyachi, a wily marabout, or holy man, who was revered by the Salé slave traders. Pious and politically adroit, he had a personal magnetism that inspired fanatical loyalty. He was particularly revered for his hatred of Christianity and would later brag of having caused the deaths of more than 7,600 Christians.Harrison abandoned his disguise on'arriving at Salé and tentatively made contact with the ruling divan. To his surprise, he was greeted with the greatest courtesy. Sidi Mohammed invited Harrison to visit his residence and proved most attentive to his guest, "entertayning me verie kindlie." For all his religious fanaticism, Sidi Mohammed was also a pragmatist. He was willing to release his English captives if he stood to benefit, realizing that Harrison's mission could be made to work in his favor.Harrison met Sidi Mohammed on several occasions during his first week in Salé. After a few days of pleasantries, the marabout turned to the matter at hand. He expressed approval of Harrison's mission and promised "to releasse all Your Majestie's subjects made captives," including those who had been "bought and solde from one to another." But there was a high price attached to his offer. He expected English assistance in attacking the hated Spanishand demanded a gift of heavy weaponry including "14 brasse peeces of ordinance and a proportion of powder and shott." He also asked whether some of his own cannon, which were "broken and unservicable," could be taken to England for repair.Harrison's instinct was to conclude a deal and free the slaves. But he knew that Sidi Mohammed's offer was tantamount to a declaration of war against Spain, and it could not be agreed to without the consent of the king. He had no option but to return to London, where the marabout's offer was discussed at length by the king and Privy Council. They eventually agreed that freeing the English slaves was imperative, but also decided to play games with the Moroccan marabout. They deliberately misread the number of cannon he requested--sending four instead of fourteen--and also scaled down the quantity of powder and shot. Harrison was told to make encouraging noises about an attack on the Spanish, but offer no firm commitments.A weary Harrison landed back at Salé in March 1627 and was given a lavish welcome. He presented the four cannon with all the pomp he could muster and was surprised when Sidi Mohammed accepted them without a quibble. Harrison informed the corsairs that King Charles I was eager to attack the Spanish and would soon be preparing for war. Sidi Mohammed was so delighted that he vowed to release the English slaves immediately.Harrison's sense of triumph was somewhat dented when he came to view the slaves. He had expected to be presented with at least 2,000 captives, and was concerned about how he would ship them all back to England. In the event, a mere 190 were released from their underground dungeons. Harrison accused Sidi Mohammed of trickery, but soon discovered that the majority of captives were no longer being held in Sale. Large numbers had been shipped to Algiers--the principal entrepôt for European slaves--while others had been acquired by the sultan. Many more had been "carried into the countrie" and sold to wealthy traders. Butby far the largest number had "died of the late plague," which had ravaged Morocco in both 1626 and 1627, leaving less than 200 for Harrison to take home with him.These ragged survivors were a picture of human suffering. Kept in underground cells for months, they were pale, malnourished and weakened by dysentery. According to Robert Adams, whose testimony is one of the few from this period to have survived, they had been held in virtual darkness, forced to live in their own squalor and excrement. Their diet was appalling--"a littell coarse bread and water"--while their lodging was "a dungion under ground, wher some 150 or 200 of us lay, altogether, havinge no comforte of the light, but a littell hole." Adams himself was in a terrible state. His hair and ragged clothes were "full of vermin"--lice and fleas--"and, not being allowed time for to pick myself ... I am almost eaten up with them." Worse still, he was "every day beaten to make me turn Turk."John Harrison returned to England with the released slaves in the summer of 1627. The stories of their experiences in Morocco are no longer extant, and it would fall to a new generation of English captives to chart the full horror of life as a Christian slave. But Harrison's own writings offer a glimpse of the daily torments to which they were subjected. In his book, The Tragicall Life and Death of Muley Abdala Melek, he said that violent beatings were commonplace and revealed that many of the slaves had been acquired by the sultan. These were treated with even greater brutality than those held in Sale. "He would cause men to be drubbed, or beaten almost to death in his presence," wrote Harrison, "[and] would cause some to be beaten on the soles of their feet, and af-ter make them run up and downe among the stones and thornes." Some of the sultan's slaves had been dragged behind horses until they were torn to shreds. A few had even been dismembered while still alive, "their fingers and toes cut off by everie joint; armes and legs and so head and all."When the sultan was in a black humor, he took great delight intorturing his Christian slaves. "He did cause some English boyes perforce to turne Moores," recalled Harrison, "cutting them and making them capadoes or eunachs." Others were beaten and mocked. When one English slave complained that he had nothing to eat except barley, the sultan ordered that his horse's food bag be "hanged about the Englishman's necke, full of barlie ... and so made him eate the barlie like a horse."The sultan's slaves, whom Harrison had not managed to free in his several missions to Salé, eventually managed to dispatch a petition to King Charles I, asking him to "think ... upon the distressed estate of us, Your Majesty's poor subjects, slaves under the king of Morocus." They reminded him that they had been in captivity for so long that they had almost forgotten their homeland: "some twenty years, some sixteen, some twelve, and he that hath been least, seven years in most miserable bondage." The king read their petition, but declined to act. The truce with Sidi Mohammed was being more or less observed and the attacks on England's coastlines had been temporarily halted. Preoccupied with troubles elsewhere, he abandoned the sultan's English slaves to their fate.The uneasy peace was not to last long. The Sale corsairs, who depended upon slave trading for their livelihood, pleaded with Sidi Mohammed to abandon the truce. They argued that King Charles I had not respected his side of the agreement, having sent just four cannon, and reminded the marabout that the English king had displayed a singular lack of interest in attacking the Spanish. When it dawned on Sidi Mohammed that no military assistance was to be forthcoming, he ordered a series of spectacular new raids on England's southern coast. Within a few months, Sale's dungeons were once again filled with English captives. In one month alone--May 1635--more than 150 Englishmen were seized "and eight of them in Morocco circumcised perforce, and tortured to turne Moores."The king's patience finally snapped. When he learned that therewere almost 1,200 captives in Sale, "amonge which there is 27 woemen," he vowed to crush the slave traders once and for all. Diplomacy had failed. Now, the only answer was war.
IN THE SHARP winter of 1637, a bullish sea captain named William Rainsborough was ordered to prepare a fleet of six warships and lead them toward the corsair stronghold of Salé. The town was to be bombarded until it was reduced to rubble. Captain Rainsborough was sanctioned to use whatever force he thought necessary, so long as it was "for the advantage of His Majestye's honour and service, the preservacion of his territories, and the good of his subjectes." He was also to keep a lookout for any corsairing vessels at sea. "If you shall meet with any pyrattes or sea-rovers," said the king, "yow are to doe your best to apprehend or sincke them."Rainsborough's bellicose temperament was perfectly suited to such a mission and he relished the opportunity to destroy the corsairs. He assembled his fleet at Tilbury, in the Thames Estuary, and set sail in February 1637. He arrived in Sale within a month, having failed to capture any corsairs en route. This disappointment was more than compensated for by the providential timing of his arrival. Sale's slave-trading corsairs "had made ready all their ships to go for the coast of England," and their huge fleet lay at anchor in the harbour.Rainsborough was shocked at the number of vessels under their command. More than fifty had been made ready for action and their captains were preparing to launch attacks on both England and Newfoundland. One of Rainsborough's lieutenants, John Dunton, learned that the corsairs were expecting to seize more captives than ever before. "The governor of New Salé [has] commanded all the captains ... that they should go for the coast of England," he was told, " ... and fetch the men, women and children out of their beds." Rainsborough was in no doubt that they were in deadly earnest. "The last yeare, by this time, they hadbrought in 500 of his Majestie's subjects," he wrote, "and I veryly beleve, had wee not come, they would have taken many more this yeare.Most of the previous year's captives were no longer being held in Salé. When Rainsborough made discreet inquiries ashore, he was told that they had been auctioned in the slave market. "All that I could heare," he wrote, "is that many English have been transported to Algiers and Tunis." These unfortunate individuals had been "sould for slaves, and there doth not remaine here [in Sale] above 250." Although this news dismayed Rainsborough, he was pleased to learn that the town's corsairs had split into two rival factions. One group was led by Sidi Mohammed, who was attempting to consolidate his grip over the republic of Salé. The other was led by a rebel named Abdallah ben All el-Kasri. He was "an obstinate fellow," according to Rainsborough, "[and] puffed up with his luck in theeving." He had seized the ancient kasbah, where he was holding 328 Englishmen and 11 women "in great misery."Rainsborough decided to exploit the divisions in the town. Concerned that a general assault on Sale might unite the rival factions, he proceeded to make overtures to Sidi Mohammed and suggested a joint attack on the kasbah with the aim of expelling the rebel corsairs. This would restore the prestige of Sidi Mohammed--who, Rainsborough believed, could be contained--and would also enable him to free the English slaves held by el-Kasri. Rainsborough noted the advantages of the scheme in his journal: "a meanes that wee shall recover His Majestie's subjects," he wrote, "and keepinge this towne from ever haveinge any more men of warre." It would not just benefit the English, but be "a happie turne for all Christendome."Sidi Mohammed agreed to Rainsborough's plan and released seventeen of his personal slaves as a sign of goodwill. Rainsborough, meanwhile, prepared to open hostilities, priming his heavy weaponry and training it on the clifftop kasbah. The ensuingbombardment caused total carnage. "We shot at the castle," wrote John Dunton, "and into it, and over it, and through it, and into the town, and through the town, and over it, and amongst the Moors, and killed a great many of them."As the dust settled, Rainsborough landed a troop of men and ordered them to dig a system of trenches. This allowed him to bring his heavy cannon ashore and fire on the ships that belonged to the rebel forces. "Our men did sink many of their ships," wrote Dunton, "and shot through many of their houses, and killed a great many men." If the English reports of the battle are correct, the rebels were taken aback by the accuracy of the attacking guns. "We did so torment them by sinking and burning their ships," wrote Rainsborough, "that they were stark mad and at their wits' end." The English commander was thoroughly enjoying himself. He reveled in the bloodshed, and when two Salé caravels opened fire on his fleet, he showed them no mercy. "[We] set upon them ... and did heave fire pots [primitive explosives] unto her, and did burne three men of them to death, and did kill fifteen men of them outright."While Rainsborough sank ships in the harbor, Sidi Mohammed attacked the kasbah from the land. "He hath beleagred it with 20 thousand men, horse and foote," wrote Rainsborough, "and burnt all theire corne." It proved harder than expected to capture the castle, but after three weeks of intense bombardment the rebellious Hornacheros were a spent force. Weary of fighting and almost starved of provisions, they had no option but to capitulate.Their first act was to release the English slaves. John Dunton compiled a list of these men and women, recording their names and the places from which they were seized. His information re-veals that the Sale raids had affected every corner of the kingdom. Although the majority had been taken from the West Country--thirty-seven from Plymouth alone--there were captives from as far afield as London, Hull, Jersey and Cardiff.By mid-August, William Rainsborough felt that he hadachieved all he could. The rebel Hornacheros had been crushed, and their vessels were totally destroyed. Sidi Mohammed's prestige had been greatly enhanced, while Rainsborough was convinced that the marabout could be restrained from attacking English villages and shipping with the occasional gift of weaponry and gunpowder. After receiving solemn assurances from Sidi Mohammed, Rainsborough set sail for England in the autumn of 1637, with 230 of the surviving slaves on board.He was given a warm reception when he arrived back home. There was a widespread feeling that the Sale menace had at long last been neutralized, and that the West Country was once again safe. There was additional cause for joy when King Charles I signed a treaty with the Moroccan sultan. The fourth clause of the treaty stated that "the King of Morocco shall prohibit and re-strayne all his subjects from takeinge, buyinge or receaveinge anie of the subjects of the said King of Great Brittainie to be used as slaves or bondmen in anie kind."No one in England paused to consider that their concern for the white slaves was not matched by a similar compassion for the black slaves being brutally shipped out of Guinea, on Africa's western coastline. Although England was not yet the principal slave nation in Europe--that dubious honor went to Portugal--an increasing number of blacks were being dispatched to her fledgling colonies in the Caribbean and North America. The suffering endured by these captives during the middle passage--the Atlantic crossing--was truly appalling. They were packed into unsanitary vessels and often forced to lie in a space smaller than a coffin. There was neither sanitation nor fresh food, and dysentery and fevers were rife. Sailors said that a slave ship could be smelled from more than a mile away at sea.Reports of this trade, which would eventually lead to the capture and sale of some 15 million Africans, troubled few consciences in England. It was seen as altogether different from the capture and sale of men and women from their own country.Indeed, most viewed the enslavement of black Africans as a legitimate and highly profitable branch of England's growing international trade. More than a century would pass before people first began to draw parallels between the two slave trades and question whether or not the trade in black slaves could be morally justified.King Charles I's attitude was no different from that of his subjects. Unmoved by the plight of Africa's black slaves, he nevertheless abhorred the trade in white slaves and greeted William Rainsborough's return with great joy. But the king soon discovered that the truce he had signed with the Moroccan sultan was to last just a few months. When he failed to stop English merchants from trading with Moroccan rebels, the sultan tore up the peace treaty. The Sallee Rovers, too, found reasons to recommence their attacks on English shipping. By 1643, so many new slaves had been captured that Parliament was forced to order churches to collect money in order to buy the slaves back from their captors. "It is therefore thought fit, and so ordained by the Lords and Commons in Parliament, that collections be made in the several churches within the City of London and Westminster, and the borough of Southwark."Redeeming slaves was a costly business, for markets extended all along the coast of North Africa. By the 1640s, at least 3,000 Englishmen and women had been taken to Barbary, where they were languishing "in miserable captivity, undergoing divers and most insufferable labour, such as rowing in galleys, drawing carts, grinding in mills, with divers such unchristianlike works, most lamentable to express."The crisis was at its most acute in the Moroccan port of Salé, and in the Turkish regencies of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. These three maritime cities were nominally under the control of the Ottoman sultan, but real power was more often wielded by local admirals and slave-trading sea captains, who sold their European captives to merchants and dealers from right across the Islamicworld. White slaves, who continually changed hands, were soon to be found not only in the great cities of Alexandria, Cairo and Istanbul, but also in dozens of smaller towns and ports. Some had even been enslaved in the remote Arabian peninsula. In one infamous incident that had occurred in 1610, Sir Henry Middleton and his crew had the misfortune to be seized in Aden and taken in chains to the inland city of Sana'a. It had required concerted military action to finally win their release.In 1646, a merchant named Edmund Cason was sent by Parliament to Algiers to buy back as many English slaves as possible. An initial search located some 750, while many more were said to "be turned Turkes through beatings and hard usage." Cason bargained long and hard, but was obliged to pay an average price of £38 per slave. Female captives proved a great deal more expensive to redeem. He paid £800 for Sarah Ripley of London, and £1,100 for Alice Hayes of Edinburgh, while Mary Bruster of Youghal cost a staggering £1,392--more than thirty-six times the average. These were huge sums of money; the average annual income of a Lon-don shopkeeper was just £10, while even wealthy merchants were lucky to make more than £40 in a year. The cost of ransoming each female slave was more than most Londoners would earn in a lifetime. It helps to explain why the Barbary corsairs were more interested in ships' crews than in their cargoes.Cason's funds were soon exhausted, and he returned to England with just 244 freed captives. Those left behind in Algiers feared they had been abandoned to their fate and sent anguished letters to their loved ones. "Ah! Father, brother, friends, and acquaintance," wrote Thomas Sweet, "use some speedy means for our redemption." He begged that "our sighs will come to your ears and move pity and compassion," and he ended his letter with a plea: "Deny us not your prayers, if you can do nothing else."The Barbary corsairs had by now extended their attacks across the whole of Europe, targeting ships from as far afield as Norway and Newfoundland. The Portuguese and French suffered numeroushit-and-run raids on their shores and their shipping. The Italian city-states, too, were repeatedly attacked, with the coasts of Calabria, Naples and Tuscany enduring particularly aggressive strikes. Russians and Greeks were also enslaved, along with noblemen and merchants from various parts of the Holy Roman Em-pire. The islands of Majorca, Minorca, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica yielded particularly rich harvests for the slave dealers, while the citizens of Gibraltar were singled out so often that they wrote a desperate petition to the king of Spain, in which they bemoaned the fact that they never felt safe, "neither at night, nor during the day, neither in bed, nor at mealtimes, neither in the fields, nor in our homes."Spain itself suffered the most devastating raids of all, and entire villages on the Atlantic coast were sold into slavery. The situation was even more critical on Spain's Mediterranean coast. When the town of Calpe was attacked in 1637, the corsairs made off with no fewer than 315 women and children. Life in Spanish coastal villages soon became so dangerous that new taxes had to be levied on fish, meat, cattle and silk in order to pay for constructing sea defenses. But these proved of little use. By 1667, one of the Basque provinces had lost so many seamen to the corsairs that it could no longer meet its quota for the royal levy of mariners.The Barbary corsairs were indiscriminate when it came to choosing their victims, seizing even merchants and mariners from the colonies of North America. In 1645, a fourteen-gun ship from Massachusetts was the first colonial American vessel to be attacked by an Islamic pirate vessel. The crew managed to fight off this assault, but many of their seafaring comrades were not so fortunate. By the 1660s, a steady trickle of Americans found them-selves captured and enslaved in North Africa. The corsairs scored their greatest coup when they captured Seth Southwell, King Charles II's newly appointed governor of Carolina. It was fortuitous for the king that one of his admirals had recently detainedtwo influential Islamic corsairs, who were released in exchange for Southwell.The Sallee Rovers continued to plunder English shipping, in spite of the treaties they had signed. By the second half of the seventeenth century, the West Country fishermen were at their wits' end. Virtually every coastal port had been touched in some way by the white slave trade, and there seemed no hope of ending the crisis.In 1672, there was--at long last--a glimmer of good news. The ruling sultan was dead and Morocco looked certain to plunge into civil war. It was hoped that in the ensuing chaos, the nations of Christian Europe could finally put an end to the trade in white slaves.WHITE GOLD. Copyright © 2004 by Giles Milton. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address Picador, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Meet the Author
Giles Milton is the author of Samurai William (FSG, 2003), The Riddle and the Knight (FSG, 2001), Big Chief Elizabeth (FSG, 2000) and Nathaniel's Nutmeg (FSG, 1999). He lives in London.
Giles Milton is a writer and journalist. He has contributed articles to most of the British national newspapers as well as many foreign publications, and specializes in the history of travel and exploration. In the course of his researches, he has traveled extensively in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. He has written several books of nonfiction, including the bestselling Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, and has been translated into fifteen languages worldwide. He is the author of the novel Edward Trencom's Nose.
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