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Slavery on the Barbary Coast

File:Marche aux esclaves d alger gravure.jpg
The Slave Market of Algiers in the early 17th Century.

Slavery on the Barbary Coast (see Barbary slave trade ) was a form of unfree labour which existed between the 16th and 18th centuries in the Barbary Coast area of North Africa.

According to Robert Davis, between 1 million and 1.25 million Europeans were captured by Barbary pirates and sold as slaves in North Africa and Ottoman Empire between the 16th and 19th centuries.[1][2]

Based on the Barbary coast, North Africa, the Barbary pirates raided ships traveling through the Mediterranean and along the northern and western coasts of Africa, plundering their cargo and enslaving the people they captured. From at least 1500, the pirates also conducted raids along seaside towns of Italy, Spain, France, England, the Netherlands and as far away as Iceland, capturing men, women and children. On some occasions, settlements such as Baltimore, Ireland were abandoned following the raid, only being resettled many years later. Between 1609 and 1616, England alone had 466 merchant ships lost to Barbary pirates.[3]

Barbary Wars

Commercial ships from the United States of America were subject to pirate attacks. In 1783, the United States made peace with, and gained recognition from, the British monarchy. In 1784, the first American ship was seized by pirates from Morocco. By late 1793, a dozen American ships had been captured, goods stripped and everyone enslaved. After some serious debate, the US created the United States Navy in March 1794.[4]

This new military presence helped to stiffen American resolve to resist the continuation of tribute payments, leading to the two Barbary Wars along the North African coast: the First Barbary War from 1801 to 1805[5] and the Second Barbary War in 1815. Payments in ransom and tribute to the Barbary states had amounted to 20% of United States government annual revenues in 1800.[6] It was not until 1815 that naval victories ended tribute payments by the United States. Some European nations continued annual payments until the 1830s.[7] The white slave trade and markets in the Mediterranean declined and eventual disappeared after the European occupations. [8]

Slave narratives

Because of the large numbers of Britons captured by the Barbary States and in other venues, captivity was the other side of exploration and empire Captivity narratives originated as a literary form in the 17th century. They were widely published and read, preceding those of colonists captured by American Indians in North America.[9]

Comparisons with Trans-Atlantic Slavery

Throughout the middle ages frequent conflict between Christians and Muslims in the Mediterranean had created a a reciprocated pattern whereby both sides would enslave any captives they acquired. This created a trade in slaves in which Jews also participated.[10]

Following the discovery of the Americas, European invaders introduced slavery into the colonies they established. For example, Africans were first enslaved in Virginia in 1619, twelve years after the colony was established in 1607. However it was not until 1660 that slavery became an integral part of the economic life of the British colonies in the Americas.[11]

Historian Robert Davis has called for more attention to be paid to Mediterranean slavery: “We have lost the sense of how large enslavement could loom for those who lived around the Mediterranean and the threat they were under,” he said. “Slaves were still slaves, whether they are black or white, and whether they suffered in America or North Africa.”[12]

See also


  1. ^ Davis, Robert. Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500-1800.[1]
  2. ^ "When Europeans were slaves: Research suggests white slavery was much more common than previously believed", Research News, Ohio State University
  3. ^ Rees Davies, "British Slaves on the Barbary Coast", BBC, 1 July 2003
  4. ^ The Mariners' Museum: The Barbary Wars, 1801-1805
  5. ^ The Mariners' Museum: The Barbary Wars, 1801-1805
  6. ^ Oren, Michael B. (2005-11-03). "The Middle East and the Making of the United States, 1776 to 1815". Retrieved 2007-02-18. 
  7. ^ Richard Leiby, "Terrorists by Another Name: The Barbary Pirates", The Washington Post, October 15, 2001
  8. ^ The Cambridge World History of Slavery: Volume 3, AD 1420–AD 1804
  9. ^ Linda Colley, Captives: Britain, Empire and the World, 1600-1850, London: Jonathan Cape, 2002, pp. 9-11
  10. ^ Waugh, Scott L.; Diehl, Peter (2002). Christendom and Its Discontents: Exclusion, Persecution, and Rebellion, 1000-1500. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  11. ^ "The Royal African Company – Supplying Slaves to Jamestown". Historic Jamestowne. Retrieved June 8, 2011. 
  12. ^ "When Europeans were slaves: Research suggests white slavery was much more common than previously believed", Research News, Ohio State University

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