Did you know that at the same time that the British were involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, white Britons were being sold into slavery in Africa? For over 200 years, from the reign of James I right up until George III, Muslim pirates from the abducted thousands of British sailors and sold them in the slave markets on the Barbary Coast in North Africa. They even landed in Cornwall raiding coastal villages and taking men, women and children into captivity. It is a fascinating and little known story from British history. Get your free copy of y British History timeline For a period of 200 years, English merchant and fishing vessels were regularly attacked by the Barbary pirates and thousands of sailors sold in the slave markets of North Africa - most never to return home. Exactly how many? Poor record keeping means we cannot be sure. But here is one example.
In 1616, the Admiralty reported that 466 vessels with their crews had been seized in the previous 7 years. In 1625, a petition was presented to parliament from 2,000 wives of captured sailors requesting assistance to pay ransoms for the return of their loved ones. Meanwhile the mayor of Poole in Dorset, reported 27 ships and 200 sailors had been seized off the Dorset coast in a 10 day period.
There were reports of deserted boats drifting off Sussex and raids on Kings Lynn in Norfolk.
But, it was the South West peninsular that bore the brunt of these pirate activities.
In 1625 fishing vessels from Looe, Penzanze and Mousehole were found floating abandoned.
In August 1625, the Barbary Corsairs boldly landed in St. Michael’s Bay in Cornwall, raiding local settlements and carrying off 60 men, women, and children into slavery.
In the late 1620’s the Barbary pirates audaciously seized the island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel and used it as a base for their operations for the next 7 years
It was from Lundy that they raided Iceland in the summer of 1647, carrying off over 400 inhabitants.
It was also from the island that the Barbary pirates under a Dutch muslim convert swept down in the Irish settlement of Baltimore in County Cork capturing 103 villagers. Only 3 were to return home from slavery. Estimates put the number of English sailors and civilians abducted during a 20 year period from 1622-1644 as high as 7,000. We will never know exactly how many English white slaves were carried off by the Barbary pirates.
What we do know, is that due to geography, the numbers from Mediterranean countries were larger.
Historian, Robert Davies, from the University of Ohio estimates that over a 200-year period, the Barbary pirates probably seized up to 1.2 million captives from Europe.
Other academics have challenged that figure but haven’t come up with an alternative.
Whilst a twelfth of the estimated figure of slaves transported from West Africa to the Americas, 1 millions is still a huge figure.
The White Slaves of Barbary
Much attention and condemnation has been directed towards the tragedy of the African slave trade , which took place between the 16 th and the 19 th centuries. However, another equally despicable trade in humans was taking place around the same time in the Mediterranean. It is estimated that up to 1.25 million Europeans were enslaved by Barbary corsairs , and their lives were just as pitiful as their African counterparts. They have come to be known as the white slaves of Barbary.
Slavery is one of the oldest trades known to man. We can first find records of the slave trade dating back to The Code of Hammurabi in Babylon in the 18th century BCE. People from virtually every major culture, civilization, and religious background have made slaves of their own and enslaved other peoples. However, comparatively little attention has been given to the prolific slave trade that was carried out by pirates, or corsairs, along the Barbary coast (as it was called by Europeans at the time), in what is now Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, beginning around 1600 AD.
Anyone travelling in the Mediterranean at the time faced the real prospect of being captured by the Corsairs and taken to Barbary Coast cities and being sold as slaves.
However, not content with attacking ships and sailors, the corsairs also sometimes raided coastal settlements in Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, England, Ireland, and even as far away as the Netherlands and Iceland. They landed on unguarded beaches, and crept up on villages in the dark to capture their victims. Almost all the inhabitants of the village of Baltimore, in Ireland, were taken in this way in 1631. As a result of this threat, numerous coastal towns in the Mediterranean were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants until the 19 th century.
The Sacking of Baltimore
The raiding of the coastal village of Baltimore on Ireland’s South West coast is one of the more horrific acts performed by the Barbary corsairs. At 2.00am on 20 June, 1631, over 200 corsairs armed with muskets, iron bars and sticks of burning wood landed on the shore of Baltimore and silently spread out, waiting at the front doors of the cottages along the shoreline and the homes in the main village. When a signal was given, they simultaneously charged into the homes, pulling the sleeping inhabitants from their beds. Twenty men, 33 women and 54 children were dragged into ships and began the long voyage back to Algiers
Upon arrival, the citizens of Baltimore were taken to slave pens before being paraded before prospective buyers, chained and nearly naked. Men were typically used for labor and women as concubines, while children were often raised as Muslims, eventually forming part of the slave corps within the Ottoman army.
Captured victims arrive on the Barbary coast to be sold as slaves.