White Gold

Another book mentioned a couple of posts ago is White Gold: The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and Islam’s One Million White Slaves (2005) by Giles Milton. Below are some review excerpts.

From Booklist:

The horrors of the transatlantic slave trade have been extensively documented in print and eloquently portrayed on film and television. But chattel slavery was a well-established African as well as European institution, and its victims were not exclusively people of color. In the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries, the Barbary states of North Africa used Islamic pirates, or corsairs, to conduct slave raids, which fed the flourishing slave markets of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. Many of the enslaved were white Europeans or North Americans captured at sea. Among them was Thomas Pellow, an 11-year-old English child who was seized in 1716 and served for 23 years as a personal servant to Sultan Moulay Ismail of Morocco. Milton relates Pellow’s compelling story as a triumph of wile, pluck, and endurance; but this is also a tale of great brutality and suffering, as Milton eloquently shows that all of the indignities one associates with European and American slavery were visited upon those held in North Africa. A riveting account.

From The Washington Post:

Giles Milton’s new book is a fascinating account of a long-forgotten era when an awful menace terrorized the coastal waters of North Africa. In the 17th and 18th centuries, countless vessels leaving the coasts of Europe and colonial North America were seized at sea by bands of Barbary corsairs, who confiscated their cargo and dragged their hapless crews to the shores of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli to be sold into slavery.

Based primarily on narratives published by freed or escaped slaves, White Gold recounts the story of Thomas Pellow, who at age 11 joined the crew of an English trading vessel, the Francis, as a cabin boy and merchant’s apprentice. Pellow’s ship left Cornwall in 1715, carrying a cargo of salted pilchards to trade in Genoa. Upon setting sail for home, the Francis was overtaken by a band of “fanatical corsairs of Barbary” who, in a “deranged fury,” boarded the ship, overpowered its unarmed crew and seized its precious cargo of Italian wares meant for sale in England. But the merchandise was a mere pittance compared to the real prize of the ship: its crew.

In the early 1700s, the trade in European slaves was a booming business throughout North Africa, even though, in size and scope, it did not compare to Europe’s own immensely profitable African slave trade. According to Milton, nearly 1 million Europeans passed through the markets of coastal towns like Salé, on the north coast of Morocco, where they were auctioned off to the highest bidder. For better or worse, Pellow’s crew was spared such humiliation and instead marched directly to the imperial city of Meknes, where they were ceremonially presented as gifts to the cruel and capricious sultan of Morocco, Moulay Ismail.

A theme emerges among the Amazon reviewers.

The 1st Amazon reviewer writes:

First I ever heard of White Slavery from England. Did you know that Arab slave traders used to pluck villagrs and fishermen from the coast of Britain and take them off to serve in slavery in the Islamic world. I didn’t even know that this trade existed, and in fact it continued into the eighteenth century – this little known fact has been turned into another compelling history by Giles Milton.

The 2nd Amazon reviewer writes:

A huge traffic in European slaves along the Barbary Coast during the 1700’s? Who knew? An English lad captured at sea a slave in the imperial court for over 20 years who escaped to tell his tale? Who knew?

The 3rd Amazon reviewer writes:

The well kept secret of white slaves. I found this book in Dar es Salaam bookstore. Fascinating history of the well kept secret of white slaves in North Africa. None of our history books note that this is the reason the US Navy was sent to whip the Barbary pirates.

The 4th Amazon reviewer writes:

Fascinating and informative look at forgotten or ignored era. If you are like me, you have only heard of the Barbary Pirates briefly mentioned in history classes as an aside when discussing Jefferson. I had no idea that the pirates raided as far away as England, Iceland, and Russia. This book is deeply fascinating not only because it is the first many of us have heard about this form of white slavery…

And so on, and so forth.

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