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The History of Maritime Piracy

Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Books for Adult Pirates ~ Nonfiction

Cover Art: Barbary Captives
Barbary Captives: An Anthology of Early Modern Slave Memoirs by Europeans in North Africa
Edited by Mario Klarer
Columbia University, 2022, ISBN 978-0-231-17252-8, US $35.00 / UK £28.00
Also available in hardback and e-book formats

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Imagine you travel on the sea, bound for home, when the lookout spots strange sails scudding across the water directly toward you. Perhaps you live on the coast, going about your daily tasks, when armed raiders rush ashore. These scenarios are all too familiar to Europeans living between 1500 and the early 1800s. Their attackers are Barbary pirates who come from North Africa and range from as close as the Iberian Peninsula to as far away as Iceland. Their sallies have one goal: to capture whoever crosses their path. Regardless of age or sex, be it you, your family, or your neighbors, this may well be the last time you see your homeland. Now you will journey to Algiers, Morocco, Tripoli, or Tunis to be separated and sold into slavery.

Such was the fate of several hundred thousand Europeans. Those who survived the voyage suffered the indignities and torments of slavery, and many never reunited with loved ones. The lucky ones regained their freedom – through ransom, by escaping, or in converting to Islam – and wrote narratives about their experiences. This anthology brings together, for the first time, thirteen of these eyewitness accounts in which they discussed a variety of topics: the pirates who captured these individuals; different tasks they were forced to do; the treatments they suffered; renegades; exotic customs and locales; religion, and more.

Whether complete texts or excerpts from longer works, the narratives contained within this collection include the following:

Balthsar Sturmer, son of a German merchant, decided to try his hand at pirating, only to find himself the victim of pirates in 1534. After his capture, he became a galley slave in Hayreddin Barbarossa’s fleet, and he describes what that experience was like and some of the historical events he witnessed. His Accounts of the Travels of Mister Balthsar Sturmer is the earliest recorded slave narrative.

Antonio de Sosa, himself a slave at one time, published a multi-volume work in 1612 entitled Topography of Algiers. In this excerpt he recounts one of Miguel de Cervantes’s attempts to escape his enslavement during his five years of captivity. De Sosa’s books proved important for those who sought information that helped to enlighten military and diplomatic efforts in this region of North Africa.

The Travels of Reverend Ólafur Egilsson recounts how pirates from Morocco and Algiers raided Iceland in 1627. They captured Egilsson, his family, and about 400 others. His is one of the few accounts that discuss in detail Barbary raids on land – an attack that left an indelible impression on the psyche of the Icelandic people that remains even today.

This translation of Emanuel d’Aranda’s Short Story of My Unfortunate Journey comes from a handwritten account recently sold at auction. Although a nobleman, he attempted to pass himself off as an ordinary soldier in an attempt to reduce how much ransom those back home had to pay for his release. What makes this autobiographical manuscript unique is that it allows researchers to compare his original version with edited versions that actually made it into print. These published editions were extremely popular in many different countries and appeared in a variety of languages, which made it available to readers in all levels of society.

Antoine Quartier spent eight years as a slave in Tripoli, making The Religious Slave and His Adventures a rarity among captivity narratives. Not only is the setting unusual, but so is his description of grueling agricultural labor. He also talks about the plague that ravaged the city. Upon his release, he joined the Mercedarians, a religious order that devoted themselves to ransoming Barbary slaves.

What sets Andreas Matthäus and Johann Georg Wolffgang’s Travels and Wonderful Fortunes of Two Brothers in Algerian Bondage apart from other slave narratives is twofold. They spent their four years of enslavement together, rather than apart, and since they were copper engravers, pictures (created by one of the brothers) were included when their account was published nearly a century after their release in 1688.

Isaac Brassard gained his freedom that same year, but his account wasn’t published in France until 1878. The Tale of Mr. Brassard’s Captivity in Algiers incorporates religion into his account, but not the differences between Islam and Christianity. He was a Huguenot (French Protestant), which made him ineligible for ransom since these were only paid for those captives who practiced the Catholic faith.

Thomas Pellow was eleven years old when he was captured, and he spent twenty-three years in Morocco before returning to England in 1738. The History of the Long Captivity and Adventures of Thomas Pellow is a chronicle that delves into the physical and psychological aspects of his experience, for he did convert to Islam, became an officer in the sultan’s army, and had difficulties re-entering English society once he gained his freedom.

At fifteen, Hark Olufs experienced similar difficulties, which he discusses in The Remarkable Adventures of Hark Olufs. He rose through the ranks until he became a trusted commander within the Algerian bey of Constantine’s military. His loyalty earned him his freedom in 1735 after serving his master for fourteen years.

Maria ten Meetelen’s Miraculous and Remarkable Events of Twelve Years of Slavery is another rarity because it is one of the earliest authentic accounts written by a woman. She recounts her daily life as a slave; instead of being relegated to doing whatever her master required, she had to earn her own living in order to survive. Equally remarkable is that she managed to keep herself and her family alive in spite of the frequent regime changes during her twelve years of captivity, beginning in 1731.

Descriptions of the Barbaric Slavery in the Kingdom of Fez and Morocco appeared in print the year after Marcus Berg was ransomed in 1756. Not only does he provide intimate glimpses into the sadist who ruled Morocco with an iron fist, but he also describes a deadly earthquake that affected both that country and Europe. No other authentic Swedish narrative has been found.

The Narrative of Elizabeth Marsh’s Captivity in Barbary relates the four months she spent in Morocco in 1756, and the lengths she went to elude the sultan’s advances. Marsh is one of the few women who wrote openly about the subtle, derogatory comments made by others about her chastity. Of the other British slave narratives that women wrote, hers is the oldest known one.

One of the few surviving Italian narratives, The Account of an Amateur Antiquarian’s Short Journey takes place shortly before European and American navies brought an end to Barbary corsairing in the first half of the nineteenth century. As a citizen of a nation that had a peace treaty with Tunis, Father Felice Caronni never should have been taken as a slave, but during the attack on his vessel, his passport was lost. This excerpt focuses on his time as a captive, while the work from which it comes shares his abiding interest in the heritage and culture of this region.

Arranged chronologically by dates of captivity, these narratives have all been verified as authentic. Each includes a short preface to set the stage and shed light on who, what, when, where, and why, as well as how it differs from other narratives and/or what it has in common with them. Also included is a note about the translations. Footnotes are provided where necessary to explain terms, names, and historical details. Illustrations are provided where appropriate.

Klarer opens with a fascinating introduction that is divided into several sections: Captivity Narratives as an Early Modern Genre, Piracy in the Mediterranean, North African Slavery, The Ransom of Slaves, Female Slaves, and Captivity Narratives and World Literature. Here, he highlights how the early accounts influenced novels like Cervantes’s Don Quixote and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which in turn impacted later narratives. Klarer also discusses how these narratives influenced other works, such as Native American captivity narratives and African American slave narratives. He ends the anthology with a Selection of European and American Barbary Captivity Narratives; a List of Works Cited and General Works on North African Piracy and Captivity; and an Index of Persons and Locations.

Little known today, these slave narratives were popular among readers of the early modern period, so much so that they can be likened to a genre of their own. Klarer deftly demonstrates their influence on novels and autobiographies, which eventually affected how later authors of slave narratives wrote their accounts. This compelling anthology re-introduces readers to this “genre” in a diverse way that is certain to elicit further study. It incorporates details of how Barbary corsairs worked and what it was like to be captured by them that are absent from other histories and English-language narratives. It provides a wealth of information from a variety of perspectives in ways that capture readers’ attention and at a reasonable price, making Barbary Captives a treasure for any collection.

Review Copyright ©2022 Cindy Vallar

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