The Barbary Pirates & England’s White Slaves

The History Chap Feb 23, 2023 #britishhistory #forgottenhistory

The little known story of the Barbary pirates and England’s White Slaves.

Become a Patron

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s