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From: Stephen Hayes
To: All
Date: 2004-03-11 21:28:40
Subject: Could that missing ancestor have been a slave?,6109,1166849,00.html

New book reopens old arguments about slave raids on Europe 

US scholar claims more than 1m people were captured by African pirates

Rory Carroll, Africa correspondent

Thursday March 11, 2004

The Guardian 

North African pirates abducted and enslaved more than 1 million
Europeans between 1530 and 1780 in a series of raids which depopulated
coastal towns from Sicily to Cornwall, according to new research.
Thousands of white Christians were seized every year to work as galley
slaves, labourers and concubines for Muslim overlords in what is today
Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya, it is claimed.

Scholars have long known of the slave raids on Europe. But American
historian Robert Davis has calculated that the total number captured -
although small compared with the 12 million Africans shipped to the
Americas in later years - was far higher than previously recognised.

His new book, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the
Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800, concluded that
1 million to 1.25 million ended up in bondage.

Prof Davis's unorthodox methodology split historians over whether his
estimates were plausible but they welcomed any attempt to fill a gap
in the little-known story of Africans subjugating Europeans.

By collating different sources of information from Europe over three
centuries, the University of Ohio professor has painted a picture of a
continent at the mercy of pirates from the Barbary Coast, known as
corsairs, who sailed in lanteen-rigged xebecs and oared galleys.

Villages and towns on the coast of Italy, Spain, Portugal and France
were hardest hit but the raiders also seized people in Britain,
Ireland and Iceland. According to one account they even captured 130
American seamen from ships that they boarded in the Atlantic and
Mediterranean between 1785 and 1793.

In the absence of detailed written records such as customs forms Prof
Davis decided to extrapolate from the best records available
indicating how many slaves were at a particular location at a single
time and calculate how many new slaves were needed to replace those
who died, escaped or were freed.

To keep the slave population stable, around one quarter had to be
replaced each year, which for the period 1580 to 1680 meant around
8,500 new slaves per annum, totalling 850,000.

The same methodology would suggest 475,000 were abducted in the
previous and following centuries.

"Much of what has been written gives the impression that there were
not many slaves and minimises the impact that slavery had on Europe,"
Prof Davis said in a statement this week.

"Most accounts only look at slavery in one place, or only for a short
period of time. But when you take a broader, longer view, the massive
scope of this slavery and its powerful impact become clear."

Prof Davis conceded his methodology was not ideal but Ian Blanchard,
professor of economic history at the University of Edinburgh and an
authority on trade in Africa, said yesterday that the numbers appeared
to add up.

"We are talking about statistics which are not real, all the figures
are estimates. But I don't find that absolute figure of 1 million at
all surprising. It makes total sense."

The arrival of gold from the Americas and the shipping of slaves from
west Africa squeezed the traditional business of the Barbary merchant
fleet which was transporting gold and slaves from southern to northern
Africa, so they turned their gaze to Europe, said Prof Blanchard.

However David Earle, author of The Corsairs of Malta and Barbary and
The Pirate Wars, said that Prof Davis may have erred in extrapolating
from 1580-1680 because that was the most intense slaving period: "His
figures sound a bit dodgy and I think he may be exaggerating."

Dr Earle also cautioned that the picture was clouded by the fact the
corsairs also seized non-Christian whites from eastern Europe and
black people from west Africa. "I wouldn't hazard a guess about the

According to one estimate, 7,000 English people were abducted between
1622-1644, many of them ships' crews and passengers. But the corsairs
also landed on unguarded beaches, often at night, to snatch the

Almost all the inhabitants of the village of Baltimore, in Ireland,
were captured in 1631, and there were other raids in Devon and

Reverend Devereux Spratt recorded being captured by "Algerines" while
crossing the Irish sea from Cork to England in April 1641 and in 1661
Samuel Pepys wrote about two men, Captain Mootham and Mr Dawes, who
were also abducted.

Last year it was announced that one of the richest treasure wrecks
found off the coast of Devon was a 16th-century Barbary ship en route
to catch English slaves.

Although the black Africans enslaved and shipped to North and South
America over four centuries outnumbered Prof Davis's estimates of
white European taken to Africa by 12-1, it is probable they shared the
same grim conditions.

"One of the things that both the public and many scholars have tended
to take as given is that slavery was always racial in nature - that
only blacks have been slaves. But that is not true," said the author.

In comments which may stoke controversy, he said that white slavery
had been minimised or ignored because academics preferred to treat
Europeans as evil colonialists rather than as victims.

While Africans laboured on sugar and cotton plantations the European
slaves were put to work in quarries, building sites and galleys and
endured malnutrition, disease and maltreatment.

Ruling pashas, entitled to an eighth of all captured Christians,
housed them in overcrowded baths known as ba+-os and used them for
public works such as building harbours and cutting trees. They were
given loaves of black bread and water.

The pasha's female captives were more likely to be regarded as
hostages to be bargained for ransom but many worked as attendants in
the palace harem while awaiting payment and freedom, which in some
cases never came. Some slaves bought by private individuals were well
treated and became companions, others were overworked and beaten.

"The most unlucky ended up stuck and forgotten out in the desert, in
some sleepy town such as Suez, or in the Turkish sultan's galleys,
where some slaves rowed for decades without ever setting foot on
shore," said Prof Davis, whose book is published in the US by Palgrave

Steve Hayes
  E-mail: hayesmstw{at} - If its full of spam, see webpage. 

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